Sunday, June 22, 2008

Aw Shit, Luc, Yer Right

I forgot to blog about the important videos Swissair has running right now:

Waiting Room - Watch a funny movie here


They play these videos with no sound throughout the flight -- mostly people ignore them and harass the nice stewardesses for more liquor. This one actually had the whole plane cracking up.

Anyway, yes, I have much more to write, I just got all caught up in life there for a minute.

Goal for the week: More Russia!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh boy.

Originally uploaded by Annevan
ALVS posted her pix.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Observations: Installment 2

Russian Red
When Jennifer picked us up at the airport, we told her about my Communist Red highlights.

She said, "You'll fit in great, here! Lots of women have that color hair!" Turns out, I have Russian Red highlights -- only these women in russia? They have redded the whole head:

For your reference -- communist red.

Examples of the form:
Russian Red

Russian Red

Preferred Mode of Transportation

We took a bus into the city center -- through row after row of sprawling, square high-rises in various states of disrepair. The broken windows, patched-up balconies, and soot-stained cinder block construction reminded me of the projects on the southside of Chicago -- where people are crowded in abject poverty.

Jennifer told us that this is actually where much of the population lives -- not just the poor, but everyone -- in these soviet-era housing blocs, cramped into small apartments.

Apparently, also -- the government is in the midst of planning to tear them down and rebuild. Not just in St. Petersburg, but across the country. This is a project of mind-boggling proportions. I didn't take pictures of them, because, somehow, I was bashful of doing this, obviously documenting the scarred landscape.

We pass police standing by the side of the road in blue fatigues toting machine guns, for no apparent reason.

As we enter the city center, the architecture turns to massive, imposing rows of imperial-looking stone facades. We disembark at a square with a statue of Lenin -- Jen insists we have our picture taken by a surly passerby, as this is one of the few statues left of Lenin in St. Petersburg.


At this point, Jen announces that we'll get a cab.

Here she is hailing said "cab."

hailing the gypsy cab

You'll note that she's not doing that thing that most of us do, which is to scan the horizon for a yellow car with a lit sign atop.

That's because, in St. Petersburg, when you get a cab, you get a gypsy cab. That is, some dude driving his car around and ferrying people about for money without any sort of official sanction. Or meter, or really indication on the outside of his car that yes, he's a Taxi and yo, he's free!

Eventually, someone pulls over and Jennifer negotiates a rate for us and our luggage.


In our time there, we take several gypsy cabs, sober, drunk, day, night -- it's a blind practice but never futile -- someone always picks us up.

Every once and awhile you see an official-looking car with a proper light atop speeding through the streets in typical manic Russian fashion, but apparently these vehicles are wildly overpriced and relegated to tourists and business travelers.

Next Up: Toasts! Signage! White nights! Rock and Roll!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Piter: Some observations. Installment one.

St. Pete Inhales.


The first thing we notice upon entering St. Petersburg -- disembarking the plane, walking into the slate-gray soviet-era Pulova International Airport -- is the smell of cigarette smoke.

The Russians are serious about their smoking. They would not let a little thing like a customs line stand in their way. In fact, in our week in Russia, there are only three places where smoking is banned -- in St. Issac's Cathedral, inside the Church on the Spilled Blood, and in the Metro.

The cigarette smoke in Russia is a serious affair. It's not just that it's everywhere. It's the quality of the smoke -- darker, somehow. More insistent, pungent, wafting in heavy curls, hanging in the air in dense walls of fumes. You can feel the smoke penetrating your pores, digging in, clinging to he fibers of your clothing, winding into your hair, seeping into your lungs.

I don't want to say that Russian cigarettes are noxious -- I'm afraid it might be insulting to the culture of which they are an inseparable part. But I've smoked these formidable sticks in my time and it's not completely unlike what I imagine it would be to smoke fiberglass. Or Asbestos, maybe.

When one isn't smelling cigarettes, you can savor the smell of diesel.

Stiletto. Pumps. In. The Club.


Typically Shod russian woman

Jennifer says, "It's pretty much a requirement that the women here take care of themselves."

Tall, thin, they stride through the city on towering heels. Mothers on the playground, women in suits and skirts, everywhere -- Stiletto Pumps.

They are all dressed purposefully, their hair blonde by nurture, their legs clad in nylon and faces perfectly made up -- if unsmiling.

Unsmiling as a Rule

There's something missing, I think, when I'm first trolling the streets, bars cafes -- it's laughter.

There's not superfluous laughter here -- in this way Jen and I stand out like sore thumbs -- laughing boisterously and cacophonously at absurdities everywhere -- gigantic dogs sitting on benches like people, outrageously mistranslated menus (Tree Scooops of ice cream).

Families pose for pictures in front of landmarks with their faces grim and serious.

At the same time, there is a huge sense of living in the moment -- you've got some money, go out and have a fabulous party! Live for today! That is both in contrast and perfectly fitting with a typically cynical worldview.

Next up: Signage. Drinkage. Transportation.

And other fun things!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

This Next Song Is Called "I Want To Fuck All The Girls In The World (in the name of rock and roll)"

So, I have lots and lots to write about St. Petersburg - and many photos to post. Unfortunately, one of the important photos I neglected to take was of a fantastic sign on Nevesky Prospekt for a shoe store called "Handbags for Feet."

This is quite possibly the best store name ever. Throughout our visit "Handbags for XXX" was a favorite refrain -- those pants are handbags for legs! This food is handbags for my mouth!

Wait, that is a tangent.

I am not here really to tell you about all my adventures.

I am here to tell you about a band we saw called Sweat. As in "WE ARE SWEAT! AND WE ARE HERE TO MAKE YOU SWEAT! CAN YOU FEEL THE SWEATING?" (Shout that in a Russian accent -- and you have the beginnings of a fabulous time, I promise you.)

This band played with one of our faves, JD and the Blenders, starring our friend JD.

There will be plenty of time, too, for me to write about that important experience.

But Anne and I are in France, now, stuffing ourselves with cheese and bread, fresh air, stunning mountains, and rest. And we've yet to wash the Sweat off our bodies -- this band rocked out in a stunning way that was the perfect mix of pitch-perfect American rock and roll and a touch of inrony. And we miss them.

Dear Sweat -- come play San Francisco!