понедельник, марта 12, 2007
Next morning, I brave the cold air and board a bus that takes a group of students to Smolny Cathedral. It’s a massive blue and white building, badly deteriorated, which would have been truly lovely were it not for the scaffolding that covers it. I’m sure it’ll look even better once the restoration is finished, but I don’t think that will happen while I’m in Russia. We circuit the cathedral, and enter the ex-monastery behind it.
An abrupt, business-like Russian woman gives me an evaluation test and places me in a class. She turns back to her desk, evidently expecting me to leave. Foolish woman. After twenty seconds passes and she realises I haven’t moved, she snaps:
‘That is all!’
‘No,’ I reply, with a wistful sigh. ‘No, I don’t think it is.’
She looks half puzzled and half pissed-off.
‘Well, y’see, me old mucker,’ I say in English, ‘I’m not taking group classes. I’m taking individual tuition. So, I think you’ll have to make a few changes here and there. Sorry to be a bore.’
Of course, she can’t understand most of what I said, but she does understand the vital bits. She makes a flustered phonecall downstairs, then tells me that I’ll have to wait until 2 o’clock – two and a half hours away. I ask her if she wants to play cards. She looks confused, and I explain it a bit more simply. Good lord, the woman actually smiles. She tells me she has work to do. I tell her I was only joking.
I leave Smolny and make my way west a few blocks to the statue of Dzerzhinsky, who set up what would eventually become the KGB. The statue has become known in recent years as a rallying point for some of the more nostalgic authoritarians such as the neo-nazis, but it’s deserted today, apart from a lone Russian feller, who slips up on the ice and takes a spectular fall onto his arse. I offer a hand, but he is embarassed, and hurries away. I continue on to the yellow Tauride Palace, built by Catherine the Great for Potemkin, but better known to me as the place where the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet unwittingly plotted each other’s deaths. I guess you could say the Petrograd Soviet won by remaining influential longer, but while most members of the Provisional Government fled to Western Europe, many original members of the Petrograd Soviet were executed for ‘treason’ or committed suicide to avoid this fate.
I eat a cheese and berry pastry, drink a strong and mildly disgusting black coffee at the Karavay bakery, and watch the people hurry past. There are people walking everywhere in this city. I have yet to walk much further than twenty metres without passing someone, even when it’s snowing.
Back to Smolny through through the Institute gardens where a bust of Engels angrily glares across the way at a bust of Marx, who scowls back with equal ferocity.
I finally corner the administrator, who confesses that she has lost the correspondence where I claimed to want individual tuition, and has also lost my HIV test. She rewrites the contracts, then rewrites them again after I point out several fundamental mistakes, and having signed them, I depart for home.
Emerging from Primorskaya, I see a pack of twenty dogs idling about in the middle of the intersection. All the traffic patiently waits for them while they sniff, yip, and snap at each other. I realise they are literally a pack of stray dogs, wandering the streets looking for food. One of them barks loudly, and they all trot off down towards the Smolenka river. They’re having a great old time. Dogs love dogs.