Life in Front of the Lens

Russian ladies have truly, utterly perfected the art of posing. They have it down to an absolute t and are not afraid to whip it out in public. The poses are intimidating and immaculate, taken to look natural yet ultimately painstakingly thought through. However it is second nature to the women, and a snap takes seconds. Sit, pose, done, over.

When at the ballet the other day, I got a first hand experience of just how serious Russian women are about the perfect picture. Take for example the 7-year-old girl who was having the tantrum to end all tantrums. She was not a happy girl, crying, screaming, stomping, shouting. However, as soon as her mother grabbed her and shoved her in front of a lovely view of the stage, for the 3 seconds it took to capture the image, the waterworks were capped and a shining smile was pulled out. Picture taken, all hell broke loose again and said madam stormed off. Remarkable. Even aged 7, the Russian girls can turn it all on for the camera.

In the foyer of the very same theatre stood a shiny grand piano. It was not played, but it received a lot of attention as a procession of dolled up girls each sat upon the stool, arched their backs with precision, tossed their heads over their shoulders and dazzled. Snapped, they tottered off to the next location to repeat the process. I had been wondering why the girls were all so dressed up for an 11am matinée, and it all became clear. They were dolled up for the obligatory ‘look at me at the Mariinsky’ photoshoot.

Whilst browsing the Museum of Russian Political History, by far one of the best museums I’ve been to here, I was distracted and bothered by two women scurrying around ensuring they had each taken a photo of the other in front of every artefact and snippet of information. In actual fact I don’t think they knew or cared where they were, just so long as they had documented that they had been there.

The ‘selfie’ craze has been going for a while now, but it’s a whole other ball game in Russia. Perusing VKontakte (pretty much Facebook but in Russian) you will come across image after image of perfectly made up girls popping a hip in various locations. There are also hundreds of photos of girls in bikinis on holiday, proudly showing the world what their mothers gave them. As one friend put it, these mothers are most likely the ones behind the camera, instructing their daughters on the optimum way to display their assets for the world of VK to see.

This all fits with the mentality seen here of why have something which costs money, if no one knows that it cost money. For example, if you’re going to buy a designer item, ensure it has a label on show so that everyone knows that you paid big. An expensive car is not enough unless it is gold or how about matte black? It seems that people buy things and visit places simply to show the world that they have these things and that they can afford to have them, rather than to enjoy the experience or gain something. I only hope that in between all this posing and showiness, they’re taking time to stop, watch the ballet, listen to the music and enjoy living life for themselves, not for the sake of a photo.

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St Petersburg Street Art

The St Petersburgians make excellent use of space (see parking), as is shown by their use of the pavement as an advertising location. As you walk along the avenues and streets, across the bridges and between the beautiful buildings, your eye is drawn to the many, often colourful, adverts, slogans and signs spray painted onto the ground. Personally, I love it – it adds more colour and life to this already vibrant city and provides something to look at when you walk with your head down to avoid the bitter winds hitting your eyes. Oh yes, it’s been that cold already.

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A boutique shop which has moved locations (I believe)

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A hostel (one night – from 350 roubles, a month – 9000 roubles)

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A selection

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A bar (called I Simply Love – very literal translation, it’s probably a colloquialism)

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A fitness centre on Nevsky Prospekt

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A big chain of coffee shops, called ‘Coffee Haus’

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The parking – another example of efficient use of space…

From Russia with love.

St P Snaps

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken so far. They are not great quality as most were taken on a rather overcast day, but they show some of the beautiful buildings and culture of the city.

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Today I’m off to the Kunstkamera, a museum of bizarre objects which Peter the Great collected including: a mammoth and Siamese twins in a jar. Sick bag at the ready.

Life in Black and Grey

Everyone here wears dark colours all the time. This is another factor adding to the many reasons why I stick out as the foreigner I am, to be named and shamed in the street. As an avid supporter of colour, this wardrobe adjustment may prove difficult. Time will tell, at least it’s preparing me for the Parisian sartorial way – black on black on black, c’est chic. The choice of dark colours reflects and changes with the seasons. In spring and summer, colour is cracked out, but come those dark wintry days and nights, the Russians (or at least St Petersburgians) choose to dress in a way which allows them to disappear into their surroundings. Fantastic as it would be to advocate change by wearing my usual cheery palette, I think for now I’ll try to blend in.

I have also decided that even the way I sneeze is foreign. However, I was asked for directions in the street today, so maybe I am looking more Ruski as the days go by. I was flattered by his mistake and then blew it by saying (in Russian) “Yes, no here, no there!” to which I got a bemused look and we went our separate ways. Result!

