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the colours in your head


I just had a Dachshund puppy bite my ear while I was doing Downward-Facing Dog in an attempt to stretch cramping calf muscles.

I am officially not a dog person. And there are currently three in residence at my house. A Dalmatian, my old mutt, and my brother's new puppy, bouncing and yapping and growling, and being all needy in the way that only dogs can pull off. I miss just being around my cats. Stupid dogs.


Greek Salad for dinner

It always amuses me to wonder what my grocer must think of me. I have a bordering-on-pathological fear of food bacteria, and as a result do not buy ANYTHING except pasta in bulk (even cans scare me.) I have been known to thrown out perfectly good meat simply because it has been residing in my kitchen for over a day, and the idea of leftovers and doggie bags vaguely disgusts me. This leads to daily trips to the grocery store, which I personally enjoy, but it also makes the contents of my shopping rather pathetic.

Today at the grocer's:

-Three immense bottles of water (the water here contains STRANGE FAUNA and you will DIE DIE DIE of giardia if you drink it.) No, I can't buy the giant 5 litre bottles because I have to lug 2 litre bottles everywhere I go and look vaguely ludicrous-- but hydrated!
-1 Ritter Sport bar-- milk chocolate with chocolate cream filling. A daily necessity, to be consumed within a span of approximately 10 minutes. Horrible addiction, I know.

At the Veggie stand:

-3 plums
-1 tomato
-1 cucumber

The grocer (a rather affable fellow from Uzbekistan) looked at my purchases, laughed, and said "How come a pretty girl like you doesn't have a boyfriend?"

Marvellous what my vegetable buying habits lead people to deduce. Just marvellous.


The defunct jock reminisces.

I went on a walk around the islands in the northern part of the city the other day, and stumbled across the dwelling places of the newly-rich and not-so-famous. Beautiful buildings mostly left untouched, occasionally given horrific Nouveau Russian facelifts (the current vogue appears to be for the Swiss chalet look.) Lots of shiny black Mercedes with tinted windows. Occasional Hummers.

The amusing part was when I got to the park-ier part of the area; then I was treated to the sight of row upon row of speedboats, mound upon mound of horse dung and... a boat house. For crew. I even had the luck of seeing a sculler out on the water.

Now, I know that some of the best rowers in the world came out of the former Soviet countries, on account of natural brawn, psychotic coaches and vast amounts of steroids (I speak, of course, of a time before these enlightened times. NO athlete would take performance-enhancing drugs nowadays. Nope.) The surprise simply came from the fact that, despite having seen Eastern European rowers at various competitions and on various videos, I've always so closely associated rowing as such a wholeheartedly WASPy sport that it's hard to think of anyone doing it seriously outside of Great Britain or the Northeast US. I actually spent a good three years of my life rowing in Italy, and while it was rather good fun, and I even was a finalist in my division at regionals at the grand old age of 13, it took until I got to the US to see what my mother had been on about when she told me it was a great sport and something I absolutely needed to do, not just a rather overly complicated alternative to going to the gym.

I rowed from the age of 12 to the age of 17, which isn't an overly long period of time, but significant enough that four years after the fact, I still get vaguely nostalgic when I see people out on the river. I don't regret having given it up-- it's left me with a rather horrid legacy of back problems, and frankly, I rather enjoy not having shoulders wide enough to make it appear that someone has surreptitiously stuffed a pair of 80's era shoulder pads underneath my clothing. I enjoy having soft hands, even though I never did blister much. Growing my nails out is fun (especially now that my guitar has been languishing in its case for ages and I don't need to trim my left fingernails for fear of nasty vibrations) and I definitely appreciate being 3 clothing sizes smaller-- all muscle, creepily enough. I feel more feminine and less blundering. I suppose I can't bench as much-- for that matter, I don't think I've actually felt compelled to bench anything in 4 years.

