Friday, January 07, 2005

Everything Reversed, Always

My fiancé and I often refer to "Российский стиль," a particularly grating, though not entirely unamusing element of Russian life that seems to have supplanted want and paranoia in the decade-plus wake of the collapse of the Soviet system. Here, in Yaroslavl, it is just after noon. Elvira sleeps beside me, having been made weary from an early morning telephonic travail which evoked, in gray, faded Social Realist detail, the unfettered absurdity inherent in Russian Style. To explain would be pointless, but since pointlessness is infused into the very character of the Russian service industry, perhaps I should nonetheless give it a go...

My flight departs from Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 airport at (or near) 08:45 tomorrow morning. As noted above, I am currently residing in Yaroslavl, a thousand-year-old provincial "Golden Ring" capital about 240 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

(I've had an amazing holiday, but university gears up on the 10th, TLASILA are performing at the anti-inauguration in DC on the 20th, and I need to bid Elvira and Russia до свидания - at least until next time.)

January 7th - today - is the day on which the Russian Orthodox church celebrates the birth of Christ, and those inclined to observe this very different, altogether solemn Christmas also observe the long-standing tradition of employee absenteeism. (December 31st more resembles our Christmas gift-exchanging orgy, although many Russians have adopted the 25th as their own. It gets confusing...)

Last night, before going to dinner, Elvira and I took a taxi to the вокзал (er, train station, sorry) to buy a ticket for a late evening train which would depart Yaroslavl tonight and deposit me on the streets of Moscow with hours to spare before the departure of my Areoflot flight to the banal ol' USA. We took a queue number from the dispenser (ours was 715, the then-current customer 690), and killed time by sucking down Miller Genuine Drafts (quite exotic for Russia, marketed as a boutique brew) and picking apart bags of pistachios. At 704, the station manager, an officious woman with wide hips and a deep, impenetrable scowl, commanded all in queue to regroup into three new lines. The overhead displays were shuttered, and our number was at once bereft of meaning.

Российский стиль.

Order disintegrated, and heads crowded into the counter spaces, obscuring the faces of the remaining ticket agents. In front of Elvira, a group of four women made simultaneous inquiries. Their smiles both belied and amplified the news: there would be trains, tomorrow, yes, but no tickets. Not yet.

Perhaps a hundred souls were bundled into their best traveling clothes at the вокзал, stamping their feet impulsively as word spread through the station. One man nervously rocked a perambulator; others threw roubles into a video gambling game.

We were urged to return to the station at 08:00, and make a second round of inquiries. Thinking better of this, Elvira made a (sleepy) series of calls... Still no tickets. Call back at 20:00... (I do have one reliable, absolutely tenable option: I can hire a taxi from Elya's flat in Yaroslavl and be driven - no questions asked - to Sheretmetyevo-2.)

Российский стиль.

Elvira has just awakened, and she looks over my shoulder as I write this blog entry. She kisses my neck, rubs my shoulders, and suddenly Russian style doesn't seem so ridiculous. Things happen here, but not in any sane, rational manner. At least not in the manner to which we have long grown accustomed.

It has been a delightful twelve days.

More on the new Shave album, the conclusion of the September 2004 tour reminiscence, thoughts on OHNE 2004, and other, (semi-)related topics, next time.

Thanks to all of you, and С новым годом!!

Yours,

Tom