Thursday, July 7, 2011

Russian Riddles

Question: What is long, green, and smells like sausage?

Answer: The Electrichka.

While definitely long and green, I did not find the local electric train that I took from Novgorod to Saint Petersburg to be noticeably more or less odorously porcine than any other Russian train. I left Novgorod early in the morning, on the northbound electric commuter train headed to Saint Petersburg.

(the station in Novgorod)

Arriving at a time that for me was uncharacteristically early* I sauntered up to the ticket window to casually mumble a series of demands at the clerk. She seemed to be very rushed and flustered, as was the centuries old babushka behind me, who began shouting and gesturing about my apparent sloth-like pace. Wanting to protect my leisurely ticket-buying moment, I shouted back about clocks and times and "ye plokha govaryoo pa Russky**" and she retaliated with a repeated chanting of "Bostra Bostra Bostra***" as she shoved my ticket in my hand and pushed me out the door, across the tracks, and onto the dated electric train. Annoyed and asking myself why such a tiny raisin of a woman would want to terrorize me so, I had been safely boardec for approximately three seconds later the train lurched into motion. So I yet again must admit I barely made my train, though I felt little to know stress about it because I had no idea. Thank you, little babushka, wherever you are.

Electrichkas are an important piece of Soviet and post-Soviet history, and are still widely used today because of their economy and prevalence throughout the country. Since their inaugural ride in 1926, the system has expanded to over 4000 different routes administered by Russian Railways alone, and their prevalence accounts for them showing up periodically in modern poetry, literature, film, and even rock music. They are sometimes referred to as "wild dog trains" because poor vagrant populations have been known to ride for extremely cheap or even free, connecting five local lines, all the way from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. I was pleased to experience the light, aging train for one leg of my journey, but as the approximately 100 miles from Novgorod to SP took over four hours, I can only assume that the 450 to Moscow would be a bit tedious at best. the ideea of a free ticket becomes slightly less enticing in that light.

During the early morning ride I was entertained by various stimuli, and was happy to get an intimate look at the lives of rural Russian people on trapped on wooden benches a snakelike vehicle chugging though the pale countryside. I watched an elderly couple eat a full meal on disposable plastic dining ware that they then carefully cleaned and placed back in their picnic baskets for later use, pleasing me greatly. I listened to a mother teaching a young boy the names for colors and simple landmarks, and I was amazed to realize that their conversation was almost verbatim of a typical Rosetta stone lesson.**** I finished Chekhov's short play, Ivanov, which is by far the most humorous work I have ever read*****, sipped countless cups of black tea, and gnawed on some confusing Russian tea crackers that were shaped like 'O's, textured like rocks, and tasted like dust. A very pleasing morning it was, to be sure.

I arrived at midday at the bustling Moskavskiy Voskal eager to experience the city that is called Petrograd, Leningrad, The Venice of the North, the Northern Capital, or just Piti, depending on who you ask and where your loyalties lie.

(Welcome to Piti, my friends!)


*Ten minutes before the train was due to leave the station.

**My favorite and most used Russian phrase; roughly, "My Russian is very bad."

***I found out later that this word means "rush" or "hurry." There is no better way to learn new vocabulary than to have it shouted repeatedly at you while being attacked in a foreign country in the small hours of the morning.

****After only eight lessons I could almost communicate like a three year old! Really!

*****That ends in the suicide of the protagonist.

No comments:

Post a Comment