Wednesday, March 14, 2007


In this country [USA], decadence means trashy, pornographic, dirty. Cadent comes from the Latin cadere which means to fall. Decadent is something very different, it's the beautiful way to fall. It's [a] very slow movement which has lots of beauty, you know. It can be a kind of self-killing in a beautiful way, a tragic way.—Jacques de Bascher

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Maybe Tomorrow

Some people seem to be a little disappointed in my failure to explore Russia beyond Moscow. To be honest I’m more than a smidgen disappointed in myself. In my defense I always have been a city girl - never pretended to be anything other than that - and after my border crossing incident of the other week I am less keen to abandon the metropolis. However the ambition is there. Latent as it is.

Several Friday nights ago intrepid M, myself and another friend, Don RRR (a latin diplomat who says “hhhhhhhot” a lot), sat around a table in a cozy bar somewhere off Bolshoya Nikitskaya, surrounded by a sea of empty glasses and a very fine shisha. The three of us staring into space and puffing….

M: We should get out of the city next weekend. Let’s hire a car and drive to Suzdal.
Me: I should let you know, I don’t drive.
DR: Neither do I.
M: Neither do I.

We haven’t left Moscow yet. However progress has been made with two more attempts at contemplating journeys to Suzdal….baby steps. I have decided that next weekend I will make it to a golden ring city. Come hell or high water.

I have managed to leave the country though - Helsinki (via Tallinn) to get my new visa and to hang out with my friend S from London. Finally. After the first abortive attempt to Ukraine I started to wonder whether I would ever make it out of here…. What happened in Ukraine?

A Russian epic on a par with Dr Zhivago. Romance (none for me), high drama, hunger, suffering, cold and lots of snow. Actually to be honest the comparisons are a little tenuous but I’ll point them out as I go on. To be brutally honest I think the only reason why I’m drawing parallels with is because I really want to be Julie Christie and for a moment (in the fur coat and fur hat while the snow was coming down) I actually looked sort of kind of not really like her at all and a little bit like Geraldine Chaplin. Seriously though, either way, you really would have to squint those eyes.

So as I had changed jobs and as my visa was cancelled I had to leave Russia for a couple of days to go get a new visa. Destination of choice was Kiev. Very un-Dr Zhivago, I know. Over the space of a week I bought my ticket got my documents ready and then finally one Thursday evening I boarded the train. I was all excited as I had lucked out and landed a swanky refurbished train. My kupe cabin has everything I could want including a very cute American traveler to flirt with. I hiked up onto my top bunk – with my fat ass on display (my lack of grace remains). Unwrapped. Grabbed my book, donned my glasses and kicked back. Had a quick munch of a sandwich and then at around 10pm dozed off. All of a sudden at 2am I was woken by the border police doing passport checks. They took mine along with everyone else’s and then they came back and that’s where the trouble began. It seems I hadn’t checked my visa very closely (I saw the picture – of me- and the nationality and my employer and so automatically thought if it has my picture it then it has to be mine). They come back to the kupe, gave everyone their passports back. Everyone but me that is. And this is where the fun begins:

Guard: Irish?
Me: that’s me.
Guard: is this yours
Me: yes
Guard: is this your visa?
Me: yes
Guard: are you sure it’s your visa?
Me: yes, look at the picture
Guard: be careful now, is this really your visa?
Me: yes, let me show you

I show him the picture and then he points to the name: Sean Barry Morris and according to the visa I am male and born in 1983. Thanks to some stylish handiwork by an inept foreign ministry visa processor (if ever there was an advertisement for people not to allow workers to drink beer at breakfast then this is it). I felt the bile rise. I was promptly removed from the train.

It was pitch black and effing freezing (I had it pegged at -25oC or thereabouts). I get frog marched into a compound and brought into this prefab room/building/box. What ensued was 9 hours of being held by the Russian border police. Don RRR tells me I am an official case of consular protection. I was accused of having a fake passport (apparently I don't look very much like me int he picture - more like Jabba the Hut on a bad day) and fake visa. After much phonecalling and with much thanks to my embassy, my former employer, Don RRR and the Russian foreign ministry, the misunderstanding was cleared up and I finally got my ass back on a train and back to Moscow (where it was sorted out pretty quickly). Alas not before interrogations (next to big guard dogs in the freezing cold) and searches, a few more scares, threats of being incarcerated for days, bollocks Russian bureaucracy and much bonding with the Russian border guards in Briansk (i knew them all by their first name by the end of it). It was interesting though. I got to see how the immigrants from the caucuses were treated (I was in the room all night watching people come and go) and how the border guards interact (much bed hopping) and I also learnt that the stasi fashions circa 1985 are still very much in vogue (the boss man wore a black leather jacket, black turtle neck, black jeans, gold rings and slick-backed hair) with persons of power. I have joked about my night an awful lot, but on my trip to Tallinn and Helsinki I realized that the whole experience actually scared the buJesus out of me. i have just been in denial about it.

