Monday, October 29, 2007

Some tourist-y stuff, some everyday stuff

I have now visited The Hermitage, seen Madame Butterfly at the Mariinsky Theater, and gone inside The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

I have also gone grocery shopping at what is known in American retail jargon as a "hypermarket," (kind of what Americans might call a superstore). In other words, one of those stores in which you can buy clothing, groceries, tires, etc. Also, last night, we went to an Azerbajian (Azerbajiani?) restaurant, and I had something delicious called Chicken Sadj. I'm not sure if it is an Azerbajian or Russian dish because I think the restaurant offered both. It had chicken, eggplant, potatoes, green peppers, tomatoes, and apples. It was served on a wok-type thing with fire in the middle, and that was set upon a little bucket of coals.

This was a somewhat masculine place (although women were there) with lots of men smoking, a few drinking, and watching the soccer game. I don't particularly like cigarette smoke and at home would avoid it, but I liked the earthiness of this place. It made me feel like I was somplace different, and that is why one travels, right? Except, like everywhere, they played a lot of American music.

I said to my husband that it's kind of hard not to feel cocky, even when you know it's wrong and obnoxious, when almost everywhere you go you can find your language spoken and "your" music playing; you can also find your fast food restaurants. I'm sure that's more about marketing than anything else, but it does make it hard not to feel a little smug. Of course, in the USA, we are influenced by so many cultures, it is hard to claim one as our very own.

The Hermitage was wonderful, but overwhelming. It used to be the Winter Palace (at least part of it), from 1744-1762 the official residence of the Imperial family. There are many aspects to it and I will go back again, I think. There is so much art there to see, it seems impossible for any to be left for any other museum in the world. We were on the third floor (19th and 20th Century art) when the place just started closing; no anoouncement, just the people who sit in chairs in each of the rooms got up, started turning off lights, getting their coats on, etc. We were getting a little panicky heading out looking for exits, lights going off either ahead of us or behind us as we retraced our path through every room. When we got to the first floor, there were lots of visitors there just leaving and that was a relief. On the second and third floors i think we were starting to get worried about getting locked in there.

Madame Butterfly was fine, but I preferred the ballet. It is just too hard for me as a modern western woman to buy into the story. You're going to marry me, go off with the fleet, come back a few years later with an American wife and ask me to hand my child over, and I'm going to do it and kill myself? Oh, hell no. In my version, there would be a very Springer-like ending, but I guess that is not the stuff of great art now, is it?

I'm so glad we went into the Church on Spilled Blood. The church outside is very colorful and lovely, but the inside is amazing. There are walls and walls of incredible mosaics depicting Biblical scenes as well as gorgeous woodwork. The place had been damaged by war and had been used as a warehouse, I think for an opera company in later years, but has been beautifully restored. It's not a big place at which one necessarily spends a lot of time, but it is breathtaking. Near the gift shop area, there is a wall of photos which document its restoration. It is heartbreaking to see the damage it once suffered.

Of course, the worst cost of war is always the human cost in terms of lives and injuries to both body and soul. However, seeing what it does to the remarkable achievements of human beings also makes one shudder. Of course, it is easier to resrore a building than a person, but still requires great cost and commitment.

When I travel, I'm happy if I get to experience the "everydayness" of life, so I really enjoy things like trips to the grocery store. Although some things are written in English, most products had Cyrillic script labels so one either buys products that are instantly recognizable by the pictures, or by categorizing them with the other products in the aisle. When I first got here, I almost made myself a peanut butter and tomato sauce sandwich, because the jars in the fridge were about the same size and the inside seemed to be about the same consistency and color. In fact, I had the first smear of "jelly" on the peanut butter when I thought the aroma of it seemed unusually rich and tomato-ey.

My conditioner, a brand I sometimes use at home, is written on in Cyrillic script, mostly, but in English promises me "Respect and Balance." I get balance, but respect? Wow. Who knew? It's about damn time I got a little respect from my hair...and all for a few rubles. I'm going to try to back-translate it to see what they were going for. I'm guessing something similar to "control."

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