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Russia Breaks My Brain
I don't understand this place, I just live here.
#18: It also came with stuffed animals.
April 28, 2004

Hi everyone, and welcome back to my confusing little corner of the world in St. Petersburg, Bizarroworld. Well, actually, it's sort of a new little corner, one that's much closer to the subway. I moved, and in a lot of senses moved up in the world.

I don't just say that because I'm living on the fifth floor instead of the third floor. I say that because this new apartment is an immense improvement over my old place in the dorm. The dorm, while considered the second best in the city, having security guards, a cafe, recently improved internet access, plus other benefits like random workers knocking on your door at 10am so they can drill holes in your shower to run a grounding wire to your toilet piping a week or so before they announce to everyone that using the refrigerators and stoves is banned for a month while some repairs are being done, just doesn't really compare to these new digs somehow. I know it's hard to believe that there was something better than that dorm, since it's still, even sans refrigerators, better than the neighboring cockroach-filled dorm with communal showers and inadequate door-locks, but it's true. And my new apartment kicks both their asses. It's *that* cool.

For one thing, it comes with my girlfriend, which makes sense since it's her fault- I mean, it's because of her that I came to Russia in the first place. Now it's just the two of us in a big-ass place, which came complete with lots of conveniences like a coffee maker, washing machine, a functional oven, bunk-beds (kids used to live here) and 50 miscellaneous jars of unidentifiable crap.

When you rent an apartment in Russia, it seems to be the norm that the place comes furnished. This is obviously very handy for those of us who will only be in the country until July. Our apartment came pretty well stocked with furniture, a tv, a brand new, really ugly couch, etc. The kitchen also came with quite a few of the aforementioned jars, storing the most mysterious've ever seen. Some of the jars held comfortably-expired medicine, while others simply seemed to be the bulk of someone's mold collection.

Still, I can't complain. That little inconvenience was easily countered by all the other stuff, plus the all important gazavaya-kolonka. This is basically a gas burner that functions as a water-heater for our apartment, which is crucial because otherwise we would completely dependant on the city for our hot water. Some time in the fall the city activates everyone's heat, for both your radiators and your hot water. Then (soon, I think) when it's judged to be warm enough outside, they'll turn it off, which means most people will only have cold water until the fall. Makes sense to me.

We're also on the top (fifth) floor of our building, so we actually have some pretty nice views and get a lot of sun. A lot of sun. Sun from 6:00 am until 10 pm. And counting. By June we're due to have around 2 hours of twilight but no night. It's pretty neat, and definitely more uplifting than the winter when it was dark all the time. Sleeping in has gotten a bit harder, but sleeping past 7 is a waste of time anyway, right?

All this is an upgrade on Kristin's old apartment too. You can imagine how hard it was to part with a place that had mosquitoes in January, a kid upstairs that would broadcast shitty house/trance music (or occasionally Seal??!) at 90db everyday plus neighbors that would come by to investigate/blame the foreigners whenever there was a plumbing glitch elsewhere in the building. To say this new place is an improvement doesn't quite capture it what a change this has been. Maybe this will help...

The neighborhood.

The change there is also pretty dramatic. While the dorm was in an area with abandoned buildings (or buildings you'd hope were abandoned by the looks of them) the new place is in a historic district that is nearly too expensive and upscale to really live in. Think going from Elizabeth, NJ by the Turnpike to Fifth Avenue in Midtown.

My dorm was a half hour walk to the closest subway stop. That walk took you by more apartments, a store specializing in "full-figured" clothes for men and women, a couple food kiosks, and thankfully, a fire station. The walk to school was 40 minutes, where you could either walk along a road that's been torn up since I arrived here 7 months ago or along a giant graveyard from World War II. Oh, I forgot one more thing- the strip club. They were our neighbors.

So my arrival in my new neighborhood was a bit of a shock. Instead of clothes for fat people, there is an amazing abundance of REALLY upscale clothing boutiques. I think they're literally stacked on each other. I'm not sure how this city can support them all, since most people can't even afford one pair of designer leather boots with stiletto heals, much less 3. But if they want them, there's plenty of variety right outside my door.

The number of boutiques is almost a problem. They've saturated this area so much that it took Kristin and I a number of days after moving in to find an actual grocery store within walking distance (it was hidden behind a store that sells laser-pointer key chains and the same massaging easy-chair they have at Hemmicher-Schlemer). And if we really didn't want to cook, we could always just go to McDonald's or KFC, which is here also. (I've still been eating Ramen though.)

So that just leaves an answer to the strip club, which I guess has been replaced by a movie theater. Wholesome, huh?

Well, not entirely. There does seem to be a catch or two. One is named Algiss. He's called us a number of times bitching about money our landlady supposedly owes him for repairs. He seems to now be trying to scam us into giving him money also though, and has made lame threats like "I'm going to call you every day and night until you pay me!" It seems to have been a bluff. We've told him to contact the landlady each time he's called, but he doesn't seem interested in that. The most recent threat is that he's going show up at our door at 2am and demand $100. Kristin said fine, show up and we'll call the cops.

I feel guilty taking comfort in this, but if the guy was dumb enough to show up it'd be a time when Russian racism would really help us out. Algiss isn't a normal Russian (and here I mean Russkii vs. Rosinskii, as I've mentioned before) name, which means the guy is most likely from the Caucasus somewhere, which means the cops probably wouldn't even blink before grabbing him and removing him from the building. The fact that this neighborhood is on the upscale side would only add to this of course. Not surprisingly, we've had no late night visitors.

The other minor hitch to the new pad is the, uh.. well, the syringes you find on the steps. I wish there were a way to make this sound better, but a couple of times we've found used syringes left in the stairwell, along with an empty bottle of whatever the kids were shooting up. I say kids, because we think that there are some teenagers living below us that have been the ones doing this, hiding from their parents in the stairwells. It's not too frequent, so it's not a huge problem, but it's not fun to have to watch your step so much when leaving the house (especially after reading about how HIV is spreading via injected drug use so much. Thankfully, these kids seem to be getting new needles each time).

But hey, did I mention we're 3 minutes from the subway? It's great!

So really you should all stop by next time you're in the area. We've already had a number of guests, and are planning on a number more, like some Fulbrighters from Moscow that we visited a week ago. So book early, as availability is limited. Those bunk beds fill up fast.

Oh, so next time I'll get to the trip we took out of town. You know, just to get away from our sweet new apartment. We had to go to Moscow to sleep on someone's floor, kind of roughing it for old time's sake. Until then here's a little Bizarroworld tidbit, also on the theme of housing:

The US ambassador's house in Moscow apparently only costs $2.50 a year to rent. This is because the price was decided back in 1985, in rubles, and the ruble has since collapsed. They're going to renegotiate the price soon, but Russia said it's interested in getting the back rent that the US thus owes, all $9 million of it.

Angry Giant