September 8, 2012 by dsalkowski
They say you never really know a city until you get lost in it. Let it suffice to say that I am one step closer to knowing Saint Petersburg. It turns out that, although I am lucky enough to live close to the city center and not in a Stalin-era high-rise, the Russian indifference to individuality makes it nearly impossible to count on a photographic memory of your apartment building when you forget your address. However, I have made it back safely to my wonderful home-stay.
I arrived at my home-stay last night after spending two nights in a hotel for orientation. Staying in an extremely Anglo-phonic hotel gave me time to recover from jet lag and meet the group with whom I’ll be studying. It’s a pretty solid group – all Americans – and a rather large delegation of Oregonians, at that. The comfortable bubble of home was burst rather quickly, however, when I got in the car with my host mother. I really like my host mother and brother (which translate into Russian rather awkwardly); she is a doctor, an instructor of medicine, and he is an eighteen-year-old culinary student. I particularly appreciate how much slower my host brother, Sergey, speaks than his mother. Wow, does that woman speak fast. Far faster than my southern ears can comprehend.
One definite advantage of my host apartment is the proximity to the city center. I walked home from the Hermitage, or the Winter Palace, today, and had I taken a direct route, it would have only taken me about 20 minutes. I did take a somewhat more creative route, but I nevertheless have a prime location. We are a few blocks away from the famous Neva River and the Ilya Repin Art Academy.
[Ilya Repin; famously depicted Ivan the Terrible’s fabled murder of his own son]
I have already walked all over the area, both intentionally and unintentionally. This morning Sergey took me to see an Orthodox Mass. I was a bit surprised that we allowed to just waltz in and watch a few minutes of the service and leave again. The church, one of the very old, traditional Russian ones complete with golden spires and turrets, was quite a sight in itself. Inside, there was a group of babushki singing the chants and a priest roving around and chanting on cue when he was needed. It was totally spectator-friendly also, even though I crossed myself backwards to them.
After that the student group made an excursion to the famed Hermitage Museum, the art museum started by Katherine II (The Great). It was ornate and imperial, and it houses everything but Russian art. I saw two de Vincis, several Rembrandts, and an Egyptian mummy. The essential museum experience in St. Pete. After that was the adventure of finding my way home in the city.
This evening my Russian improved exponentially after my host mother filled me up with Crimean red champagne. No details necessary. I then had a wonderful walk in the rain to where the Lewis & Clark delegates got to meet up with our professor, Tatiana, who happens to be here for a couple days as part of her sabbatical. She is the main reason why the five of us from LC made it here, so having a cup of chai with her in her own country only felt right.