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.
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!