Tuesday, October 04, 2005

MOSCOW: A DIFFERENT WORLD

Finally after 28 hours of travel, including a two hour drive from Pueblo to Denver, a three hour wait in Denver for my plane, a three ½ hour flight from Denver to Atlanta, a four hour layover in Atlanta, a 10 ½ hour flight from Atlanta to Moscow, an unforgettable journey through Moscow that took about seven hours after everything, and a 1 ½ hour flight from Moscow to Rostov, I’m in Rostov and in my room. I can’t believe that I’m actually here and that my travel went smoothly, minus a few events in Moscow that I’ll write about in a minute. For the most part I had a good journey and the jetlag isn’t effecting me too bad. I was able to sleep a little on each plane and my body is adjusting to the time difference very well; I cannot say the same about my mental state. My mind is just trying to rap itself around hearing the Russian language being spoken all around me. It can’t adjust to hearing a new language constantly, trying to figure out what people are telling me, and trying to think for itself in the language its use to. So in an attempt to better grasp things, my mind keeps going to French mode and I’ve been thinking in French for the last several hours. This is surprising since I haven’t really used French for four years and I thought I had forgotten it all, but apparently I haven’t. So this natural reaction must mean that either I’m trying to compensate for not knowing the Russian language by forcing my mind to think in the only other language it knows, or I’ve just gone completely mad all ready, which would be a record time but about time for me. However, I hope soon that my mind adjusts completely and I can start trying to learn the Russian language more…I say that but I find that I am learning some due to signs being in both Russian and English and I’m memorizing the Russian equivalent. We will have to see about that though.

So now let me tell you about my stay in Moscow. We reached Moscow a little before schedule and to my relief customs and baggage claim were fairly simple. It wasn’t more than a half hour between when I got off the plane and when I was walking out of the terminal. Now the whole flight over, I was worrying that no one would be there to pick me up at the airport and that I would have to try find a phone and call Galina, or that the person picking me up would speak no Russian because Galina e-mailed me before I left Colorado and said she was looking for someone “who at least speaks survival English.” Not that I wouldn’t feel safe with a person who didn’t speak English, but when you are new to a country and don’t know your way around it is always nice to have someone to communicate with. Anyway to digress, I walked out of the terminal and my first fear was overcome because a young man about my age, maybe younger, was holding a sign that had my name and Rostov State University. He was talking on the phone and when I walked up to him he smiled and said hello. Being very helpful, which I already can say that Russians are very helpful to strangers (something maybe Americans might want to try and do every once in awhile), he offered to take my bags. We walked out of the airport and several taxi drivers tried to jump on us and ask us if we needed rides, like I said Russians might be a little too helpful, but he declined and told me he had a car. He also told me that my flight from Moscow to Rostov didn’t leave for several hours and asked me what I would like to do until then. Although we had some trouble communicating to begin with, we soon were able to understand each other and find ways to discuss things that at first we couldn’t convey to each other.

After several minutes of debate with himself, Renat decided that he would drive me around Moscow and show me some of the major things. Okay let me just get this statement out of the way: Everyone in the states complains about how others drive there, but until you’ve ridden in a car in Russia you have no idea what crazy drivers are. I don’t know their traffic laws here, but what I do know is that as a foreigner it looked like chaos. Cars were swerving in and out of traffic, even going off the streets to pass someone. The lines that look very much like our own street lines are pretty much ignored and people just drive randomly through the streets. On streets that look like they should only be three lanes, you would see five to six different lanes, and the cars would be so close that you would swear they were about to play bumper cars for fun. It was all quite frightening to begin with, especially since I’m such an uptight driver and passenger that I flinch at the thought of being too close to a car in front of me, but as Renat moved smoothly –almost like an artist does as they paint the perfect strokes on a canvas –through traffic I relaxed. It was a strange beautiful mess that I’ve never seen before to watch the heavy traffic start and stop. Thousands of cars on one street would all sort of move in sync and we found are way along the street that circles Moscow.

Renat drove me around all through the major square of Moscow, and I saw the Gremlin and many other beautiful buildings. We didn’t stop and get out anywhere, basically because even though we had about four hours till my plane left we wanted to grab some launch and then make our way through heavy and I mean HEAVY traffic to the airport on the other side of the city. However, while driving I couldn’t believe some of the things I was seeing…there is not really any place in America that I could compare Moscow to in the way that it looks. You have these monstrous, colorful buildings that look like they are right out of the pages of a fairly tale book right next to these slums (there is no other word that I can think of to describe some of the buildings I saw). Now I don’t know if these buildings are considered nice here or not, but to me they look like the projects we have in big cities like New York and L.A. It was strange for me to see these two very different styles (not only the conditions of the buildings but also some were very modern looking and they sat right next to a thousand year old building) mixed together so closely. I mean in America we have good sides of town and bad sides of town, so imagine if we threw those different sides together what we would get. That is what Moscow felt and looked like to me: that the upper class and lower classes mated their buildings and their spawn turned out to be Moscow. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an amazing thing. I found it to be so liberating to blur the boarders between the “two sides” and see a city form together for better or worse into one of the major and most powerful cities in the world.