I do miss it though, even though it wasn't the right sport for me for many reasons. I didn't have the right mindset for it. Though I'm naturally freakishly strong (not demonstrated very often because of said back problems) I simply couldn't get myself into the mindset where I was supposed to put myself through pain in order to attain some imaginary goal. Crush St. Paul's? Yes, clearly I wished for our team to be victorious, but the girls from St. Paul's seemed to be very nice, and I had no personal animosity against them. Team spirit? I was always being called off during my bouts of playing ball sports for hogging the ball and being too aggressive. I guess I wasn't quite as sly with my field hockey stick as I thought. And frankly, I just didn't have the right mindset to quite fit in with the other girls on the team in high school. Not bred in New England. No Labradors. Curly hair. That sort of thing.

Regardless of all that, there were moments of rowing that I utterly loved, mostly pertaining to those initial few years I spent sculling. The movement of the boat is inimitable during those perfect moments when everything's suddenly working together and you're just flying. I also tended to get a sort of masochistic pleasure out of the crazy training routines, out of having to spend three hours a day sweating and just working, to the exclusion of real thought. The exercise routines were strangely attractive in their sadism, and to this day I find myself going through bouts of replicating certain parts of them, though I avoid the arm exercises, being naturally strangely buff in this arena. I am also slightly disappointed to find that I can no longer do 300 crunches in a sitting, while feeling no burn. The appearance of a waist is a great consolation, however.

All in all, I'm glad I quit, and I know many other former rowers who are equally glad to have stopped, but at the same time, it's always odd when I see something to do with the sport. My cousin is currently taking the crew team at her university by storm, and I must confess that I have most definitely been subject to pangs of resentment/jealousy whenever her successes are discussed in the family, ecstatic though I am for her.

We'll just have to see what happens when my little brother grows up, though. He's 11, fit to the point where the coach of the Swedish Olympic ski team said he had never seen a child of his age with such muscles and already at least 5'5. He's a natural rower if I've ever seen one, and I will be furious if he doesn't at least try the sport (nope. I don't like basketball. Crew has more elegance.) but at the same time, I hope I don't get as resentful as I do with my cousin. She's a girl, though, and only three years younger than me, so her news hits a little closer to home.

All in all, though, I must repeat that I am frivolously fond of having shed all that muscle. I can't do more than 8 push-ups in a row without dying anymore (used to do 60 on an almost daily basis... which is a big deal for a girl), but I've gained a lot more in feeling comfortable in myself. It took a bit, with having trouble really recognising my body as I shifted away from being an athlete (and lost about 20 pounds... of muscle!), but I feel much less clumsy and a lot more comfortable in my skin. I can still do the things I want, but now I no longer have to deal with enormous muscly man-calves. Bliss.

PS: For a photo of me rowing, look here. I'm in seven seat, or rather, the second person down from the little person in white (coxswain). Check out those guns. And that visor. Hott.



I've always had a dread of taking showers.

It's not the shower itself that I'm worried about. I'm a clean person, and I actually find showering to be quite a pleasant experience. You're all warm and lovely, and then you get to be all clean... former roommates of mine can attest to the fact that I take the longest showers on earth, once topping out at a remarkable 50 minutes. A horrible waste of water, I know, but I try to compensate for that by turning it off while doing non-running-water-necessary things. My actual distate for showering comes from the process of leading up to the shower.

I mainly* grew up in a beautiful old fortified villa from the 15th century nestled in the hills above Turin. Above my house were ancient woods where I twice had the dubious fortune of coming across wild boar (lovely to see in their native element, but vaguely terrifying to encounter because I was very small and all on my own.) The city was a ten minute ride by Vespa, and on a clear day, you could see the Alps from my garden. Unfortunately, all this glory did not directly translate to comfort.

In my bathroom, the door was liable to fall off on you while you were dodging around, trying to intercept the three feeble streams of water from the showerhead. Occasionally, if I hadn't been home for long enough, the water was yellow, from rust in the pipes. My mother's bathroom boasted a single lukewarm trickle, and while her shower door was firmly in place, the architect clearly hadn't factored in that people might want... light in bathrooms. Factor in spiders and millipedes abruptly emerging from the drains, and you can understand why she and I both approach cleanliness with the grimness of preparing for a military expedition. My little brother also loathes showering, but he is 11, and thus comes naturally equipped with a layer of grime.

