Friday, June 19, 2015

White Nights, White Days

I woke up at 3 this morning, and yesterday.  I never used to be a morning person, but after 10 years of teaching I've come to the point where I no longer want to kill people for speaking before 9 a.m.  These days I tend to wake with the sun, which could be problematic when the sun decides to be an insomniac.  At three, the sky was light.  Do you really, really get that?  The amount of light in the sky was approximately the same as when I go out to walk at 5:40 in UB.  I'd been sleeping for 6 hours by then, and so I thought, "What the hell!" and took my shower.  I really, really wanted to go out and do crazy things in the streets, because it was THREE AM AND IT WAS FREAKING LIGHT OUT!  In fact, I looked up St. Petersburg's erotica museum, MusEros, since that was in my plans for yesterday, and having figured out that it was open 24 hours, I considered getting up and going then, because why not?  (Well, there's the fact that going to an erotica museum in the middle of the night, no matter how light it is out, seems sketchy.  Going in the middle of the day just lends a scholarly veneer of respectability to the pursuit.  That's why not).
Just one of the displays at MusEros...
I didn't actually make it to MusEros until about noon on my second white day.  It's been overcast since I arrived, so it's been hell - can't tell the time or the direction.  I stumbled out of a street onto the Neva yesterday...I had no idea I was going north!  I'd intended to make yesterday my museum day, but after taking a ridiculously circuitous route to get to the Hermitage on the metro, only to look at the lines I went, "AW HELLS NO," and wandered off to find one of the ubiquitous Subway restaurants, then continued on my way down Nevsky Prospect to my fourth erotica museum.  Most of the labels weren't in English, but as my mom has said, "If you've seen one erotica museum, you've seen them all."  Okay, my mom actually offered that opinion about art museums, but there might be some truth in it here...it wasn't that different from the Musee d'Erotisme in Paris or New York's Museum of Sex.  In fact, as strange as it is for me to admit this, I think the Chinese did it best with the museum in Tongli.  Weird.

Also weird is the unsettling familiarity of being here.  Maybe I've been in Asia too long, but not only can I walk down the streets of St. Petersburg without getting stared at like a pink-spotted giraffe, but people actually try to speak to me in Russian.  I can't even begin to tell you how strange that is.  The first time I was told I looked Russian was in the Middle East, and rather than wondering if it was true (because I assumed it wasn't...let's face it, all us white people look the same), I questioned whether it was a compliment or an insult.  Now, I'm not sure.  Additionally, I am neither taller than everyone or fatter than everyone, and it is refreshing not to be laughed at or smacked on the ass.
The French never mistook me for one of their own (although genetically I'm closer and at least there I speak more than the handful of phrases acquired from Socrates), but I'm blaming at least part of my quasi deja vu on them.  Everywhere I look I see art nouveau embellishments, and although I'm not exactly great at picking up on architectural stuff, I can see places where the builders of the city have copped some Parisian style.
Shitty feet aside, I'm enjoying my wandering.  After coming out of the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood last night (more about that to come), I walked along the canal past countless stalls selling souvenirs.  In front of one building two sisters played duets on the violin and viola, and I stopped to listen, regretting the fact that I never got to travel with Lit, because she would have danced with me if she'd been there (just like we danced once upon a dream).  After my promenade on the Neva quay I steered my steps toward Irina's, through Mars Field.  Mars Field has an illustrious history as a park and military grounds, but what drew me there was the fact that you can smell the lilacs planted on it from two blocks away.  I spent a spring living in my uncle's spare bedroom waking up to the smell of sun-warmed lilacs every morning, and it's left an impression on me.  I walked across the grounds at Mars Field high on the scent, stopping here and there to just inhale, and was happy to be in St. Petersburg.

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