Russia-Second Day Performances And Tour

January 17, 2006

I was awakened at 8:45 am this morning by Nola calling from the American School in St. Petersburg. She said the weather was too cold (-15į C)for me to walk and the school would be sending a driver at 10 am to get me. She advised me to dress warmly with many layers. I was glad she called because I had not slept well the night before. Having finally fallen asleep at 4:30 am I slept soundly. I bounded out of bed and was pleasantly surprised to discover the marble floor in my hotel room warm. Nice. I dressed and dashed to breakfast, (part of my room fees) and discovered a decadent buffet laid out. There were all types of bread and fruits, what looked like oatmeal and a type of mush, juices, butters and jams, coffee, teas, chocolates and meats. With a performance scheduled I usually donít eat breakfast. Because my flight to Archangelsk leaves so early in the morning, I wasnít sure Iíd have another opportunity. I chose a few pieces of fruitógrapes, a slice of pear, and fresh pineapple, along with a stuffed ham and raspberry croissant and barely a tablespoon of scrambled eggs and two bottles of water. The driver appeared promptly at 10. Bundled and packed I climbed in and learned the driver knew very little English.

Still we were able to communicate. He pointed out the sun and the moon in the sky. I learned he had two children both in their twenties and that it was very cold! Later the American teachers told me it was the coldest weather they had all year. I told them about the warm floors and they said it was standard features for modern apartments and newer hotels. The students gathered at 11:00 and the performance began. I could feel the uneasiness that arises when the audience doesnít know what to expect. A few minutes into the first story, I was on comfortable ground and the rest of the stories wet without a hitch. The principal came in midway during the telling and I could see him laughing in the back. After the show, the librarian from Tebeckistan (sp?) invited me to her office for more ice cream. This kind was different from the cherry chocolate wafer of yesterday. This one was cone covered in chocolate with layers of fruit underneath in a creamy vanilla like substance. It tasted so buttery and delicious; it didnít taste like ice cream at all.

The librarian told me the principal never had storytellers, and she thought he might have had a bad experience in the past. She said he was really pleased with the performance and she could tell he liked it a lot and that I had made a favorable impression! Just as I was finishing the last of the ice cream cone, another teacher came down to tel me lunch was served. The American school never serves lunch. Two days of the week an Indian cook comes in and lucky me they brought me some. There was a delicious fried potato patty stuffed with cabbage, peas, carrots bits, onions and turnips. Samosa which looks like a cream puff with a point, but tastes exactly like a fried meat pie, some spicy chick peas, and something that looked like a stuffed fried chicken or crab, but it was neither. I couldnít quite get the taste of what it was, but it was good. When I asked no one seemed to know.

The principal came back to tell me he had a arranged a private tour for me of St. Petersburg and hoped Iíd enjoy it! Maria, my tour guide , comes from a long line of Russians and is well traveled through Europe, Africa and the Arab Emirates. She whisked me around the city stopping at points of interests for photos. By the time the tour was over, we were fast friends. She gave me a cd of ďUmaturman,Ē a Russian rock group and I gave her one of my cdís! She told me that men in Russia make fun of women drivers calling them monkeys, yet women made up 12% of the political house and that the city even had a woman mayor! She told me a bit about car insurance in Russia and the way men treat their wives here. She made it clear she had no intention of getting married any time soon. Life for her was good and better for her generation because of the available opportunities. Life for her grandparents was not as good because they had to make decisions between paying for medicines, food and care with their limited income. Sound familiar doesnít it?

She told me Americans seem too mysterious and dark and I told her about the time a Russian exhibition came town in my teens and my amazement that they were people just like me. When I was growing up, Russians were not considered nice people and she said they had been programmed to think similarly about Americans. When I asked her about stories, she told me stories about Baba Yaga! Before we knew it the time was up and we had to say goodbye, but promised to keep in touch.

Nola, the teacher from the American school, called to invite me to an impromptu dinner at the principalís home. Dinner was a pasta dish filled with pine nuts and cheese a delicious tossed green salad abundant with avocadoes and rich cheese. Another type of chicken salad (my favorite) with grapes and avocadoes was also on the plate. Good wine and ice cream deserts completed the exquisite meal. Then I had to walk back home in the -24 degree weather back to my hotel. I stayed warm as long as I kept my scarf just in front my face so as not to breathe cold air. I had on so many layers of clothing, and a coat that I stayed toasty. Still I was glad when I arrived back at the hotel. I packed and fell into the bed but did not sleep. I tossed and turned most of the night and was bright eyed waiting for my 5am wake up call.

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Storyteller: Spinning Tales of Light, Joy, and Love