In addition, the heating was on an ancient boiler system, and my stepfather was in the habit of setting it to only be on during the hours he was at home and awake; that is-- 6 am to 10 am (occasionally 11, if he was feeling generous, or if my mother or I had thrown a tantrum over turning into human popsicles) and then again from 6 pm to 11 pm. Between these times? Nothing. I used to dread visitors, for the sheer fact of having to explain to them that no, they couldn't shower now. There was no hot water. You have to wait until after dinner. I don't CARE if we're doing something after dinner. It's your only chance!

The lack of heat also multiplied my issues with the cold, as my bedroom is located in the attic. (In a nice manner, not a garret-style manner) Unfortunately, the nice thick insulating walls that are a feature of old Italian architechture and keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer didn't encompass enough of my room to make up for the beastly cold drafts let in by the roof. Nor did my room have a fireplace, like all the other bedrooms in the house. I spent many of my childhood winters huddled under 2 down comforters, listening to the radiator make a series of menacing tapping noises while failing to actually convey any heat up to my room.

All in all, then, I think my fear of taking showers is fairly justified. It makes it all the more a pleasant experience to find that hot water can be consistent, even in Russia, and that nothing is likely to fall on you during the course of your cleansing. Unfortunately, though, I still can't shake that dreadful sense that instead of stepping into a shower I will have unwittingly blundered my way into some strange alternate dimension full of pain and discomfort.

But please, let me assure you again that I am quite a clean and lovely person, not smelly in the least, and that other than discomfort of the climatic and 8- or more-legged variety, my upbringing was rather blissful.

*I say mainly here because my father has had a succession of beautiful dwelling places of his own, over the course of his travels, all equipped with modern conveniences such as heat, air conditioning and working plumbing. Any trauma these places may have imparted onto me is apparently too slight to be recalled.


Sprechen-sie Annoying?

I have a grand total of four suitemates here in St. Petersburg. Two are a pair of perfectly lovely Spanish girls, while the other two... I like to call the Germans. Not that I have anything against Germans, per se. I dated one for a year, and have various friends from there.

My problem, however, is with the male half of the couple.

While the girl is perfectly nice, though a little strange, (she's at the phase of English comprehension where she speaks it well enough that you think that you can use slang and sarcasm with her, and then it all just goes to hell. Also, her eyes don't focus correctly, which fact really irritates me.) the guy is simply... unbearable.

He has the most tedious and conventional of English male names. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He just graduated from Temple, with a degree in film. He looks bland and relatively harmless. Why then all this wrath?

The problem seems to stem from a fact that he has somehow taken to speaking English with a German accent. He communicates exclusively with his girlfriend in German, which is fine, but... his native tongue? With a tacked-on accent? All his clothing are German brands. His shampoo is German. His books are all in German. He brushes his teeth with a toothpaste called "Eurodont" which has... you guessed it... GERMAN on the label!

I'm really not sure why this sends me into such a rage, except for the fact that he seems terrified of me, even after I have done NICE things for him and his girlfriend, such as lending them my guidebook to Moscow. And also, he speaks obnoxiously to her IN GERMAN in an extremely loud voice at 7 in the morning. Justifiable cause for murder, I think.

Like I said, I have nothing against Germans. I do, however, have something against stupid boys from Philadelphia speaking in a fake German accent just because they've spent an exchange year there, and managed to pick himself up a German girlfriend.

For Heaven's Sake!


Jon went home yesterday, and I must confess I find myself at a bit of a loose end without him. Not that it's unpleasant to be on my own again, but I'm a little thrown off, I must say. I went grocery shopping yesterday, and marvelled at the possibility that my cart could contain just bread, cheese, smoked fish, pickles and fruit. No manly quantities of sugary cereal. No Belgian waffles. No juice or applesauce. Yes, I confess, I finally gave in to the combined voices of my Italian stepgrandmother and my soul-food cooking grandmother and fed my man. The results? Happy, sluggish, asked for thirds. I couldn't be more smug about my mad skillz. He couldn't be more amused that his girlfriend turns out to have a domestic side, despite upbringing and outward appearances. I can... make beds! And... wash dishes, too! And even IRON! And am even willing to do so, if I am allowed to make some rather stern speeches about how that now that he's going to be living on his own, he really needs to learn to do the washing-up.

