When I was trying to decide where to go for my year abroad, everyone told me that the people in Perm were exceptionally friendly. Upon my arrival, I doubted this, not because of a failing on the part of anyone I had spoken with, but because everyone on the street looked so depressed. I have since changed my mind. I do not believe I have ever me people more willing to be warm and friendly to me. They all ask how I would like my name to be pronounced, and how I have been enjoying Perm, and how my brother’s wedding was. I am amazed that they all know my brother was getting married. I only told Oksana, the teacher at Perm who was coordinating things with the Edinburgh students, but she seems to have told everyone else, and the first thing they do when they meet me is to put two and two together, and ask to see pictures.
Also, people are very quick to give us their telephone number and tell us to call if we want any advice or help or… anything, really. Oksana took us all to an art gallery this week, and our tour guide gave us her telephone number at the end.
I never know what to expect from classes. One of my teachers, Larissa, seems to be concerned with helping us develop our conversational skills, and most of our classes to date have involved sitting around and chatting over bread with honey and tea. For my second class with her, she told us all to look up some vocabulary words for music and going to the theatre. She then took us to a small concert where a friend of hers was performing as one of the accompanying pianists. (I think the friend may have also put the whole thing together.) Regardless, the room, a little shabby in the way everything here is, had beautiful acoustics, and I very much enjoyed the evening. Afterwards, Larissa had me walk her to the flower shop so she could buy flowers, and then left me on the street with the assurance that my bus would come along, even though there was no visible bus stop, and only a crowd of Russians to indicate that it was anything other than an ordinary stretch of side walk. On the flower shop though: there must be some cultural thing over here which I am missing about flower shops, because they are everywhere.
I think my landlady, Tatiana Petrovna, is worried I do not eat enough, and with good reason: the Russian grocery stores are giving me more trouble than I am used to encountering in foreign grocery stores. On my first day I bought a bottle of body wash mistaking it for body lotion, and only yesterday was I able to find butter. It was in the freezer section. After witnessing my pitiful breakfast one morning of yogurt poured over the wrong sort of oats, she has taken to asking me what I have eaten most days, and urging me to have some soup, or pirogi, or fruit.
The fruit was actually and wonderful surprise one day. For several evenings in a row Tatiana Petrovna had seen me eat an apple with peanut butter, and I had just run out and bought a few more from the store. That night, she told me very firmly not to buy any more apples. At first I was afraid she was under the impression that all I was having for dinner were apples and peanut butter, but she explained that she planned to go buy a big crate of apples for cheap the next day. It turns out she wasn’t only interested in apples. When I walked in to the kitchen, there were apples, grapes, and a flat of what I at first took to be tomatoes.
A little while later, Tatiana Petrovna knocked on my door, brought in a basket of grapes and the supposed tomatoes, told me to eat up, and left. Upon looking more closely at the tomatoes, however, I realized they were something else. Confused, I found Tatiana in the kitchen and asked her what they were. She tried looking them up in my Russian-English dictionary, but could not find the word. “Is it a fruit?” I asked. She laughed and said yes. It was very delicious. I should try it. “Do I need a knife?” I asked. No, I should just sit down and eat it. I was doubtful: it felt extremely ripe, over-ripe even, and like it would probably drip everywhere. But I did anyway, and was delighted. After a week in this country, I was starting to doubt that Russians believed in fresh produce. The produce section at the grocery store is pitifully small, and although fruit stands are nearly as plentiful as flower stands, they are so expensive that I can barely believe most Russians to use them often. The very last thing I expected to encounter was a new fruit, let alone one as sweet and juicy as this.
It tasted something like a mango, only less tart, which was a blessing considering how juicy it was. The inside seemed like it might be sectioned, but the sections were so jelly-like it was hard to tell. It was impossible to eat without slurping. It also had no pit, and seemed to be without seeks. Puzzled, I went back to my computer to see if the Internet could enlighten me. Indeed it did: my mystery fruit was a persimmon.
Explain to me, America: why do we not eat persimmons? They are, like, totes awesome.
Anyways, my first week in Russia has been very strange, and I am disappointed that I haven’t had the time to write more. I discovered on Friday the dangers of agreeing to drink vodka with Russians, and spent this afternoon with the family of one of my Edinburgh friend’s, celebrating some holiday or other with a bunch of that family’s friends. I’m not sure what it was all about, but there was tons of food, everyone seemed to be constantly proposing toasts (in Russia, a toast seems to be usually a shot of vodka), and all together I found I could mostly follow the conversation, although I was very exhausted at the end of it. I came home to write this, but Katya interrupted me halfway through to ask me to come join her and her friend in the living room, where they are doing karaoke. I think I pulled off a passable rendition of “Hotel California.”
In short: I was a little worried that I would run out of interesting things to write about. Turns out, Russia is plenty weird enough to supply my blog with more content than I can keep up with.