The Journey to St. Petersburg
Впечатления Одри от поездки в Санкт-Петербург.
We awoke early, said our good-byes to Helen and took the tram to a famous triangular intersection in Tver that I could not recall the name of even though I had been told several times. My inability to retain such geographical nomenclature was bafflingly irritating to Tanya. Those Russian words would not roll off my tongue with the ease required for memorization. Tanya did not have this problem in the U.S. She remembered every town and every street. In all fairness though, I would say that Peachtree Street is easier to say than Katrabrochakovnakiasta Street.
We came to a building with several buses parked in front. People were clustered about holding totes and suitcases and talking happily. One group of women seemed particularly excited as they laughed and took bon voyage pictures of each other. Tanya discovered that these five women worked in the same office and had been planning this trip for some time.
I was enjoying wondering who would be on our bus when we heard "Tanya"! It was Tatyana Antonenko cheerful, but out-of-breath as she rushed to catch us before our departure. She had brought us fresh baked pies to take on our journey. "Irana and Olga came by yesterday to see you and stayed four hours waiting" she panted. Tanya and I
exchanged guilty glances feeling as low as a snake's belly and certainly not deserving of the bounty in this basket. But Tatyana was not after retribution. She hugged us both, wished us a happy journey, and invited us to visit again.
Our bus could have been an American Continental Trailways. It was comfortable and air-conditioned. Our tour guide was a petite woman with a chic short hair-do. She wore blue jeans and a white shirt. Her voice was deep and scratchy-a smoker's voice and her skin betrayed a woman who had led a hard life. She was at ease with the microphone and greeted us professionally, then gave the itinerary with humor. Of course I could not understand her, but I could tell these things by the cadence of her voice and the chuckles from the passengers.
We reclined our seats as we began our ten-hour trip. It seemed to me that we were only going about 50-60 miles per hour. This highway is the main highway from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but in this section it was only two lanes and somewhat bumpy. At times the road became four lanes and then often three. Wide-eyed with fright, I watched trucks barreling toward us in the center lane swerve to miss cars passing us in the same center lane. "Oh, my God"! I exclaimed. "Aren't there any traffic flow rules on this highway?" Tanya retorted dryly, "There are no rules for Russian drivers until they are at the cemetery".
After several hours we made our first stop and I had my next Russian experience. Since
I had been forewarned by American friends, I could proudly appear totally unruffled when
the tour guide announced a rest stop with directions: women to the left of the road and
men to the right. There were shrieks of laughter from the bus which made me wonder if some
passengers were not as informed as I was. Tanya and I walked down the side road until she
spotted a potential facility for us in the tall grass. I had my handy travel size tissue
with me. As we were boarding the bus, Tanya said, "Audrey, the people are wondering
what you thought of this". "Tell them I learned to squat in the girl scouts so
it didn't bother me at all". People were beginning to smile and nod at me as word
spread that there was an American with the group.
An hour and a half after our rest stop the bus driver pulled off onto the shoulder of the road. There was some problem with the rear wheel which was smoking and smelling. Our driver got off and worked on it for a few minutes. The tour guide stood in the doorway smoking nervously. The driver got back on the bus and tried going backward and then forward but the wheel made a terrible grinding sound. The driver had cross words with the smoking tour guide and made several more trips to inspect the wheel. Reluctantly their cell phone was pulled out and a call was made that we were broken down.
Our guide cheerfully announced that a new bus was being sent to pick us up so we were free to do as we pleased. It was twelve noon. Quiet acquiescence was the response of the group. I was amazed. There was no cursing, bitching, outrage, or barrage of questions that would have assaulted an American tour guide in a similar situation. When will the new bus be here? Will it be the same kind of bus? Am I going to be compensated for this? People stretched, got off the bus, strolled along the road, and smoked. The office ladies jumped over a ditch and took off across a field.
"Where are they going, Tanya"?
"There is a town with a store in that direction".
"How long will it take them to get there"?
"Maybe thirty or forty-five minutes. Do you want to go"?
Since I was wearing sandals instead of hiking boots, I declined. Tanya and I read our novels and took a nap. We took a stroll along the road. Young couples were caressing under the trees. The delay did not seem to bother them at all. We practiced my Russian vocabulary.
"How do you say I'm hungry"? I asked. We ate our wonderful pies.