As for TALLIN & HELSINKI. The train ride to Tallinn was far less eventful. Though stressful as I was freaked out about being dragged off the train again. And a lot more amusing. I had some interesting cabin mates. One man and two women of a “certain age”. The train departed at 18.10 and by 19.30 the man was in his bed (in his PJs) scarfing down sandwiches and suckling on a bottle of vodka like nursing infant. A couple of hours later a fight started between him and one of the ladies over switching out the lights (there was much switch flicking in a very farcical way). It was a minor but was refereed by the head steward in the train and witnessed by all others in the carriage. It culminated in the steward trying to reason with the lady (calling her devushka) and the man bellowing back “she’s too ugly to be called devushka”. The lady left and we got a new cabin-mate. Aside from that and both the Russian and the Estonian border guards asking me why I had such an awful picture in my passport the journey was pretty uneventful. It was pretty though. On the train, hurtling through the Estonian countryside, nursing a cup of tea and watching the sun rise over snow covered plains. I even saw a family of moose. Which was rather cool. Cute too.

So Tallinn for my visa. Getting the visa, despite my fears, was uneventful and so I had plenty of time to wander around town while I waited for my ferry to Helsinki. Tallinn itself is super picturesque, in the old town at least, but unnaturally quiet. I was there on a Thursday a working day and I saw barely anyone on the streets. It was kind of creepy to be honest. It was cold though. Damp-cold unlike Moscow and so a lot harder to brave. Despite being swathed in fur I couldn’t ever get warm enough. I spent the day wandering around town, seeing some sights and drinking lots and lots of hot drinks. At 4pm I caught the ferry to Helsinki. Very titanic with the ice covered see surrounding us. Basically Tallinn is where all the Finns go to get their cheap booze. And they buy A LOT of booze. Children are porters of choice…the bigger the family you have the more alcohol you can carry.. As it was winter only the bigger ships were making the journey and so the trip was three hours, rather than the 1.5 hours it would have been in the summer. I managed to find a seat in the bar which had a live band and then just watched all the people around me booze it up and dance. It was kind of cool actually. I couldn’t imagine any Brits doing that on a booze cruise to Calais.

Helsinki. I met S and we spent three days looking at sights and eating and drinking our way about the city. The hotel was gorgeous. A good find. And possibly the bargain of the weekend. Helsinki itself was pretty. Incredibly low-lying and effing freezing. And randomly, a little Moomin-tastic (even though Moomins are from Sweden). And in a similar vein to Tallinn it was quiet quiet quiet. Creepily so. The only day it really came to life was Saturday when people were out shopping. But other than that there were times when we didn’t see a soul on the street. Like I said: creepy. When you did encounter people they were lovely and incredibly friendly which made up for it. It was small too. A walk which S had thought would take us the whole morning actually took 30 minutes. Which was a good thing as it was cold cold cold. But we saw churches and museums and galleries and shops (ironically the prettiest church was the Russian orthodox cathedral - the Uspenski). So I think we did the city some justice. We also managed to sample some of the city’s nightlife with thanks to my hairdresser who told me where to go. I bumped into him and his entourage all over town. He appeared to be the man to know and so he became my temporary BFF. We also made it to the opera. Awfully cultured of us, I know. To see Tchaikovsky’s "Queen of Spades". I was thrilled to bits as it was visually quite a breathtaking production at times. Poxy tenor though. Which was a shame. On the upside there was a very cute French horn player who I mooned over….

I do have to say, though, it is the most expensive city in the world. And tosh to anyone who says anything different.

So a good weekend all in all and a successful visa run. And it was really lovely to see S and to get a dose of London sardonicism – I have been missing it. Any recommendations? Well, Helsinki I would go back to. Tallinn not so much.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A to B

I’ve been observing the Sahib of late. I had nagging feeling of déjà vu and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Finally I’ve worked it out: he reminds me of someone else.