Anyway, my fifties housewife side aside, having him around was quite blissful. I got to play tourguide and show off my Russian (mercifully helped along by the fact that he couldn't understand my errors), and we actually got to explore some places that I hadn't been to before. Having him here managed to put a firm erasure on the parts of last year that needed that, while highlighting and expanding my mental city map.

But anyway, now he's gone, and I am at a loose end. This will have been that we spend a chunk of time in one location for the next few months, at least, which is a slightly scary possibility, because, when it comes down to it, I rather like the fellow. I'm not really sure that I could have spent this much time this summer without a.) killing them b.) dismembering them or c.) retreating into a catatonic state where I do nothing but mumble to myself and stare blankly at books, while drooling slightly. And, much as option c. contains many attractive traits for a girlfriend, I'm sure he's glad that I found that we fit, as well.

But regardless, I've been getting back into The Society of Others, which is slightly odd, not because I was really lacking in it, but because I need to restructure friendships with people that we had as a duo, and also because I need to compensate for:
-the multilinguality of this environment
-the fact that people come and go so quickly, so dynamics are always shifting
-the fact that there is a creepy old French man quietly stalking me

Regardless, things are good. I have two new roommates, from Spain, who seem rather lovely. One is so physically lovely, as well as of the same general looks group that I belong to, except more in many respects (tanner skin, blacker hair, bigger boobs) that I wasn't, shall we say, projecting all my friendliest of vibes while my boy was around. Yes, I grew up in Italy, and I am mistrustful of women. Now that he's gone, however, she's turned out to be cool, and I'm happy in the fact that I'm taller and have better skin.

Also, I've befriended in part some French (ok, one of them is Swiss, but...) girls in my class, with the result that with them (as one of them doesn't know English) I end up speaking a confused Franco-Russo garble, much to their amusement.

Anyway, I am out of time and so am off to stroll through the lovely streets, and then eat cheese, crackers and vast amounts of chocolate in bed while watching a trashy movie. All while wearing granny panties, with my hair in a ponytail. Sometimes, it's simply lovely not to have one's boyfriend around.

We were talking about the news in one of my Russian classes (mysteriously named SMI-- I'm truly not sure what that stands for. It doesn't seem to differ in any significant way from other classes.) and the tedious Finnish missionary (he's learning Russian so he can go convert people or something like that. I wasn't able to quite make anything out through the thick Finnish accent.) said, with true surprise on his face: "You know, in Finland, Russia's in the news all the time. If anything significant happens here, we immediately know about it. Strangely, though, I've never seen anything about Finland in the news here!"

I didn't have the heart to laugh.



-You know, when I first met you, I thought you looked a lot like Hilary Swank.
-This is the point at which you really need to specify... Hilary Swank at which precise moment in her career?

Apparently he meant at the Oscars. But still, I think the clarification was in order.


Jon and I went out clubbing last night.

This is remarkable on two counts: firstly, it was Sunday, when you think any respectable person would be sleeping off their Friday-Saturday hangovers and preparing to make a dashing impact on the working week. The club, however, was bizarrely packed. Perhaps the term "Stylish Club" tacked on to the brass sign (newly added since last year) at the entrance accounted for the people? Secondly and more importantly, Jon can't dance.

His not being able to dance falls more into the realm of endearing rather than crippling (though I almost killed myself a couple times trying to keep up with him) but there is a rather overlarge amount of fists pumping frenetically in the air, Fancy Footwork (tm), sudden lunges and attempts at twirling me(made kind of amusing if you factor in the height difference), and, most notably, random acts of clapping. He fit right in with the Russians. It was hilarious.

There's noone I would rather dance with.


Did I mention I hated rude Russian ladies?

I go downstairs to the internet cafe in my dorm, ready and willing to give over my money for contact with the outer world. I request twenty minutes and hand over a fifty ruble bill.

Deformed-face woman at desk (rudely): You can't.
Alex: But twenty minutes is twenty rubles.
D-FWaD (r): I have no change.
A: But I only have fity rubles.
D-FWaD (r) (gesturing at post-Soviet building complexes out the window): Well then, you must walk somewhere to get change.