"At least we will not die of starvation thanks to Tatyana Antonenko", Tanya lamented. "This has never happened to me before", Tanya declared embarrassed by the situation. "It's happened to me plenty of times. Once our car broke down in the middle of the night just as we were approaching the bridge to a Louisiana swamp. David had to pull off on a dirt road and leave me with two small children while he went for help: I was petrified as I shone my small flashlight into the darkness and tried to reassure and comfort my crying daughters." Someone in the back of the bus read horoscopes from the daily newspaper for everyone's entertainment. The tour guide put on a movie to help pass the time. Communication was maintained with the travel bureau via radio and from time to time the tour guide would announce" Our bus has just passed this or that town". The hours stretched on and when she announced" The bus has just passed Valdai", someone in the back of the bus replied, “How many times”? Russians have such a wonderful sense of humor.
Sometime in the middle of the afternoon our driver set out on foot on a mission. He returned much later with a wide board. He and two other men struggled valiantly with the board and the wheel, but only succeeded in getting themselves sweaty and dirty. The driver finally resolutely returned to the driver's seat and rested his head in his hands.
The new bus eventually arrived. It was not as new as the first bus, but it rolled. The driver was a tall, lean, muscular man-handsome in a lean muscular sort of way. He oversaw the moving of the luggage to the new bus and then we were on our way. It was 7:00 p.m.
We stopped at a gas station for the bus to gas up. As special consideration for our inconvenience we were allowed to purchase snacks and bring them back on the bus. This is not usually allowed. I was craving a diet Pepsi and was delighted to see Pepsi and M&M signs on the window of the store. Much to my disappointment neither of the items were in the store for sale. I surprised myself with the urgency of my desire. Perhaps I was a spoiled American after all; one who cannot even go a few hours without sugar and caffeine. I did not care how conspicuous I looked. I wanted something American. I ended up with a large Sprite, a bag of Lays potato chips, and a Snickers bar! People grinned as they observed my lap full of junk food. I tried to share with Tanya, but she austerely refused any of it making me look all the more gluttonous.
When we got back on the road, Tanya pointed out that such convenience gas stations were appearing between Moscow and Tver also. There were more of them as we neared St. Petersburg. We arrived in the city at 11:30 p.m. and immediately were in heavy traffic on a very wide street. As the bus turned a comer a large double trailer truck turned too sharply beside us. People screamed because they could see that the truck was going to hit us. It side swiped the bus taking off the driver's side mirror. My heart was in my throat.
Cussing and shaking his fist, our driver motioned for the truck driver to pull over to
the curb, which he did. Our driver got out and exchanged angry words with the truck
driver. "What is he saying, Tanya"? "He wants the truck driver to give him
the mirror off the truck". Sure enough the truck driver took out a screwdriver and
started working, but then he threw up his hands like it wouldn't come off.
Our driver was not a man to be manipulated. He came back to his bus, opened his own toolbox, and got a screwdriver. He pushed past the truck driver and in short order unscrewed the mirror, yanked it off, and marched back to the bus with the mirror in his hands. I was dumbfounded and impressed. What a way to handle dispute. No insurance claims, no lawyer, no fines, no police, just raw manhood. Clint Eastwood had nothing on this man. I felt like puffing up my chest and saying "Hey everybody this is my bus driver, don't mess with him."
We arrived wearily at the hotel. Tanya and I were assigned a room with twin beds. A family of three had the room next door and we shared a bathroom with them. This is something else for which I was prepared. I don't think it is unusual to share bathrooms when traveling in many places in the world. Tanya said, "All the people on the bus were saying how hard it must be for you to have broken down and not have a real bathroom". "It's not that bad" I answered. "The sheets are clean, the mattress is soft, and tomorrow we see St. Petersburg"!
В ответ я написала следующее:
I got your letter and your “Journey to St. Petersburg”. It gave me an enormous pleasure to read both. As I didn't keep my diary on my adventures in Russia, some details have slipped away from me. When I read your letter I remembered all the precious details at once. It's good to share our stories. You say you forgot about my comment about the Russian drivers. I don't remember either; it might have been like that.