I used to have a colleague who thought he was far brighter than anyone else. Like rocket scientist bright. He wasn’t. Nor was his work rocket science, but he didn’t seem to think so and treated it as such. He was a Yorkshire man – not that that has anything to do with intellect, but….who knows! One of the irksome habits he had (and there were many) was that he never moved his upper lip when he spoke. In fact he never moved his lips very much when he spoke. Drove everyone nutzo, especially my esteemed American colleagues. Whenever anyone asked him a question about his work and he had to think of an answer he used to do the following: rub his eyes with the base of the palms of his hands, inhale deeply, exhale deeply and then put his head back and look at the ceiling, gurning slightly, deep in contemplation (of course) as if communing with a higher power. He would stay like that for a good couple of minutes before deigning to answer. Once a really brash American colleague bellowed at him “No point lookin’ up there - God ain’t gonna help you with this” I had to leave the room as I was laughing so hard.

So how does this relate to the Sahib? Well, the Sahib also likes to think he’s a bit of a rocket-scientist. He’s been working hard of late and telling everyone that he’s being doing some revolutionary analysis – the results of which will blow our minds away. There’s been a lot of melodrama. Huffing and puffing. Swearing and uttering of things like “eureka” (I shit you not). Obviously the cogs in his brain are working overtime. The revelatory analysis? Something along the lines of the fact that the Russian middle class is the same size as the British middle class, as percentage of the population as a whole. I’ll let you decide as to whether it’s akin to rocket science...or not.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Alternative to Love

“It’s hard to argue against cynics – they always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side” - Molly Ivins

Hey look, I know I am an infamous cynic and rather scathing to boot. When I left London I thought maybe it would change – I would change - and that the cynicism was less to do with me and more a result of my milieu and surroundings. My time living in this glorious city hasn’t changed much. In fact it’s made me a cynic of even greater proportions, and a touch more jaded. I have two tales to impart – neither of them are particularly unusual for here and they give you a flavour of the libidinous climate in this city. One I heard about and the other I got to witness….in part.

Tale 1:

There lives in Moscow a young man - British, good looking, successful (banker/lawyer or something of that ilk) and an expat. He lives a pretty cushy life with his beautiful Latin American partner and their new new new baby (merely months old). Happy families one would have thought. I would have thought so too had I met them. As with all parents they sought the services of a babysitter (mum and dad have to have some time off…) and found a friendly and pretty 20-year old university student who seemed to be the perfect babysitter. Within weeks the new father began pursuing the baby sitter. At first she resisted and then finally capitulated succumbing to his whisperings of sweet nothings and the suaveness he possesses that is devoid in most Russian men. They copulate (for want of a better word). Several times no doubt. And a few weeks later the man and his partner head to South America for their wedding. Before their departure he gets a call. It’s the babysitter. She’s missed her period. He still boards that plane.

Tale 2:

I have a friend who works in an esteemed institution. She loves her job, but her boss drives her totally batty. He’s English (what is it with these Brits?!), not particularly attractive, in his mid 40’s (at a guess), a total omega-male and a bit of a nebbisha to be honest. I call him The PHILANDERER (my friend calls him the tool who knows nothing). He’s married to a rather pretty woman (who rumor has it, is a little high maintenance) from the Caucasus and they are parents to a young (very young) child. The PHILANDERER has been suffering at home for the last few months as for some reason his wife has been giving him a little of the silent treatment. No one outside the marriage knows who is to blame (maybe it’s that the wife is too high maintenance or maybe he is just too much of a nebbisha). Everyone knows about the troubles as he complains (to anyone who will listen) how he can’t really go home and how he’s worried his wife will leave him and take the child with her. It hasn’t taken long for The PHILANDERER to find pastures green. One random evening, a couple of weeks ago, in a bar he found himself a student. Had a flirtation (no bodily fluids were exchanged – I promise) and took her number. A week later he called her and agreed to meet up with her. I was there for the second meeting. Young student she may be, but she wasn’t the prettiest tool in the box, she looks a bit like a farmer’s wife to be honest (he’s no Bruce Weber subject by any stretch of the imagination). Why was I there at the second meeting? I had gone to meet a colleague of my friend. I hadn’t expected to see there boss there with the farmer’s wife. We sat there having beers and trying to ignore unfolding events: The PHILANDERER and the farmer’s wife making out at the table like 12 year-olds who have very little experience of making out, very little control of their saliva production and very little shame. The noise was unbearable. After an hour of this he walks her down to a cab and put her (no doubt further saliva swapping and groping ensued on the pavement). The PHILANDERER then comes back upstairs to our table and pulls aside his 23 year-old junior and asks this boy his advice on whether he should have gone home/slept with the farmer’s wife. I distanced myself at that point and headed home. There is something so fundamentally wrong with that picture – a 40+ year old man (and person of authority) asking a 23 year old boy (his junior) for advice on whether he should cheat on his wife. Alas the saga doesn’t end there. A couple of days later the 23 year-old junior gets an sms in which The PHILANDERER asks if he can use the 23 year-old’s apartment to sleep with the farmer’s wife. He was refused. He then approached other of his colleagues in the workplace, those who witnessed the snog-fest, and tried to get them to engage in conversations about his predicament. I’m guessing that as I type this many bodily fluids have been exchanged and the wife at home will have every reason to ditch him and run off with the kid.