The administrator's office is across the hall, and she could have easily dodged in there for change. Also, I'm living in the dorm for the next two weeks, and use the internet here fairly regularly, so writing me, say, an IOU would've worked, but instead, rudeness seemed the only acceptable course of action.

In the end, I did walk somewhere else to get change. I walked right to the internet cafe twenty minutes away to get change.


It's nasty and cold and rainy today, and strangely enough I have lost all desire to sit in Russian class and discuss current events. The plight of Russian women, forced to uphold the economy while their drunk spouses punch them and hold the actual positions of power (or that's at least the gist I got from the article) is truly compelling and fascinating. Today, however, there's just a little something inside of me that wants to curl up in bed with my boy and watch a trashy movie. Or perhaps teleport to a warm sunny place and lie in the sun. Uniformed waiters with umbrella-ed drinks would be a lovely touch as well. As would a big fat sack of money and a row of ideal boutiques, staffed with snooty salesladies that become so overwhelmed by the wonder of me that their evil demeanour actually cracks, and they... smile. Yes. That would be perfect. A couple of puppies and kittens thrown into the mix, and a stack of big fat books for when I tire of any exertion would be a nice extra touch.

Speaking of bitchy salesladies... there's this one Russian thing that I really cannot do, which is calling waitresses/salesladies/any young-ish female you wish to address "Devushka", or rather "Girl." To my occasionally overly PC mindset, this smacks of subjugation, slavery and just plain rudeness. When old women address me as this on the metro, I give them my best haughty look, for one whole second before sinking into a pile of petrified jelly in the face of their Evil Russian Old Lady Glare. However, last night, a waitress was so bitchy that Jon actually got to hear me call her "Girl!" with gusto. Dyed white-blonde hair, evil slitty blue eyes, and an attitude big enough to mask the fact that she was wearing a uniform based on traditional Georgian (the country, not the state) dress, ugly square-toed shoes and shiny sheer hose. "Girl!" had to bring me an ashtray. And more water. And wasn't the food ready yet? And the bread? Yes, being bitchy to a bitchy waitress is a tiny, pathetic little thing, but I'm generally so apologetically polite to everyone in subordinate positions that actually acting back was a BIG STEP.

To which Jon commented, with a grin, "You know, part of the problem of teaching you to be assertive is you actually acting assertive, and forgetting your training as a good Italian woman. Cooking. And not talking back."

Yes, he was punched.


Wherein Alex shows that she has no social concience when it comes to her skin or her stomach.

I had bear for dinner yesterday.

Jon and I finally managed to get it together enough to drag ourselves out of the room, where we had sat around for hours eating obscene amounts of Cheerios and watching bad movies, consult the good ol' city guide for actual-date-worthy restaurants (as opposed to restaurants of the simple eating variety, without the date intent. Or as opposed to imaginary scenarios in which I cook for him, which will either result in: a.) cooing domestic bliss, or b.) (more likely) me getting snappy over the fact that he's supposedly not appreciating me and my stuffing myself into the role of subjugated female enough blah blah blah. Curse my Italian stepgrandmother for teaching me to cook and giving me anxiety about the fact that I don't possess enough domestic skills. Grr.) and head out into town. We chose the Hunter's Club, which satisfied my bloodthirst and carnivorous instincts, and made the trek to the far side of town.

Said restaurant was located near my school, which I dutifully showed to Jon while playing he recovered from nausea caused by a tooth-jarring minibus ride. He chose to blame the driver, whereas I pointed out that the man was clearly a misunderstood, kindly soul, no matter how much he chainsmoked while driving and disregarded traffic regulations, and therefore the blame must rest wholly on the shocks. Regardless, the ride even made for a minor moment of discomfort in my puritanical tropics-hardened iron stomach, so Jewish Boyfriend With No Mistrust Of Modern Medicine suffered. Regardless, my school is a sight to see, being housed in the lovely Smolny Cathedral, pictured below:

We wandered around there and I got creeped out by bulgy-eyed cherubs I had never before noticed, and related the touching anecdote of how I was an unspeakably vain brat at the age of three: Upon entering a church somewhere in Rome as a small tot, I pointed at a cherub sporting brown curls and said "Lexie!"* I was, however, meltingly adorable, so I could actually get away with having that act applauded, instead of being dealt a swift kick.

