Thursday, October 29, 2009

Movies with my brother

The Internet is sickly. Not doing well at all. It's coughing and sneezing and turning to the wall and refusing to talk to me. I go away, work on my translations, brush my teeth, read a book, go out to buy milk and cookies, and then come back and prod it again: come on, don't be a baby, talk to me. It opens one eye, looks at me attentively, I scarmble for the right words, the right way to touch it so that it finally talks to me again -- but no, no use. It closes its eyes and pulls a blanket over its head. It's done for the day.

True, in these last few days of my trip, I don't have a lot of time to play with it anyway. I'm scrambling to meet friends, family and business associates one last time. Petersburg is not a very large city -- until you try to combine three dinner dates in three different parts of the city. I invite my second cousins to meet me at my aunt's place. I invite classmates from my first school to meet me at the apartment of a classmate from my second school. My brother organizes an outing to the movies (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee with Robin Wright Penn and Alan Arkin, I highly recommend it, might be the best movie I've seen all year -- after Star Trek) so that I could meet two more family friends. Classic Petersburg: everything is arranged last minute, and the two girls arrive from the opposite directions at exactly the same time, five minutes after the movie was supposed to start. Kiss on the cheek, kiss on the cheek, and the four of us run up the four flights of granite stairs to the movie theatre -- the best and the shabbiest in the city. They play art films, with subtitles instead of awful dubbing. Therefore, no popcorn, old Soviet-style humongous auditorium and chairs in front of a smallish screen. But the sound and the projection system have been updated, and really it's not that much different from watching movies at the Castro theatre.

After the movie, we go across the street to a tea-house called Marakesh, where we drink tea by the teapots. Kostya and I drink Masala -- which is the only exception I've seen him make to his no food or drink after 6 pm rule. Other parties at this tea-house are also smoking hookahs -- a popular local past-time -- but we are drinking tea and talking about literature and the arts. Both of our friends are students at the University, one studying politics and another studying French language and Comparative Literature. Both of them are also journalists or aspiring journalists, writing about film and popular culture -- there are lots of stories to be exchanged and joint projects to plan. At the end of the evening, Kostya drives everyone home. It's after midnight, but the city is still trafficky. Kostya drives deliberately slowly, stopping for the pedestrians and red lights -- he refuses to be rushed -- and his strategy usually pays off, but sometimes he still gets into scrapes with people sidling him and cutting him off. Yelling is always the first go-to method of communication in such cases. Still, Kostya seems to be surprisingly successful in his personal quest to minimize the levels of agression in the atmosphere around himself. He practices yoga each morning, sings, studies Spanish, takes artsy photographs, has a regular job, watches Futurama in English, makes chocolate cheesecakes at night that he won't eat until breakfast, and all of this seems to help.


  1. wow, you sound in awe of Kostya -- or maybe I am :)

  2. I'm in awe of the guy too, and I only read about him. What type of singing does he do? I am very perplexed by these chocolate cheesecake things that you eat for breakfast. Are they sweet? What's in them? Does everyone in Russia eat these things?

  3. Theresa, I think my brother made his cheesecake out of cottage cheese, cocoa powder, sugar, an egg, and some waffles for the base (it's sweet, but not too sweet). This type of cheesecakes is a very recent local borrowing (and adaptation) of the American variety. And breakfast here is a kind of a meal when people eat leftovers from the supper the day before :)) Like today I had some rice with chicken for breakfast and a piece of leftover cake!