When I left Paris it was raining. It followed my mood, as saying good bye to loved ones – lets be frank here – hurts like hell. I took Pulkovo Airlines direct to St. Petersburg. Russian airline, Russian airplane, Russian mentality. Pulkovo was running over an hour late, departing and arriving. The plane itself gave one very much the impression that a couple of guys just got together to make an airplane. American airplanes, and most American products for that matter, show very little signs of human construction or involvement. I would be hard-pressed on an American airplane to tell you what exactly a human being did. But on this airplane, you could still see droplets and brushstrokes in the gray paint on the metal tray table. An hour into the flight, the exit door I was sitting next to starting sweating with condensed water pushed in from the outside. When the plane finally did land safely, all the passengers applauded. I asked a Russian girl sitting next to me if this was because it is unusual for Russian pilots to land successfully. I was only half joking.
It was after midnight when I arrived but the sky still had the glow of twilight because of the White Nights. My ride was an old Soviet Lada with no seatbelts and a driver who spoke no English, and grumbled quite loudly in Russian about having to work so late. He took me down long, enormously wide streets, past widely spaced, large drab buildings and across railroad tracks. I had never really thought about the Cold War being a factor when I decided to come to Russia, but once here, I suddenly realized that not too long ago, I wouldn't have been allowed to come here.
I arrived late and retired to my host mother's small, second-story apartment. My room would be the pride of anyone who loved the 1970s. The entire room is dark brown or fake wood with a particularly spectacular photograph of an autumn lake landscape covering the largest wall. Bookshelves filled with impressive-looking works of Russian literature occupy the wall space that isn't taken up with old photographs of people whom I can only assume are Irina's family members. I have a rather large bed and chair, both of which are covered in the same brown upholstery. But for all that gaudy decor, my desk is the only thing I really can't stand. A pane of glass covers thousands of pictures of dogs and other memorabilia. Even when it's clean, I constantly have the impression that it's cluttered.
My host mother, Irina, seems like a good match so far. We mostly stay out of each other's way but when it's time for dinner we find stuff to talk about... well, she does most of the talking so far. She's a great cook too, so that's also good.
I had to wake up at 6 on the morning after I arrived to take a level test at my language school. The school seems very good as it provides many services and has a small cafeteria. I enjoy my classes so far, but I feel like I have to work hard to catch up with my group. There are four students in my group, but two of them don't really take the classes seriously, so my only real classmate is an Austrian woman who knows, I believe, four other Slavic languages, so she picks up Russian pretty quickly. Speaking of which, I really ought to go study.