Sunday, April 21, 2019

Return to Russia

Yesterday the Little White Donkey dusted off her travelling shoes and, reluctant Leo in tow, climbed on board a Siberian Airlines flight to Moscow. Comfortable flight, easy – albeit rushed – transfer to central Moscow, still money on the Troika card from 2017 for us to take the Metro to Kursk station, and a walk of 15 minutes to the Loft Hotel. We got in at about 11, thanks to Google Maps, passing a roaring scary drunk on the way. Leo said, “Man he is swearing!”. I asked how he knew, and he said that he has known how to swear in Russian since he was about 13, thanks to video games.

The room was comfortable, the weather not cold. Neither of us slept much, and the alarm rang at 5.30. Daylight, already, up here.

My dear son was not feeling cheerful, but we got to the train station in time and he found the platform, where I could not. That's why I brought him!

On the train, we cannot connect to the internet although there is wifi, as our devices will not let us for some reason. Probably when we get Beeline cards we will be able to use a secure connection and then will be able to connect ourselves. In the mean time, I do not mind being free of notifications and the constant beckoning of FaceBook.

Outside a dun-coloured landscape unrolls under a clear blue sky. Miles of birch trees broken by villages with houses of turquoise and green. Up close, when they are near the track, you can see that the wood is often broken and weathered, that there are tiles missing from the roofs. The first green is struggling through the weeds crushed by snow, and a very few trees are beginning to bud. The evergreens – pine and cypress glow like emeralds.

There are piles of garbage everywhere, plastic and glass debris glitters in the sun. Standing water is mirror clear and around the edges of pools, the first grass is appearing through the mud.

Eventually I gave up on Leo who took himself up to his top bunk and turned his back – after, to be fair, trying to figure out the wifi – and went off in search of the restaurant wagon and a toilet. I found both and managed to order breakfast – kasha and coffee. It is impossible to avoid milk, butter, cheese, and eggs here, but I am trying where I can and not getting stressed about it. I am also glad that I kept the cheese triangles from S7 and one of the bread rolls. They went down nicely with the strong black coffee.

As we go further south there is more green on the ground, more trees are in bud. I spent the last hour going through the poetry that was in the documents on this computer. Some of it is actually not bad. I have also read the Writing Maps on creating story – disconnecting from the net can lead to positive things! Still I am drawn to poetry over prose.

Thinking of the loss of memory that comes with being constantly connected and able to access information at any time: you lose phone numbers because they are stored on your phone, you lose poems because why remember them when you can google them? I know it's trite, but I am thinking of the poem Ithaka by Cavafis. About the journey being important, not the destination, and I am feeling this crawling down the face of this massive country as a slow decompressing. I want to remember the poem, and cannot. Without Google, I might not have read it so often, but without unlimited access to Google, I might have remembered it. Or thought to memorise it...

So after seven hours on the train, we arrived into Belgorod Station and I called my friend and Russian teacher Julia, whom I had met on a programme with Dennis School in 2017. Blessings on Julia... we would have managed without her, but her presence made life much, much simpler. She guided us to the apartment, called the landlord (who speaks no English) and helped us settle in.
She also took us to get SIM cards so that we do not have to pay Cyta's high roaming rates, and translated to help us out. Blessings on Julia... And on Beeline for providing an excellent 2 week rate for 9 euros with 30 minutes of calls and texts AND unlimited internet...

Then, going above and beyond the call of hospitality, Julia showed us to a pizza restaurant (more on that later) and sat with us while we ate before taking us to a supermarket, giving us tips like “Don't drink the water!” and guiding us 'home'. I had brought her some Cyprus cheeses and also soujouko, but forgot to give them to her! Still, we are sure to meet again in the next day or two.

Tomorrow morning, the landlord is going to show up at 10 and take our passports for registration with the police. I will probably go out and walk around the city, try and find morning light and parks and colours. Both Julia and Sergei (landlord) said that the city was safe, but it is not touristic, and they advised against attracting too much attention as foreigners.


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