But that’s not the point. Finally some validation for my well honed cynicism. The lesson to be learnt from these tales is that in this city morals, fidelity and loyalty account for nothing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Kick In The Teeth

“We are all British gentlemen engaged in the magnificent work of governing an inferior race.” – The Earl of Mayo, Viceroy of India 1869-72

My new job. Officially its editor, unofficially its observer of the freak show that is my place of work. My direct boss is a rather special creature. Public school educated (or prep school educated - for the Americans out there). Cut of a cloth that I thought was long extinct. Yes the Colonial Rah. Signet ring toting and all. He of the British Raj. Those of you who haven’t read Charles Allens’ books on the Raj (they’re really cool actually) should swat up. As what was once thought to be an extinct breed of person – is in fact alive, well and functioning in Moscow. He’s not the last of a dying breed alas as he has procreated. The Sahib (I think this name shall stick) has a team of bright young kids and he treats them like mental deficients because they are simply foreign. Yet, and stop the press on this one, the irony is that HE’s the foreigner in THEIR country. It is quite unnerving to witness, especially when he publicly chastises and ridicules his analysts. He discusses his employees with other non-natives, in English (a language his employees understand), while standing in front of them like they were a bunch of remedial children he has been burdened with. He thinks them so idiotic that he believes that the only way he can control them is through this Byzantine system of fines. It is, in his mind, the piece de resistance of his regime. The fines range anything from $20 to $500 and can be for things such as missing deadlines to not putting doctor’s appointments in the right diary and bad punctuation. Here they tolerate it; sometimes answer back in that sullen Slavic way that Russians have. Ultimately though they just grin and bear it…without the grinning (actually there’s a whole load of joking going on here – much of it about him). The whole thing breeds apathy (they lose interest in their work) and it basically reinforces his notion of the stubborn foreigner (which he translates to mean “idiot”). It’s bizarre to witness. Sad too. I dunno.

But the analysts are absolute dolls. Total characters in their own right and that makes it kind of fun around here.


Good news people! My intrepid friend, miss M has kicked my behind into shape and told me to get back on the blog wagon once again. So here I am. I do have rather a lot stuff to write about – so now that I have regular access I am going to try and be a little more diligent.

The last few months in a nutshell: quit teaching, though not fully (I have kept on a private student) and have moved to an editorial position at a financial institution. Sounds rock ’n roll huh? Maybe not….. I also moved apartment and now live in the centre of town (for those of you have Moscow metro maps to hand – I’m living around Pushkinskaya). These small changes have put a little spring in my step. Not that I was unhappy before, but now I am pleased as punch. I keep decent hours (with more time on my hands to gallivant), I live close to my friends and I am able to walk most places. Rest assured some things still haven’t changed: I am still busy exploring, having adventures, meeting new people, my Russian still sucks massively and I am still totally smitten with this place.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

World Before Columbus

i have decided to leave a trail of song titles as my headers as i seem to be devoid of imagination when it comes to things like that. any trainspotters out there can try and work out where they came from...if you fancy, that is.

it's been a hectic week. lots happening and, thankfully, not all of it relating to my lack of prowess as an english-language-teacher-in-the-making. thursday was when it all kicked off - i was pickpocketed. which i dont feel was the biggest drama in the world. it seems, however, that everyone around me ís far more upset and shaken by it. go figure. they got my purse (with only one card and the equivalent of $40) and my ipod (ok that stung a little....) but i was so relieved that they didn't take my beloved fountain pens (which amusingly are worth multiples of what they actually took - oh the irony) that the rest didn't really matter all that much. i cancelled the card pretty easily and arranged for a new one to be issued. and the ipod. well it seems they are cheaper here than they were in duty it all works out well. but the scary thing was how good the pickpockets were! they managed to get this stuff out my black-hole-of-calcutta bag. even i can't find stuff in there on a good day. i've become a little paranoid as a result, which is no bad thing.

i have finished with my elementary students. i was sad to see them go and scared shitless about my imcoming intermediate students who i start teaching tomorrow. i had my first progress report tutorial and the years at fsa put me in amazing stead - all that practice of writing self appraisals and having reviews. it wasn't bad at all. the good news is that i haven't flunked out.