Moscow was not what I imagined it to be, but there is a certain beauty found in my preconceived notion being wrong. One think that I thought for sure would be the case was the cars. I thought you would see nothing but 70’s and 80’s model cars and that they would be driving on the “wrong side” of the road. However, the cars in Russia period are very modern. There are a lot of 2000’s models ranging from Ford Focuses to Mitsubishi, and the biggest surprise came from the fact they drive on the same side of the road that we do. Almost every car I saw had the driver seat of the car on the left, not the right. Now I know this isn’t that big of a deal but to me it was. It made me realize that Russia is not that different from America, and I will throughout my postings on this blog show that the two countries share a lot in common. But for now back to the point of this posting. Although the cars are very modern, the people in side the cars are somewhat stuck in another era; that era being the 1980’s. I was so shocked to find that Russians love American music, and mostly 80’s pop-rock. I kind of always figured that American music would be big over here, but the last bands I figured I would hear were Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Devo. Yet as I sat in Renat’s car I heard song after song from the 80’s, which really calmed me down. As many of you know some of my favorite artists are from the 80’s and I just generally love the music that was made back then. So hearing these all too familiar songs while in the midst of another culture brought me back to earth. Hearing words that I knew and could understand made me feel at home, plus being able to sing along with a Russian male you had just meet an hour before “Relax, just do it/ when you want to get to it” was something I never thought I’d do in a hundred years.

After showing me around Moscow for awhile, Renat and I decided we’d have lunch. We stopped at a really nice restaurant (the name of I cannot think of now) and ate. It was really weird because the restaurant had both a Russian menu and an English menu. Renat and I decided for the better good of both of us that we would order a simple pizza and share it. Renat also ordered us a traditional drink, which was made out of cranberry juice. We ate rather fast since time was becoming rather tight and I had to catch my flight from Moscow to Rostov. As soon as there was not food left on our plates we took off. Renat did not seem to be traveling any faster than he had before to get me to the airport on time. Yet he did not seem nervous of me being late either, until we felt a thud under the tires and the car started to swerve a little. Renat acting pretty fast, and a lot better than I would of if I were driving in Pueblo, went from the far right lane to the shoulder, which was five lanes away. He got out of the car and found that we had blown a tire. No problem right? Wrong I had an hour before check in and Renat had no spare tire, not even a doughnut.

Renat starting calling several different people trying to find help as I sat there listening to him speak in the same tone he always did. For my own part I couldn’t do anything. I had no phone, no way of communicating, and certainly had no idea of who to call or how to find help. Luckily one of Renat’s friends, Sergey, was not far from us. Within ten minutes Sergey drove up and got out of his car. Sergey looked like how I imagined a lot of Russian males to look. He had a good structured nose and light blue eyes that even I was jealous of. His messy, dirt blond hair was cut in an indie-rocker style. Without missing a beat he shook my hand, introduced himself, and got my luggage to his care all in a minute after pulling up. Sergey, Renat and I all pilled into Sergey’s Volvo and took off. Sergey was a little more cautious of his driving then Renat was but he also weaved in and out of lanes like a professional stunt driver. The time was clicking away and my flight was almost leaving. Yet we made it to the airport and rushed inside.

Security in a Russian airport is a little different than America. Before even entering the building one must go through metal detectors and be patted down. Well me being the genius I am forgot that I was wearing a wallet chain and a metal watch, so getting through the security check point took some time. Finally after putting my wallet, watch, and belt all back on I went up to the check-in counter, only to find out that the I was late for check-in and they wouldn’t let me onto the plane…

…Renat handed the money over to the clerk, who had changed my flight to another time. I had not been able to get to a bank since I landed and they would not take the fifty American dollars or my Visa for the difference in ticket prices. Here we were now having to wait another five hours before my plane would leave from Moscow. I was going to be late arriving to Rostov, Sergey had to be to work in two hours, and Renat’s car was stranded on some street with a blowout tire. Sergey and Renat were discussing what to be done next, while trying to translate to me what they were speaking about. The plan was now to go to Sergey’s house and pick up a spare tire to put onto Renat’s car, which we would then use to return me to the airport and see me off. Well that was a good theory, except that they didn’t take into account that although they had the same make of car the model and years were different, so the tire that was meant for Sergey’s car might not fit Renat’s. Yet they didn’t think of this, and me not understanding what the hell was going on was off in my own world, until the three of us tried changing the tire. The failure of the changed tire left me severely screwed because I had no way of getting to the airport to leave again, because Sergey had to run to work.