I think you needn't write in details about my trip to the USA, just what seemed strange or unexpected for you, what you were shocked at. I was quite amused with your inability to retain Russian geographical nomenclature but it was not irritating to me at all. I was tickled pink with the word Katrabrochakovnakiasta Street. This word would hardly roll off my tongue as well. What is it? Where did you take it? You are right though. English words are much shorter and easier to memorize. Thank you for one more expression. I mean “to feel as low as a snake's belly”. It'll enrich my vocabulary. Yes, I quite forgot to write about that “green rest stop” with directions for men & women. You describe it with a good sense of humor. I liked your remarks, “there were shrieks of laughter from the bus which made me wonder if some passengers were not as informed as I was” or “tell them I learned to squat in the girl scouts so it didn't bother me at all”. You really were a good trooper, weren't you? Then I quite forgot about that truck that took off the driver's side mirror. Your heart was in your throat then. As for me, I was as cool as a cucumber, though such a thing hadn't happened to me either. It's just the Russian national trait of character. I liked the way you described the incident with the driver's mirror, especially "no insurance claims, no lawyer, no fines, no police, just raw manhood" Yes, it's the Russian way of doing things. Though things are changing here too. By the way, what does" Clint Eastwood had nothing on this man" mean? Is this a stylistic device?
Thank you that you approved of my idea to write a book together. Yes, both of us should
write from our view point. It's just what I want. The most interesting perspective for the
reader would be "America at my sight" & "Russia at your sight",
written in the 1-st person. It should switch back and forth. Yes, we must be brutally
honest. Otherwise it wouldn't be interesting at all. I like your idea to experiment by
writing some pages about the same events and see how they differ. I guess it will take a
considerable amount of time. I agree to give ourselves the summer to see what comes of it.
Now I'm going through the throes of creation trying to experiment with our bus ride to St Petersburg.
A COACH TOUR TO ST PETERSBURG
Мои впечатления от поездки в Санкт-Петербург.
Nobody can resist the beauty and magnificence of St Petersburg and I was looking forward to showing my American friend this pearl of Russia.
So one morning a brand-new coach arrived. We took the best seats and drove off. The weather was fine and we were talking leisurely all the way anticipating our meeting with St Petersburg. There was a nice meeting and staying with my university mates behind and a long-awaited meeting with St Petersburg ahead. The guide said it would take us about 10 hours to get there, so we prepared to while away the time in a pleasant chat.
Suddenly the coach stopped. It was somewhere half way, near Valdai. Everybody started getting out. It turned out that the bus had broken down. "What the dickens! I thought' Damn it all! I used to go on bus tours with my students a hundred times but it's just now that this damned bus has broken down!" We were in a nice pickle. I felt so ashamed! Getting ahead of the story I must tell you we had to wait for a new coach for 7 hours! I had dealt with "Giraffe" tour agency a lot of times and they had never let me down. Just think of this failure right now, when I'm travelling with my foreign friend! What should she think!
Meanwhile we left the coach and went for a walk along the highway. Trying to justify myself, I said, "Audrey it's the first time I've been in such a situation". Quite unexpectedly my American friend said, "Everything is OK. But for this incident I shouldn't have had a chance to make one important conclusion".
– What is it? – I wondered.
– I have a chance to make sure that Russian people are tolerant. They are as cool as cucumbers.
– Yes. – I said, – They really are.
– Americans would make a lot of fuss over the matter. They would probably threaten to bring a suit against the agency or something like that.
– There is no use making noise. Nothing would come of it. Russian people are the most tolerant people in the world.
Instead of bothering about the broken bus everybody was trying to take advantage of the situation. Some people went to the nearest village to get some beer and some food. Young couples just scattered in the wood. Some men surrounded the driver trying to make repairs, giving their advice.
We took our seats in the coach and decided to have a snack. It was then that Audrey felt an urgent need to study Russian.
– What is the Russian for, I am hungry? – she asked. I started teaching my American friend some necessary expressions that could help her survive in severe Russian reality.
Tatyana Antonenko, a preacher at Tver Methodist Church, had come to see us off to St Petersburg and brought a bag full of pies. Thanks to them we didn't die of hunger on that highway. By the way, I remembered my American experience. I don't know why but famous American traffic jams came to my mind. I wish I had gotten into some traffic jam while in the USA but I never did. Audrey said I was lucky but I think I wasn't. If I had gotten into a traffic jam and spent 7 hours or so there, perhaps I would have made some very important conclusion about the American national character. I could have witnessed (seen with my own eyes) their impatience, hastiness, fuss and what not! I still think them to be very reserved, polite and well-mannered. Only once in 6 weeks had I a chance to see one American go bananas. Then we took a nap, then we took a stroll along the road…
A new coach arrived in 7 hours and we were on our way to our cherished dream. Now and then Audrey startled, screw up her eyes and cried: "Oh, my gosh! It's impossible! They mustn't do this! They mustn't outrun like this! Oh, my God! It's very dangerous and it's forbidden in the USA", – she explained to me. "Yes it's forbidden here too. But there are no laws for the Russian drivers until they are at the cemetery", – I replied.
