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© 2018 Susan Jennings

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Red things, green things

April 9, 2001

 

This is getting out of hand. Really, I need, like, a little recorder or something, like gross '80's businessmen or junior college professors use, to make notes to myself when I get an idea. I keep forming blog entries in my mind in some random place, getting to where I can see it take shape, then thinking, "Oh, I'll remember it for later." Of course I seldom do. When the time comes to recall the filed information, my brain goes, "oh, I'm sorry, was there something in that space you needed? Oop, well it ain't there now." I can recall the feeling of it, how good it was... and my brain, again just trying to help, plays a sound for me. "Was it *this?*" it asks, playing white noise: "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh".  Sigh.

 

One thing which will help is that my new G4 Titanium laptop (named Slab) has arrived to the San Fran house. Slab is going to come with me overseas, and Slab and I are going to share merry tales of bloggin' while I sit, refrigerated and in the semi-fetal position of Trans-Atlantic Cattle Class, waiting for my friggin' cup of water or coffee refill, which won't be arriving in this lifetime. And while Slab and QuickSilver get along famously (both being G4's and all), Slab is going to seriously upset the solitary superiority of his retarded little brother CandyApple, the little ruby iMac who rules the Cambridge roost as best he can, which isn't all that well.

 

Since I last wrote, I've been on my little trip around southern Germany (Bavaria) and to Moscow, Russia with Gina.  I have only good things to say about these places.

 

You may recall how I complained miserably about English culture eluding me. Well, now, five days in Moscow straightened my shit out. England is home now! England is as familiar as my own bed and pillow! Like Gina points out, "At least they speak English there, it can't be THAT difficult." Of course the problem with that argument is that I speak American, so yes, there can certainly be difficulties.

 

As an aside, I appreciate that sometimes upon return to the US, Ash has the same problems in reverse. I saw him walk up to the counter in a San Francisco bagel shop after two months in the UK, and confidently place my order for me, using very slightly the wrong emphasis on the words. The girl at the register looked blankly, stared at him, and said, "... huh?"

 

Ash froze, frowned and mumbled the information again under his breath, while I did a full-volume voiceover, ordering it the way I knew the bagelstress needed to hear it.

 

"Anything else?" she asks Ashley.

 

He is clearly deflated. "Just, uh, two of those," he says, even though I know he wanted something else altogether.

 

Yup, that's my life in Cambridge, which I will never complain about again.

 

Moscow is an amazing place. It's not the first place I've been which was truly "foreign" but I found it uniquely challenging getting around, not knowing the Cyrillic alphabet or the language very well, let alone the laws and customs. I think because most of the places I've been which were very foreign, like Istanbul and Cairo, were not as urban as Moscow. Just crossing the street in Moscow requires a little bit of savvy. We ended up having to ask one of the many policemen we saw, and although he yelled at us, we did learn that you don't cross overground, you cross underground. And in these underground intersections are little cities, sprawling shopping malls and restaurants, even a bowling alley. Some people hang out down there all day.

 

Also, unlike Cairo and Istanbul, tourism isn't a terribly prevalent industry; consequently, not a lot of people speak English, which I appreciate. We really did try to speak Russian; we could say "please" and "thank you," "hello" and "goodbye," and my own specialty, my backup phrase, "I don't understand."

 

For some reason our efforts went pretty much unappreciated, and I became rather familiar with the stern look of the Russian matriarch. Most everything in Moscow is run by middle-aged women, and if you screw up even a little bit, they can get seriously in your face and spit out a paragraph of angry (sounding) Russian before you even realize you've overstepped a boundary. I hate being a tourist, and I want to be respectful and blend in. But after the fourth or fifth middle-aged Russian lady, a foot shorter than I and fifty pounds heavier, has put herself in my path and started shouting at me, I have to admit my reaction became less apologetic and more, like, ignoring her and muttering in English, "Yeah, okay, same to ya."

 

Moscow is such a big city! And full of absolutely splendid Byzantine, Neoclassical and Baroque buildings from Russia's golden ages. Actually I really loved the monstrous 1950's "Stalinist Gothic" office buildings! Huge, pyramid-shaped blocks of stone with a giant six-story red star on top, towering over the landscape like something out of the movie Metropolis or a set from Batman. We were constantly on the search for any signs of old communism, which we found everywhere (usually sort of hidden or in piles of rubble).

 

So you can imagine our thrill when we were stopped by a policeman as we walked along one of the Kremlin walls! He asked in Russian for our passports, and as I produced mine Gina announced she didn't have hers. There was some confusion as the policman became insistent upon seeing hers and we tried to gesture that it was back at the hotel. To distract him, I also produced from my purse the little booklet the hotel gave me, with the key card and all my information written in Russian hand by the hotel staff. To obtain a visa to stay in Russia, you have to have a sort of "sponsorship" through your hotel, which must be arranged in advance and proven in order to enter the country. So I thought it must be valuable information. Unfortunately the policeman liked it so much he again wanted to see Gina's. That too was in the hotel room!

 

We started to worry that our joke about being arrested and thrown in prison or killed or something might be unfolding. I whispered to Gina, "Do you think I should give him money?" We had heard that bribes were often expected for small infractions, but she shook her head and gave me the stern Russian matron look. So I started pantomiming that all my papers which he was holding in his hand, were exactly the same as hers. Exactly the same, me, her, together, us, hotel, same! Americans! Stupid Americans, yes, we're harmless, and more importantly, we're together and you have my papers, same as having both our papers I assure you, heh-heh!

 

Finally Gina gave him her wallet, from which he pulled her Wells Fargo ATM card, with its American old west scene of the horses and wagon. He pointed and laughed, and, still smiling, let us go. We were relieved, but I have to say if it hadn't happened at all we would have been disappointed.

 

I could go on all day about how splendid Moscow was, and how glamorous and beautiful the made-up, befur-coated Russian ladies were. But I must mention a little about the Bavaria bit of the trip.

 

Bavaria, or southern Germany, is beautiful and green and mountainous, specked with small villages here and there. It was a lot like the English countryside with the villages, but much hillier; and while England has multicolored-green crops and countryside but often bare, branchy trees, Bavaria had such perfectly manicured-looking grassy hills and valleys, and lush forests of fir and evergreen, it couldn't have been more perfect-looking if the whole thing had been professionally landscaped. I realized also how accustomed I had become to the look of English towns and villages: mostly brown or grey stone, or dark brick, and very squarish and undecorated but nicely old-looking.

 

Bavarian villages are often brighter, the houses often plastered white with dark beams and colorful shutters. The little English country church you'd see would often be stone with a square tower, which I love to see but often look very similar. I became familiar with the Bavarian model, which was usually white plaster with a tall, pointed spire of patinaed copper, with the bottom edge of the spire meeting the top of the tower in a series of "W" shapes, like a ruffled collar.

 

So I have to say it was pleasant driving around a different European countryside, looking at different villages and different churches than I'm used to in England, much as I love the English countryside.

 

And finally, I must add that the Bavarians I met were on the whole warm and friendly people. The most noticeable difference I noted between these and the English people I share Cambridge with is that the Germans will hold your gaze for a long time; and if you smile, they usually will smile back. I guess I'm Californian through and through, because I like that sort of friendly interaction. I don't find the English unfriendly, just a little more private.

 

For the next three weeks I'm back in San Francisco again; and Ash is, again, in another country. Sigh.

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