Russia was fantastic. I don’t know that I will fully review my time there in this forum, but during the fifteen months that I lived in St. Petersburg, I met some great people, and truly value being able to see the world – at least to some extent – through Russian eyes. St. Petersburg itself is a beautiful city, and I really don’t feel that I’ve done it justice; there’s so much there that I wasn’t able to explore. Working as an English teacher means extremely antisocial hours, and not a great deal of money; I feel I have a lot of unfinished business in Piter but, if (when) I go back, it’ll be on a different basis.
The famous White Nights are over for this year, and it’s no longer light at midnight. The nights are lengthening rapidly: the sun is now shining through my apartment windows at 7:45am. Only ten days or so ago it was 4am, so this development pleases me mightily. It’s a reminder that things change very rapidly in St. Petersburg, and very soon we’ll be plunged into the sunless winter freeze.
A few nights ago I sat on a cafe terrace close to my apartment, and over the course of a couple of hours – and a couple of beers – saw the moon spin from the far left of the colonnade in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, up behind the dome, and down again to the far right of the colonnade. I don’t recall ever seeing the moon move through the sky so quickly. Like the moon, world events are shifting quickly, but that’s for another post. Still, there’s time to take pleasure in higher things, like art, and interesting people. Continue reading →
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on the move. The lease on my Soviet-era flat in Primorskaya ran out, and I’ve moved into a new studio apartment right in the centre of historic St. Petersburg. The availability didn’t quite match, so I had to spend a couple of weeks living out of my suitcases in a temporary apartment in Dekabrovista Ulitsa, just around the corner from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is one reason why I haven’t posted any updates for a while – but not the only one! I’ve been setting up some online learning systems, and listening to what my students would like the world to know about their country…
The big event of the week was of course Friday: May 9th, Victory Day – the anniversary of the Second World War. 20 million Soviet citizens died during the war; the overwhelming scale of their loss, and of their overwhelming contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany often isn’t sufficiently acknowledged in the West.
That said, Victory Day turned out to be quite different to what I had expected. I knew there would be military parades; I’ve seen them on YouTube, and I remember from news programs when I was young how Kreminologists would study them carefully to see who was standing where on the podium outside the Kremlin to take the salute, and whether there was any new military technology on display.
So, I had a mental image of a show of military strength crossed with Britain’s Armistice Day tributes: a solemn, restrained day, spent in quiet remembrance.
The weather has been gorgeous recently in St. Petersburg. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun is brighter and warmer for longer every day. The temperature ranges from pleasantly cool to deliciously warm, though the breezes in the evenings can still be a bit chilly.
In my apartment complex, the trees are laden with big fluffy catkins, and leaf buds are swelling everywhere; a few trees are now in full leaf. Sparrows, pigeons, and other birds are singing enthusiastically, and fluttering low overhead as they pursue their courtships.
I’ve been a fan of Monocle magazine for several years, and bought a copy every month until I moved to St. Petersburg. It covers a very stimulating mix of topics, from business to culture to the fashion industry and urban living. It takes a particular interest in small artisanal companies, and I sometimes used their company profiles as tutorial aids in my marketing and strategy modules.
Monocle‘s editor-in-chief, Tyler Brûlé, also writes a blog for the weekend edition of the Financial Times which, as it’s usually interesting, I have in my RSS feeds. Recently, he wrote a piece called Homing instincts about his ideal urban residential development, and it got me thinking.
Last Sunday I went into central St Petersburg with the aim of going to the Defence of Leningrad Museum. It was the day before the anniversary of the German blockade being lifted, and it seemed like a good time to see the exhibits of life in a modern city under siege conditions.
It turned out that I didn’t need to get to the museum – the exhibits had come to the people! One of the central streets, a couple of blocks away from Nevsky Prospect, had been turned into a siege re-enactment. Tank traps sealed the street off; wooden barn doors were leaned against building walls to protect some windows, while others had sandbags stacked up against them. The barn doors were covered with posters, exhorting the citizens to maintain their defence efforts, as well as with hand-scrawled messages. Trucks, trams, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft guns from the period were parked here and there, monitored by museum staff and volunteers dressed in period Red Army costumes – and who were fighting a losing battle, trying to stop crowds of hyper-excited small children from clambering onto the vehicles!
I’ve been in Russia for slightly over a week now. After the initial disorientation, I’m starting to find my feet, and have worked out the essentials of how to live and work here. I haven’t really had the opportunity to relax much, or to get to explore the city, but I already know that I like St. Petersburg, and I like the Russians.
St. Petersburg, of course, was known for most of the 20th century as Leningrad, and that Soviet history is still palpable. I only realised today that a week tomorrow, the 27th of January, is a very significant date: it will be the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad.
Things got weird almost from the beginning. As I was settling into my seat on the plane, the message came over the tannoy: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome aboard British Airways flight 878 to Leningrad”.
Leningrad??? Had I fallen into a timewarp? It wasn’t a one-off either; the same message was repeated shortly afterwards. I asked one of the cabin crew about it; she denied any knowledge of it…