so friday night was going out with some students and the rest of my classmates. it was a balmy evening so we sat outside at tables at some random "bistro" (in the russian sense of the word) and ate and drank and joked about. many toasts and much vodka before we all crawled home. it was fun. the students are so friendly and generous - sometimes it is a little overwhelming - it totally puts londoners to shame. but it really feels like summer is ending here and people are just trying to eek out the most from the last of it.

saturday was about shopping. the window sort. a few of us girls realised that we needed to start scoping out where we could get winter boots etc (every man and his dog are gearing up for the cold). i tell you, one wants for nothing here - except maybe for decent toilet paper and H&M - it's a little overpriced but not enough to scare you away. and they often have cooler/more directional stuff in the shops than you can find elsewhere. i actually think shopping here could be a very dangerous thing. but i was good. very good. we walked across the red square a few times getting from a-b and goosebumbs got me every time. i still have to pinch myself from time to time and remind myself that i am here. twee i know. i shall get over it when the snow starts no doubt.

and i did manage to fit in some sightseeing of sorts. we headed to the All-Russia exhibition centre in the afternoon and walked about for hours. it is this massive park jam packed with stunning fountains and knockout soviet architecture in the shape of pavillions. and in amongst it anything goes. it was established between the thirties and the fifties when it has a few incarnations as an exposition centre celebrating the USSR in various aspects. the pavillions commemorate the republics ans regions within what was the USSR (georgia , karalia etc) and guilds of sorts - gold, oil, cosmonauts, butchers ,fisheries etc. it now functions as an exhibition centre and some of the pavillions have become makeshift shopping centres/market-type places. the park is huge, but heaving with people meeting, walking, talking, skating, blading, bmxing, making out, selling things (from kittens to clothes) and eating and drinking (food stalls were everywhere). and although the pavillions were a little rundown and sad (often derelict) the place was totally alive and it was being used - maybe not in the way that stalin had intended...but it was being used. they even had a shop selling shisha's - from turkey though and incredibly overpriced, but still... (i know i am a little obsessed). the person who took us there was an ex student. a total doll. but so proud of being a russian and everything that was russian. it was an amazing thing to see, especially as so many of his contemporaries are desperate to leave.

i am having trouble with uploading pics and hyperlinks on for now here are some websites which will require a little copy-and-paste action.

so, that's it for now. i have homework to get cracking with and sneak in a quick trip to the market for supplies for the week.

keep well and keep in touch.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington

greetings one and all. sorry it''s been a little while since i last wrote on here. we're having a few teething problems with the internet in our small piece of mother russia. as you can see i've decided to stick with mr cole porter for my headers. for all you trainspotters out there i'm listening to the vic reeves cover as i type.

life in moscow continues unabashed. the course is moving along at a cracking pace and there are days where i feel like i am positively drowning and in work and a total failure as a teacher. and then there are days where i manage to pull off a lesson (not perfectly i might add) and to teach them something and it is a feeling unparalleled. i'm still learning and i still have a long way to go. but i totally adore my students and they in turn seem to find me hilarious and miss on the days that i am not around. which is so incredibly flattering.... i change from elementary to intermediate students next week and i am filled with fear as i am totally pants at grammar. diabolical in fact (today i am thrilled as i have worked out what an adjective is). and i have to teach it in some detail. blargh. i am learning a few other failings on my part. it seems i am totally tone deaf when it comes to working out the stresses in words and sentences. who would have thought?! it makes for amusing tutorials.

life in moscow remains much fun. although i haven't had a chance to explore properly as i don't have much time spare at the moment. as we don't have' much time my flatmate and i spend what we have exploring our local n'hood. and we are learning more and more each day. our local drunk has a social club every sunday and his mates come to sit with him and talk and booze it up. in its honour he even changes clothes. it does nothing to stop the stench though. we've also learnt that it seems our local church is a rather important cathedral..and we've been naively banging on about how we live near this really quaint little church. its the Epiphany Cathedral at Elokhovo. (the photos are not mine of course...i really should sort out a digital camera sometime soon). and here is the wikipedia link for you people who are interested.

we (my flatmate, another coursemate and i)have made our first russian friends. as luck would have it one of them loves shisha almost as much as i do. fate i tell you. so we are planning our first big excursion with them next week. a chance to practice my shocking russian (i can't begin to fathom how i have managed so far...).

so i guess i should leave you for now and get back to my ekker and plotting some adventures for the weekend. all work and no play makes miss c a dull girl. will report back again next week. hopefully with something interesting for once