Renat, whose phone is pretty much attached to his head, was calling for a cab. The only problem was that cabs in Russia aren’t like the cabs we have in the States. There is no company that runs cabs; the cabs are pretty much all individual people who drive their own cars around until someone flags them down for a ride. The driver then haggles with the passenger over a price and a distance. However, Renat was able to get us a cab, so we stood on the side of the road until it came. For about twenty minutes we stood on the side of the road waiting for the cab, while a police car kept circling a near by lot looking at us. At home I would think that the police were just trying to make sure we were okay, but here I was beginning to get nervous. Anyone will tell you to stay away from the cops here, and after having a conversation not three hours ago with Renat about Russian police I was getting a little scared. I had all my belongings, including money, with me and I kept picturing in my head the cops coming up asking to see my documents and then taking all my belongs in order for me not to go to jail. Thankfully this did not happen. The police eventually got board watching us and took off, and the cab pulled up not too much longer after that.

I was finally dropped off at the airport by the cab, but Renat could not wait with me until I took off. He had to go and take care of his car before it would be either vandalized or towed away. So after giving me some rubles to take care of the fact that my bags would weight too much, he left. I was alone at a Moscow airport and I had to pay close attention to when they would call for my flight to check-in. I waited for about an hour and then heard that they were checking in my flight, so I went through another gate of security and checked in. Due to the fact that my bags weighted 9.5 kilograms more then it was supposed to I had to pay, but the clerk did not speak English so we could not communicate. Thankfully though a young man who spoke English well was standing behind me. He helped to translate what I was supposed to do, and eventually after all was settled him and I walked to the gate for the flight together. We sat together waiting for the plane and talked about where I was from and where he was from. He is actually from Rostov but was just in Texas before Rita hit for work. In fact, he travels to America a lot and had just spent six months there for his job. When we boarded the plane, he switched his seat so that we could sit next to each other on the flight. His name is Reynard and he was very helpful throughout the flight to help me understand the stewardesses. During the flight he would tell me to look out the window and he would explain what we were flying over, such as when we were over Rostov he pointed out where I would be living.

From the sky, Rostov looked like a very beautiful city, and it was a lot bigger then I had thought it would be. The lights all over the city were different bright colors and the main street was light up just like Times Square. After all of this I was in Rostov, and soon I would be in my room and be able to sleep. Once the plane landed, we proceeded into the airport to claim our baggage. Standing right at the door was Lucy holding a sign with my name on it. She was pretty much how I imagined her, with light brown hair and rather young. As soon as I introduced myself she took me by the arm and we walked to baggage claim. It only took a few more minutes in the airport and we were off to my room. Now in the back of my mind, I had thought that my room would be quite small and in very bad standards; however, when Lucy lead me into the room and I saw what it looked like I was very happy. It is the size of a normal dorm room in America, maybe a little bigger, and it contained a couch, a refrigerator (which they had stocked with fruits, cheeses, and a few meats for sandwiches), a television, a desk, a china cabinet, and of course a bed. I was quite relived that my room was nice and I soon felt right at home. Lucy helped me to unpack and made me some tea before she said goodnight. The next morning, we had agreed she would be here at nine in order to take me up to breakfast, which by the way all of my meals are paid for as long as I eat in the Cantina. Upon being left alone, I immediately took a shower and went to bed. Thus ended my first day in Russia, which I at times thought would be my last day because I almost gave up and came home…but I’m here now and Rostov is proving to be a great place.

2 Comments:

At 7:37 PM, Blogger Lydia said...

James,
This is such an amazing story. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. And how jealous I am over the adventure you're experiencing! (Although I'm sure it felt more like drama at the time.) I'll just live vicariously through your blog and imagine when I can do something exciting like this. I'm so glad your room was nice and that the people there were so friendly. I'm sure that made all the difference. I can't wait to read more of what Russia is like! Stay safe and healthy, and I'll talk to you soon!
Love, Lydia

 
At 7:18 AM, Blogger Lynette said...

Isn't it wonderful that when we need someone to talk with, someone shows up? I'm glad you found someone to talk with on the plane from Moscow to Rostov.

Be well

 

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