Post 5: St.Petersburg by Foot

April 16th, 2017

The Technologeychesky Station is a beautiful place and the bombings launched me back to the two weeks I lived in St.Petersburg. As described below, the place showed a convergence of life and the great place in the world — maybe even a different world. I hope to return sometime soon, and hopefully, see the metro and the people in the way I saw them during my first stay.

I’ll post more about my stay the St.Petersburg metro later which left probably the biggest impact on me during my stay.

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August 5th, 2016

I blew the circuit with a blow dryer my first day in St.Petersburg and so I pushed the hair from my eyes as the landlady, Tatiana, stormed out of my room behind me as I walked into the hallway. I understood the gist of her diatribe: “Don’t do that again, young man.”

I had circled the room shoving important items into my jeans. I was late again. The worst part is I arrive early for people I dislike, but late for my loved ones. I would probably be early to a duel and late to a wedding. It’s just the way I am.  If my friends pretended to hate me, they would see an exponential growth in my punctuality. Today I was late for class, and I had no connection to the people at the institute so it was easy.

I put my shoes on at the door and accidentally wore them in the house and the landlady chased me into the living room. She pointed from the shoes to my face, and I think she told me that the dirt will get into my mouth. I respond “Sorry, Sorry. I know. I know my parents taught me better.” I removed my shoes, ran into my room, and grabbed the metro tokens. I put my shoes back on, and Suguro and I walk downstairs. Suguro, is a Japanese student, that the landlady and I openly insult. He almost certainly waxes his eyebrows and responds “Yes, no,” to most questions, and says “Thank you,” instead of “Hello.” Through high school, college, work, international relations, the best bonds come from finding a common enemy. One of my best friends grew from the distaste towards our third roommate, Skidmark.

We walked in silence down the steps. I missed the last step and twisted my ankle so that the joint touched the ground. The lady that watched the entrance laughed, and I jumped and did a strange trot to show that I am athletic but made a fool of myself. I pointed to the button on the door so Suguro understands that he must press it to leave the building, and he followed me silently into the courtyard.

As we walked towards the gate leading to the crowded street, I reflected on the fact that ten years from now at age thirty-four that twisted ankle might break. I considered a future where my health declines, and it gives me chest pains: “I’m weak already. How will I make it?” The string of voices that flows through my head interact with lightning speed: “You won’t” one says. “That is not a fair statement — nobody makes it.” says the other, and they argue like they always do until I tell Suguro we need to cross the street.

We walked next to the canal with black water that looks perpetually cold. A couple stray bottles lay on the steps leading down to the water, and I grabbed the post at the top of the steps and swung my body around to avoid a large puddle that reflects the morning sun on the broken walkway. Suguro and I crossed the bridge and turn right to the other side of the canal. Russians walk by me, and I keep my face straight to try to match theirs.

The Russian woman passing by are beautiful. The hardest part is I never will know any women in Russia, and so they become old ladies to me, and the old ladies become young ladies, and they flash back in forth in my mind as I contemplate the speed with which people grow and disintegrate into nothingness. I cherish their liveliness and how they move, and how throughout the unintelligible history of time the pieces that compose them once lied unused on Earth. But for some reason, we walk together here today.

We walked towards the metro station and a couple people gather outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken which feels like an American cultural equivalent to a military base. After the KFC came Petrogradskaya station. Suguro gestures towards me, and I showed him the machine that takes money. We got caught in a stream as people flowed all around us. He has no clue how to pay, and I showed him my wallet, and he shows his. I opened it and looked for the money he needs. The cash register only takes 500 rubles at a time. His 1000 rubles meant I had to break my introverted non-confrontational, 9 AM shell to ask for ten tokens. “Possible 10 tokens?” The attendant looked confused, and I repeat again, “Possible 10 tokens?” She got them and gave me the change, and this was a victory. I hand the tokens and change to Suguro, who simply nods. We step onto the escalator which is perhaps my favorite part of the journey. If I am alone, I find the Harry Potter soundtrack and listen to “Platform nine and three-quarters,” and the descent in the metro — one of the deepest in the world — feels like an entrance to another planet.

We reached the bottom where the floors are clean and the station has doors that open for the subway. The metro arrived quickly, and we entered the crowded car. I grabbed an overhead railing as seats are rarely available, and my twenty-four-year-old self with ankles still intact can handle the standing.

The car bustled through the tunnel. Suguro was rather small with orangish hair and a frail figure, and he never grabbed the bar so I watched him get tossed like a pebble as the car stopped. He is not sure how to say, “Sorry.” I watched the interaction, and he grabbed the bar after the Mockovskaya Station. Nevskiy Prospect was next, Celnaya Ploshad, Gor’kovskaya Station, and then Technologeychesky Station. I read an Economist article on my phone to pass the time, and we exited and walked towards the Institute. Technologeychesky Sation is crowded in the mornings, and the paths of hundreds of people cross at once and form into a single line on the escalator — I watched the convergence with astonishment. I kept reading articles until we reached the precipice.

On the walk out I took a copy of The Metro, which also exists in Philadelphia. They talk about Fidel Castro’s ninetieth birthday, and I am reminded that I should probably treat Suguro nicely. After all, Fidel was treated poorly on his trip to the United States, and he certainly formed a lasting impression.

The exits through a couple wooden doors lead to the street. I saw an American embassy on the corner, Burger King, and remembered the street based on this distinction. We crossed the street and Suguro stumbled and almost fell, and I felt guilty at how quickly I turned thought him to be an illiterate oaf. It is too easy to be stupid in this world. Many people choose ignorance, but I stood next to a person that wanted to test his level of ignorance, which I respect above all else. If we want people to truly embrace knowledge and kindness, we should dare them to spend seven days in a country where they know not a single word of the language.

We crossed the final road before the institute and passed a massive white church with beautiful baby blue tops and gold stars. I marvel at the architecture in St.Petersburg and in greater Russia but always smile elaborate buildings that celebrate teachings in a book. Maybe it’s just me but the Word seems best in the Book and not translated into other arts.

Suguro and I reached the entrance to the Derzhavin Institute. He joined the group of Japanese speaking students, and I speak with the Italian and German students that graciously choose to speak English to help me understand. I am five minutes late and push the hair from eyes to take notes on today’s lesson.

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