Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
WRY TOAST: Russia is a rush, as journals attest
BY EDIE GROSS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
I DON’T KEEP a journal for the same reason I don’t tweet, blog or update my Facebook status every five minutes: My life just isn’t that interesting.
That’s not a complaint. Just a fact.
My memoirs, if they existed, would never make the New York Times best-seller list, though they might make a perfectly adequate paper weight.
The only time I deviate from that rule is when I travel. I’m not wealthy, so when I go abroad, I generally assume I’ll never have enough money to return. I’ve been right every time.
Hence, I usually keep a journal so I can remember the once-in-a-lifetime adventure that punctuated my otherwise humdrum existence.
I bring it up because 20 years ago, I spent a summer studying in Moscow.
I filled three journals there—one of which my beagle used as a chew toy when she was a puppy. But I hadn’t looked at any of them since 1992.
Since my parents were leaving this week on a bucket-list trip to Russia, I decided to leaf through them to see if I could recommend places for them to visit.
It was an interesting trip down memory lane. My handwriting was considerably better in those days, something I’d forgotten.
I’d also forgotten how well Starburst and gum passed for currency over there at the time or how ecstatic we all were whenever we found a public restroom with both toilet paper and toilet seats. It was a winning, and rare, combination.
Like a lot of 20-year-olds, I usually had no idea what I was talking about, but that didn’t stop me from sharing my thoughts. Here are a few I found mildly amusing:
On garbage disposal:
Russians have an easy system of waste disposal—they simply throw their stuff out their windows. Last night, while Wulf and I were in [the dorm] talking, we heard several alcohol bottles being thrown from the windows to the ground. I’d hate to be the star gazer who just happened to be standing on the sidewalk below.
On buying ice cream:
When it was our turn, Deb ordered “yabloko.” We thought that meant cherry. The lady gave her a greenish-colored ice cream instead of pink, and it wasn’t cherry. Instead of saying “yabloko,” I simply pointed to the pink ice cream, and I got cherry.
We figured maybe the lady hadn’t heard when Deb said “cherry” in Russian. However, I just looked up the word “yabloko,” and it means “apple,” not cherry. Oops.
On nearly killing ourselves to buy that ice cream:
Deb decided that if we crossed the street at the underground tunnel, we’d have to walk all the way to the end of the street. If we crossed above ground, though, we could save walking time. So, we did the stupid thing and crossed the street above ground. All these cars started coming, weaving around us and we nearly got hit! That ice cream tasted really good after that.
On stomach ailments (probably due to all the ice cream we were consuming):
We’ve all got them—only a few students haven’t had digestive problems since coming here. Some have just given up completely on Russian cuisine, and now they only eat at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut.
I, on the other hand, LOVE Russian food. I’ve even got favorite restaurants here. I’d hate to give up the food, but I have to admit that my stomach is constantly aching. The feeling is miserable, but the food is so good it’s easy to forget the pain for awhile.
We’ve all become a little desensitized to sickness. When before this trip, I would never discuss my illnesses, let alone diarrhea, with anyone, now it’s practically a staple of every conversation. We’re all sick and having a great time!
There is no official taxi service here that I know of. To get a taxi, one simply stands by the side of the road, holds out one’s hand and someone wanting to make a little extra money will stop and offer you a ride. If you don’t like his price, keep standing there. Someone else will stop shortly.
On calling a wrong number:
I called a number, asked for Sasha and had an entire conversation with someone before realizing it was the wrong Sasha. I spoke with a lady on the other end—the guy, Sasha, handed the phone to her—and we talked for about 10 minutes before she explained to me that I had the wrong Sasha. It was hilarious.
She asked me my name and I said, “Edie,” but whenever I say that here, people think I’m saying “Iri,” short for Irina. So when I asked her her name, she said, “Irina,” and I said, “Your name’s Irina?” and she said, “No, that’s you!” She thought I didn’t know my own name. This whole conversation was taking place in Russian, so I was even more clueless.
On shopping at outdoor markets:
This is one of the things I will miss the most about Russia. Here, people gather on street corners or along entire streets and they sell everything. There’s nothing you can’t find on the streets of Moscow—except maybe toilet paper.
And there is hardly ever a price tag on anything. You simply bargain. It’s a blast. I don’t get to do that in a mall in America!
Shopping is a challenge, an art. You feel so good when you get a great deal. It makes you feel really accomplished because you had to work a little for your purchase. If someone tells you something costs 1,000 rubles, offer 600 and see where it leads. Maybe 700 and three packs of gum will appease him. If you don’t like the price, you’ve got about two or three more miles of vendors to bargain with—just walk away. Sometimes, they give in if you take off. It’s like a little victory. My dad, master of garage sale bargaining, would LOVE this place.
On spending the summer abroad:
I’d never drunk vodka or coffee before Moscow. I had never liked hot tea before Moscow. I would never hitch a ride with an unlicensed taxi driver in the U.S. I’d never argue over a few cents on the price of a good, but I did in Moscow.
I never ate mushrooms or tomatoes before I came here. I never trusted strangers before being invited into their homes in Moscow. I had never spent the night on a train before coming to Moscow. I had never received a marriage proposal or had champagne sent to my table before Moscow. I have never been so happy to not have access to a car before now.
I’ve never eaten so much ice cream (followed by Dairy Ease) in my life. I’ve never been this fat before. I’ve never done this much hand-washing, and I’ve never consumed this much Pepto–Bismol before. I’ve never enjoyed history so much as when I’ve been here. I’ve never enjoyed shopping so much as I do here.
I had never sent a fax before. I had never conversed in a foreign language so much before. This whole six weeks has been really indescribable. I will leave a little piece of me here when I go, that’s for sure. I hope to return some day soon though.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428