Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Good?

Every day I am astounded by how badly I need to learn Russian. Just the basics. How to say "How much?" for example. In the internet cafe I'm in I tried to buy a half hour of internet and the owner said "Money money" in English and I gave him what I knew was too much and to rectify the situation he reached into the fridge and handed me a coke. "But I don't want a coke," I said, and he grunted and motioned towards the computer, as if saying "OK, you go ahead now. Internet. You have a coke and internet. You're happy."

Before this I was eating at a cafe the girl working at my hostel recommended. I successfully ordered soup as an appetizer and then soup as an entree. I tried to order something chicken as an entree, even showing the girl the word for chicken in my dictionary (whose pronunciation still eludes me), but what I got was patently pork. At the end of the meal I tried to ask for the bill, and the girl brought me a cup of "fine Ceylon tea." So I guess I need to learn Russian.

But things are looking up! After St. Petersburg I got on a train to Vologda where I met Alexey, an amiable Russian doctor 28 years of age. He was very excited to practice his English. We spent most of the train ride having an impromptu Russian lesson and then him reading from "The Grapes of Wrath" and me correcting his pronunciation. The word "wrath," incidentally, is almost impossible for Russians to say.

Alexey was very nice. Once in Vologda he took me around with his family to a cafe and then a monastery. The family treated me to lunch. His sister, Anya, lived in Vancouver and even studied briefly at the University of Washington this last spring! Her English was far superior to Alexeys but Alexeys was still good. He really wanted me to go back to St. Petersburg and live with him for a few weeks so he could improve his English and we could go fishing. But I told him I would probably keep heading east.

And then I got sick. Really sick. I'm still sick. My throat is screwed up. It's swollen and my glands are swollen and my ears hurt and weirdest of all my gums are swollen. My gums are extremely sensitive. I hope it's not serious.

But things are looking up. I feel measurably better today and took a train to Yaroslavi, a town about 3.5 hours south of Vologda. It's an agreeable little town of about 600,000 people. I'm the only one in my hostel dorm room so far, and it looks like I'll definitely be able to study Russian here. I'm taking it one day at a time and happily drinking my coke in this internet cafe. The owner just walked by drinking a coke of his own and wearing sunglasses (it's dark in here) and said "Yes, of course!" in English and slapped me on the shoulder.

I love Russia.

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