Saturday, March 6, 2010

Old structures and new

All foreigners staying in Russia for more than three days must register with the local authorities. About two years ago, the country has adopted a simplified procedure for registering visitors who choose to stay in private homes (hotels have a different procedure, much simpler on the visitor): now the foreigners and their hosts don't need to go to the local police offices and stand in line there, but can register at the post office. The "simplified" procedure requires the host to fill out a very long form by hand twice, then to fill out a short form twice, then to buy and fill out a special envelope, then to make Xerox copies of the visitor's passport, visa, migration card, also to make a copy of the host's passport. All of these documents get stamped and put in that special envelope that is then mailed to the administration of the neighborhood where the host is registered. If you know what you're doing, the procedure is not particularly difficult -- but that's a big "if."

The last time I tried to register Dave in my parents' apartment, it took me two hours to collect all of these necessary pieces of information and to fill out all of the forms (crossing out letters and numbers is not allowed -- every time you make an error you have to start from the beginning). The last time, we went to the post office in the center of the city, a very busy one with the perpetual long line of people waiting for service, and every time we'd stand in line, they would give us one new piece of information (go get the Xerox copies), and then we'd stand in line again and they would give us another piece of information (go make the second copy of the short form). This time, I stupidly forgot my passport at home and so we had to spend the better part of the day in the subway, going back to my neighborhood to pick it up and then coming back downtown to hang out with friends in the evening. But altogether, the experience was not nearly as traumatic because we ended up going to the local post office in my neighborhood, where the woman who worked with us wasn't in a rush and she spoke to me with kindly condescension (oh, so you filled out only one copy of the short form? what, you don't want to keep a copy of it for your own records?). It also helped that this time I had a better idea of what I was doing and was at least partially prepared for the ordeal.

We had dinner with my friends Polina and Kostya at a French restaurant, and then visited my brother's photo studio, Monochrome Loft. The idea behind this business is to rent out space to professional photographers who can make use of the studio's excellent natural light as well as high end lighting equipment that they've installed. Monochrome Loft also hosts lectures and events; on Monday nights my brother teaches yoga to a rapidly growing group of students. The studio is a large space downtown St. Petersburg, capable of hosting several different photo sessions at the same time. My brother (whose name is also Kostya) and his partners have done a great job remodeling: they preserved the texture of the bricks underneath the layer of white paint, laid new wooden floors, paneled the extremely high ceilings, installed new windows. They opened for business in January, and the opening party was a huge success (see video below), and things have been thriving ever since.

Monochrome Loft is thinking of establishing a residency program for visiting photographers; and they already have a relationship with a nearby hostel to provide living accommodations. So if you know any photographers who might be interested in using a modern studio space in St. Petersburg and teaching some guest lectures, please get in touch :)

Dave's account of Friday's events is surprisingly similar.


  1. I got all excited to watch the video and then realized it is in Russian. For some reason it came as a shock. Where have I been. But I must admit the studio looks great. I admire how all your family seems devoted to literature and the arts!

  2. Theresa, the first time I saw the video, my computer sound system wasn't working, so I thought it was a silent movie :)) It was fun nevertheless, especially the beginning!

  3. We had similar troubles with the passport registration/stamping in Omsk. My husband, now a U.S. citizen working for NASA, was born in Siberia, and the bureaucrats in the office spent several days trying to convince him he wouldn't be able to return to the states. We had to call the Russian Space agency - they actually have several people addressing these problems!

  4. Wish your brother well with his loft

  5. Wow, that sounds like a fascinating story about the Russian Space agency & NASA, etc. And I've always been curious about Omsk, this was where many members of my family were during the war.