Published: July 6th 2008July 5th 2008
This is looking west from the balcony.
On our way to pick up my HIV certificate, Sveta and I stopped in at the American Club in the Perm library. The club consisted of five girls. In honor of July 4, the club leader, who had studied in America and had some connection with the U.S. Consulate in Yekerinburg, had created an American trivia game for the four other girls who had been divided into two teams. We arrived near the end of the competition, the two teams were basically tied. One category remained: history. Sveta and split up, taking opposite sides. My team -- The Superstars -- won in a squeeker. The girls were overjoyed, not with winning but with having more English-speakers around. With one exception, all wanted to study in the United States and were eager to practice. If only I was so eager to practice my Russian... Afterwards was tea, instant coffee (which no on drank) and cookies, all courtesy of the American Embassy in Washington. Sveta and I left early, but still missed the HIV testing center's closing time (actually we arrived three minutes before six, but everything here closes 15 minutes before the posted time). The woman janitor let us in and asked
if I was a Mormon. It seems that most Americans in Perm are Mormon missionaries, and so its perfectly logical to assume that all Americans are Mormons. For the next 20 minutes Sveta and the janitor exchanged Mormon stories. Russians find the Mormons, who began arriving after 1991, endlessly amusing. Mormons come skinny and leave fat; they make Borscsh for their Russian neighbors; they have a funny church. The woman repeatedly urged us to visit Perm's Mormon church, it was apparently a singular experience not to be missed, but she seemed unimpressed when I told her about Temple Square in SLC. So we went home, no HIV certificate, but otherwise content. I made some Independence Day Borscsch while Sveta visited her grandmother. Sveta's brother, Seva, helped me with the Borscsh, and then took me out for drinks. We bought a two-liter bottle of Zbitten, an area beer that must have more sugar in it than Coca-Cola, and sat on a bench outside the housing block. We sat and spoke in broken English while hoodlums lit fires beneath the playground equipment.
Sveta and I have been in Perm for nearly three weeks. I've learned so much. There are thieves everywere. Russian food is really very good if you like (and I do) vinegar, pickles, and tart flavoing. There is meat. The sausages are very good and they are eaten at all times. I learned the Russian word for sausage, "sosiski," early on, but when I spoke it, I left out one important syllabel, rendering it "siski" which translates to "titties." Sveta's friends tried not to laugh. One buys food and everything else at the open air markets, not the supermarkets. Beer is sold and drank everywhere. Some of it is pretty good.
Almost immediatey Sveta and I found work. Sveta's connections at the mysterious but powerful School 77 -- an English language school at which she attended and taught -- landed us positions at Perm State University, or PSU. We have not started yet; school begins September 1 -- The Day of Knowledge, as it's known here. But I spend at least two hours at campus everyday taking Russian classes and frustrating my instructor. I will be an assistant professor, but in the English language department, not history. There is talk that I may give lectures the history faculty (on what I have no idea), but that's all idle speculation. I sign the contract Monday
Perm is what I imagined a Soviet city would look like, and I have been told by more than one source that it is the dirtiest city in Russia. I've included pictures of the view from outside our apartment. Lots of high rises stretching off into the distance. There also seems to be an infinite number of busses -- used German busses. Stahrfart!," proclaims the front of Bus 1, and inside Bus 68 all the advertisements are in German. The city hiked the fares recently (still cheap at 10 rubles -- $1=23 rubles). The authorities said new busses were the reason, but instead Permians got more old European busses smuggled in part by part. Getting around seems easy, but the thing is, there are no maps. So many busses, but no maps.
Earlier this week, we traveled to Yekerinburg in Western Siberia (Sveta says its still in the Ural regin, but I like to say I've been to Siberia) so that the U.S. Consulate could fingerprint me. I am to send my fingerprintes back to the States so that the FBi can confirm that I'm not a criminal. We took the train, economy class. I found it a pleasant way to travel and on the way back (it was on overnight both ways) slept like a log. Yekertinburg is a rich city. Cranes are everywhere. Not nearly as dirty as Perm, but much more expensive. And like Perm, there are packs of stray dogs roaming the streets.
When not out wandering, Sveta and I keep house and attempt to civilize Barsic, her cat. Barsic is tough; he once survived a nine-story fall from the Legotkina balcony. But he is almost totally unfamiliar with the cat box. I've also began brushing him, with what is called a "fluff tweezer." He puts up with it
I will post more pictures later -- they take a long time to upload, and I need to get going.
Hope everything is good Stateside