All in all it took us about 17 hours to get to our dream. It's more than it takes from Atlanta to Moscow!!! St Petersburg amazed Audrey with its magnificence and beauty as I had expected. The museums and the excursions were quite good but the accommodation left much to be desired. Before travelling to Russia Audrey had told me that she would like to be in my shoes (skin), to live the Russian way of life, not the way usual American tourists are offered. That's why I decided to take her on a coach tour middle-class Russian people of average income can afford. That's why it was not the Astoria Hotel we stayed at. It was The Hotel of Humanitarian University. Our section consisted of a two-seater and three-seater rooms with a bathroom in between. There were two small beds (Not those king-size beds I had seen in the USA!) with a small table sandwiched in between, two chairs and a built-in wardrobe. No telephone, no TV-set, not even an iron. All this was nothing compared to what followed. Late at night we saw bugs crawling around on the walls. Audrey screamed and started killing them with her slipper. A crumb of comfort for me was that she had had one more piece of damned Russian experience. Why, she wouldn't have seen such a thing in the Astoria! But the most Russian and the most terrible experience was still ahead! At the end of our stay at the hotel a chambermaid came in and demanded to take off our bed linen while Audrey was still lying on her pillow waiting for the coach to come. The woman started to count each item of our bed linen and the towels as if we could have stolen their damned ragged towels! Audrey was shocked. I could guess it by the expression on her face. There was anger, annoyance and disdain there. I guess she could hardly reserve her feelings. As for me I was burning with shame. I sugared the pill by soothing myself with one more piece of bitter Russian experience for my American friend. It's not the way an American chambermaid would have behaved. She would have come in as sweet as honey and said hello and smiled and asked if we enjoyed staying at their place and if they could do something to improve their service to make our stay more comfortable and pleasant. I hadn't seen any chambermaids in our rooms at the hotels in the USA. The only thing I can tell you for sure: I felt at home there! But it didn't happen here in Russia. Maybe it's the other way round somewhere in the Astoria where the New Russian people stay and pay much for the politeness and good-manners of the chambermaids. Still the fact remains and I'm very ashamed of it. There was too much Russian experience for an American woman.
I wished the earth would open beneath my feet. The only place where I felt very proud of my country was the museums and the places of interest. It goes without saying no other place in the world can beat it. Audrey was mesmerized with the splendor of St Petersburg. Later my American friend said it was worth waiting for that damned coach on that highway for ages just to see that city (I would add: It was worth having all that damned Russian experience... ) I was moved...
Every cloud has a silver lining. The difference between the splendor of St Petersburg and the Russian reality is so striking that Audrey asked me: "How can the richest country in the world let its people live like that?" Most Americans take everything they have for granted. They have their bread buttered on both sides, while there is no middle-class in Russia now. There are two extremes: the very rich and the very poor, like in Dostoevsky's lifetime. I think my American friend got much more than the Russian experience here. She learned to appreciate the things she has in her own country. There is no doubt she began to love her motherland more. I bet she looked at America with different eyes when she came back.
I thought it would be a rough copy, but I have no time to rewrite it. Dear Audrey, correct the mistakes and send your review. Write back soon.
I’ve just sent you a letter and a lot of pictures taken by my new camera but as I'm on my sick leave now (I've caught a bad cold) and have a lot of spare time I decided to go on with writing my bestseller. This is one more extract for our book.
Встреча, которая в корне изменила мое отношение к Америке и американцам.
Long before my trip to the USA Audrey asked me to meet and speak to some thirty busy people of Fairhope. She told me not to worry and take it easy because it was not going to be an official lecture on Russia, just a friendly talk. I was worried all the same. I wondered if I would cope with that task, if my knowledge of English would be enough to make myself understood. I felt I had to prepare for that meeting just like for an examination.
When my trip to the US was coming to an end and there hadn't been any meeting with busy people, I asked Audrey when that meeting with busy people of Fairhope would be. "Why, but it has already been", my American friend exclaimed."When?"– I asked her. "Do you remember that picnic on the beach?" She asked me. Of course, I did remember it quite well and will remember it for the rest of my life, because that meeting changed my opinion of American people greatly. More than that, I got so much pleasure out of speaking to the native speakers, who praised my knowledge of English! I was in the seventh heaven...