From Russia with love.

P.S. Supper today was actually inedible.

The Truth about Borscht

When I think of Borscht, I used to imagine the image below – a smooth soup of blended beetroot and other vegetables.

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Well, dear readers, allow me to introduce to you the non surgically enhanced truth about beetroot soup. It is actually a translucent purple liquid with a film of butter on top (as with every dish) and bits of chopped vegetable floating around. You can then add sour cream to it, I choose not to.

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Despite appearances, it’s actually not bad. Looks can be deceiving, as I have been discovering with most meals here! My new friend Saoirse had quite the surprise regarding the look and reality of her food – http://saoirseinstp.blogspot.ru/

From Russia with love.

Hoisery Hatred

There is a disturbing penchant here for the most offensive tights ever to be produced. We all know that tights can be a tricky subject and although they appear a simple garment, can really work against us. Well, tights will never look bad again as I will now forever have imprinted in my mind an image of the favoured style in this transitional weather.

‘Granny tights’ doesn’t even begin to describe these monstrosities. It is the colour which is offensive – not skin colour but also not black, they are a disturbing beige with a tinge of grey. They are like flesh coloured tights in need of a good wash. It is as though the women want to look like they have tanned legs, but all they succeed in doing is looking as though they have a disease. If you then take these hideous tights and add to them open-toed shoes, you have the worst street style trend ever to emerge. I see this sight on about 50% of the women in the city. Kate Middleton, you would love it here (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

From Russia with love.

First Observations

In just 2 days in St Petersburg, my eyes have been opened to so many new sights and my taste buds too, though that may not be for the best. Day 2 began with one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever eaten – молочная каша (molochnaya casha) aka milk rice. каша in Russian is a word used to describe any type of gloopy porridge-style mush, and in this case, the mush was rice in (slightly off and too warm) milk. Absolutely dreadful. The only way to stomach it and not risk offending my host family was to chase each spoonful with a bite of bread and large gulp of tea. I managed to get it all down, and keep it down. The food in general has been fine thus far, although it seems their diet consists of carbs, carbs, garlic, meat and carbs. All accompanied by oil, butter or cream. Yum? It’s not what I’m used to eating, but it’s certainly Russian and I’m in Russia.

Many things have struck me so far, but there are 3 that stand out: traffic, the people and couples.

If you choose to get into a car in St Petersburg, you can be guaranteed an experience far scarier than any roller-coaster you have been on. Forget Stealth, Russian driving is where it’s at for adrenaline junkies. There are no such things as lanes, red lights or pedestrian crossings here. Physically there are, but the drivers have little care for them and will run you down if you give them half the chance, even when you are crossing with a green man. This makes being a pedestrian a hilarious experience. My first taste of Russia was in a car, being driven from the airport to my apartment, and it was an adventure to say in the least: last millisecond brake application, driving onto the other side of the road with oncoming traffic to overtake a lorry, swerving every which way the driver fancied. No matter how I try to explain it, I will never be able to truly convey what that journey was like. Every Russian seems to think they own the road, and the road is in fact not a road, but a race track. Speed limits? I think not.

Parking here is also excellent; if you can’t fit your car into a space by parking it in the normal “parallel parking” style, why not just park diagonally into the space so that the front of your car mounts the pavement and the back sticks onto the road? Fantastic idea! Better yet, just drive onto the pavement and park alongside a car which is correctly parked on the road. Of course, how clever they are!

The people in St Petersburg can, from first impressions, be grouped thus: the ones whose gaze you avoid and would not want to meet alone at night, the ones with very bad taste, the ones who still think it’s the 80s (see bad taste), the ones who seem to know what year it is and make an effort, and my favourite, the women who wear the most absurd stilettos which bend their feet to a painful angle. I have a lot of respect for these women as the pavements here are very uneven and hard to manoeuvre in Converse, let alone 6 inch stilettos.

We were lucky enough to witness two weddings yesterday. The first bride definitely fell under the bad taste category by wearing the single most hideous ruched wedding dress my poor eyes have ever gazed upon (this blonde forget her camera lead and cannot upload photos unfortunately so you’ll have to let your imagination run wild).

This brings me to the final observation regarding couples. Ugly men have attractive girlfriends. So far, every couple has either consisted of 2 similarly (un)attractive people, or a beautiful woman and quite atrocious looking man.

So far, so good. More anecdotes and tales of the Ruski ways to follow.