We wandered down to the restaurant, which was flanked by seedy buildings advertising HUNTING TOURS! in large yellow and red letters. There was an enormous poster of a dead lion with a grinning Russian happily holding his gun over it. Inside, the restaurant was decorated in a gratifyingly macho way, all furs, mounted heads, red leather walls and dark wood panelling. Now, this is the point that I have to break down and confess that... even as a former vegetarian... I find hunting sexy. Not hick-style hunting in West Virginia, but idealised big game hunting by moustached men in jodphurs in the 20s and 30s. Alternately, hunting as done by lean noblemen in battered tweeds in various mountain-ranges around Europe. I've spent an inordinate amount of time around people who fish with harpoon-guns, my stepfather being an enthusiast, and am actually pretty good at that (Useless skill #4543... though I suppose it would help me survive if I were ever stranded on a tropical island, if I had some way to construct a slingshot-harpoon-thing. I don't know what they're called. But they're badass) but there is a vast difference between fishing of this sort and hunting, even though they both involve killing animals. I'm not in the least squeamish about fish, but there's something about hunting mammals that simultaneously utterly repulses me and attracts me. Also, I adore game meat.

We ordered bear stew with foie gras (yes yes, I'm even more a spoiled brat who is insensitive to animals. I like fur, too. But my numerous pets are all strays adopted off the street, and we've taken care of 4 cats with feline HIV over the years, allowing them to have a good home until they died. So there.) and vegetables and... it was utterly amazing. So so good. I'll probably never eat bear again in my life (especially given the paucity of restaurants actually serving it) but... it was splendiferous.

The only downside was that apparently, hip hop has become an appropriate soundtrack for such a locale. In a way, though, it made it even more delightfully surreal. And... when in Russia, go for the ridiculous?

Afterwards I took Jon to this bar called Propaganda, which is wonderfully done-- Russians doing Soviet kitsch, actually understanding the meaning of the term, and the implementing it far better than anything I've seen in other countries. The walls are lined with books about communism and the revolution, or straight up propaganda, the speakers are ancient things from the thirties, and the decor is gratifyingly red, black and grey. Copies of Lenin's collected writings bolted to the walls in the bathrooms, along with stylised images of happy workers. It's delightful and hilarious, and I love it dearly.

Out of time for now, but more updates will be forthcoming soon!

*Lexie being my childhood nickname.


Jon is now in St. Petersburg with me, and we're already set on making our stamp on the town, reclaiming it from last year's memories and forming new ones. For the first little bit, it was weird being back here on my own, without familiar faces. Shops have been closed or moved, and I'm living in a whole different dorm, which made it a little bit better, and a little bit more surreal, as I'm down the hall from the room in which my friend Scott used to live. It's a good city for wandering about and people-watching, but the unfortunate side of it is the school environment made me feel guilty about taking the time I needed to stop and think before really being able to throw myself back into the whole social thing (though don't get me wrong, I definitely have met people here, and have been doing things with them. Just not a group of people to which I feel like I want to commit myself, like I did last year.) Having Jon here firstly gives me the excuse to not have to worry about that, and then is just an utter pleasure in itself. It's nice being able to rediscover the city while showing it to him, and it's also just nice to have an excuse to lounge around doing nothing without having to make guilty-feeling justifications to my roommate as to why I'm still in my pajamas if it's 5 pm. Aren't Sundays MADE for all-day pajama lounging? Particularly if you're reading a good book? And have jet lag (yes, 2 hours. But still, quite a legitimate complaint, I think.)

Regardless, I need to run, as I'm wasting a valuable computer at this internet cafe, and the woman is giving me the Russian Evil Eye (which, if I don't take care, might upgrade to potential doom by Eye-Laser.) This place seems to cater mainly to drunk nerds playing online games, which is apparently a wonderful social pastime in these parts. Go figure.