It was Sunday 11.06. Audrey woke me up and told me to dress up because we were going to church. So I found myself at the United Methodist Church for the first time. I liked it a lot. First we visited the sermon. I listened to the minister very carefully. His preaching was quite clear to me and I was able to understand each word. More than that, I could appreciate the way he addressed his people (or parishioners). There were even jokes and laughter unlike in the Russian Orthodox Church, where the priest doesn't address the people but he addresses God. The language is old Slavic and is not understandable for common people. I felt at home here in an American church sitting comfortably on a pew. In the Russian church people stand during the sermon (service). It's hard to bear two hours standing on foot. I sang American hymns with my American friends. From time to time tears filled my eyes. They were the tears of gratitude to my American friends, to the Lord for giving me the opportunity to see and feel that wonder, to participate in that quite new activity for me. I used to be an atheist. I, like millions of soviet people, was brought up like that. There was no God in my life at all.
After the service Audrey took me upstairs to her Sunday School Class. As I was walking upstairs I tried to guess what it would be like. "Will it be something like an ordinary lesson with a teacher and students? Shall I answer the teacher's questions?" I asked myself. Audrey took me to one of the classrooms and went out promising to be right back. I started looking around the room and saw some posters on the walls. I looked closely at them and oh, my gosh, I saw the pictures I had sent to my pen pal! I started reading the captions under the pictures. There were extracts from my letters! It was a surprise! I was so moved that tears started rolling down my face. It was just then that the Sunday school students started coming in. Audrey introduced me to them. Each of them tried to kiss me and hug me and cheer me up. I think that just at that moment the myth of American cold-heartedness and artificial friendliness was dispersed. Like many Russian people I had thought American people to be rather coldhearted and aloof with artificial commercial smiles on their faces. It turned out to be quite wrong. Later I learned that each of them had taken part in organizing my trip to the USA.
The chairs were put in circle around the classroom. Everybody sat down and the class started. Yes, there was a teacher. His name was Mike. Later Audrey told me Mike had played an important part in my trip. I liked the way he taught. He impressed me with his intelligence, good knowledge of human psychology and friendliness. Really, he was the heart and soul of the class. The topic was "Meeting our psychological needs." It looked like a discussion, like a friendly talk. Everybody took part in it. I was asked some questions too. I don't remember which now, but the only thing I know, I was at ease. In Russia, if a person needs some advice or psychological help, he or she goes to the doctor if he or she has money to pay for the consulting. If not, he or she would rather buy a bottle of vodka which is much cheaper. Few people go to church to solve their problems. It's bad.
At the end of the Sunday School Class everybody stood up, took each other by the hand and started praying. All of a sudden I heard my name. I was moved that everybody there cared for me, wished me a good trip. I felt warmth, friendliness, sympathy and gratitude I couldn't express in words. There was a lump in my throat so I just said thank you.
Then Audrey invited everybody to a picnic on the beach. Now I see she did it for my sake to make me feel more comfortable and relaxed. And I really did, and I'm thankful to her. I never guessed that I was talking to those thirty busy people of Fairhope I had been afraid of (or afraid of so much). I was very much impressed with that picnic, with the people, with that informal friendly chat. I saw that American people, like Russian people like picnics, that both of them are very sociable. One by one they came up to me and talked about different things from the Russian winter, notorious for its low temperatures and severe frosts, to the problems of education and medical service, to say nothing of the global problems that trouble the mankind. I didn't feel any hostility or snobbism I had been warned about. Just the other way around. I got much pleasure out of talking to native speakers. I was never at a loss for a word. More than that, my American friends complimented me on my good knowledge of English. They told me I spoke a correct British English. One of them said I didn’t look like a Russian woman. I looked like a British one. Oh my! It was the highest award for me. The most frequent was the question about the Russian winter. My American friends could hardly imagine the temperature of 31oF (or 35 below zero C). They asked me what I wear and if I cover my face with anything. It tickled me a lot.
At the end of the day everybody thanked me for giving them a chance to meet a Russian. They told me they had changed their opinion of Russian people. I was flattered and very pleased. I changed my opinion of American people too. Audrey had always been an ideal American for me and I had never had any doubts about her. Otherwise I wouldn't have taken risks coming to the USA! But from that day on I learned that the image of a typical American created in Russian people’s minds is far from being true. The rest of my time spent in the USA proved to that fact. Now I am in love with American people and their country!