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Forest Mushrooms and Vodka

Friday, September 10th, 2004


The night before we leave St. Petersburg, Elena and her childhood friend, Dula, breathlessly excited, bring home bags and boxes of forest mushrooms. Bob and I haven’t eaten and we hope the noises coming from the kitchen mean we will be invited to join them for a meal.

Finally, Elena knocks on the door saying “10 minutes! 10 minutes…come!” When Elena says “I must go out first, I smell a rat and grab my purse to join her. “I am buying the vodka,” I insist, glad I had my wits about me on this one at least! The four of us sit down to the little table set with her best for a wonderful meal of musky black mushrooms stewed with potatoes and “grass” salad…toasting with Vodka, (Bob with water because he doesn’t like the taste of alcohol) every few minutes. Bob and I gratefully hit the sack, leaving the two to themselves to finish off the bottle late into the night.

Our last night in St. Petersburg, we invite Elena and Dula to their favorite restaurant (an inexpensive one we never would have found ourselves) for Shashlik of beef, pork and lamb, eggplant appetizers, “grass” salad with tomatoes, cheese, olives and cucumbers, “beautiful water with gas from the Caucasus mountains” and more vodka…all the while entertained by a resident karaoke singer singing traditional Russian songs and served by a lovely man who treats us all like extended family.

Afterward we buy Elena a bottle of Tequila and she gives me a knit neck scarf and a Russian nesting doll. Dula gives me a little bag of mushrooms she dried herself. We all hug and reluctantly leave for a midnight overnight train that will arrive at 8am in Moscow.

A Day With Sasha

Wednesday, September 8th, 2004


I had watched “Russian Ark,” a movie about the history of the Hermitage before I left home so I was excited when we found Sasha, a university educated art historian, to take us through the museum (actually 5 linked buildings) set in a magnificent palace from which the tsars ruled Russia for one and a half centuries. Sasha had an unusually sophisticated command of the English language and an ironic sense of humor and made sure we knew the history and context of each painting we viewed…until we were absolutely exhausted.

We managed to keep up with him, however, when afterward he says “da da, you must experience a few more places” so off we trudged to see babushkas selling a few possessions…knick knacks, flowers and little piles of vegetables on the street, to buy historical propagada posters designed by Soviet-era Futurist artists in a little hidden art supply shop, to see the little Dostoevsky Museum which unfortunately was closed and finally by 10pm to view thirty-somethings drinking beer in a modern upscale bar right out of the Village in Manhattan…we were even instructed to go upstairs to see the industrial design bathrooms which had fixtures that looked like they were designed by Siemens and purchased from the KaDeWa Department store in Berlin.

Sasha was obviously very proud of this new Russia. Only we already knew that about 1% of the people, who buy everything they own on the black market, can afford a place like this where a beer will cost the equivalent of 20% of their monthly wage.

On The Street In St Petersburg

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video We hail down a minibus, just like we did in Viet Nam, which takes us across the Neva River to Nevsky pr (like Rodeo Drive in LA which has to have some of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Beslan…Russia’s 9/11

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif St. Petersburg, Russia September 6, 2004: We had been monitoring the hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia, all through Europe...but was one day late to witness a demonstration in Palace Square on Monday where 40,000 ... [Continue reading this entry]

St. Petersburg Homestay

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif A Homestay has been arranged for us by our tour company, White Knights, with Elena who lives in (and owns) a 3 room very cluttered flat four flights up in a poorly maintained government ... [Continue reading this entry]