Wednesday, July 1, 2009


 I survived the train and now I'm in Ekaterinburg, communicating effectively in Russian, coughing violently, and refusing to sleep.   It's really magical to be able to talk only in a second language (with the help of a dictionary, of course.)  I don't really know if I want to get back on the train in three days, but I guess I'll just have to deal with it.

This is a picture of the train that I took in Perm.  I was on the platskart wagon of a Firmennaya train, meaning that I was on the cheapest nice train there is.  I think it was named "Yamal." I was definitely the only person on the train who spoke a word of English.  When I took this picture, I asked my bunkmate how long we would be here, and he told me about forty minutes.  As it turns out, the train was only in the station for about 10 minutes and almost left without me - I was super embarrassed, and of course scared out of my wits. 

This is the boy who caused all of my trouble, but of course, also all of my joy - a Ukrainian kid named Vasilly.  He was traveling with his mother to Siberia and slept in the bunk underneath me.  He told me, after taking several nonconsensual photographs, that I was the first American he had ever seen.  I gave him an American flag and a whole lot of distance.  He really was a nice kid, although I certainly had trouble understanding his habits - listening to loud Ukrainian rap music set to the theme of the X-files while I tried to sleep, giving me grossly false information about stops at various stations, and of course, wanting only to talk about marijuana, vodka, and whether or not Tchaikovsky was gay.  He also drank at least 6 beers in the course of one day, starting at 9:00 Moscow time this morning.

At the end of the trip, though, as we were pulling into Sverdlovsk, he played really loudly for me a remix of Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend."  This got him a lot of bonus points.

Here's the view out of the window, close to Sverdlovsk.  There were a lot of birch and pine trees, and a lot of villages, filled with brown wooden hutches and birghtly colored summer homes, or "dachas."  I figure if I lived in a country like Russia, I would paint my house bright purple and turquoise, too.  Maybe I would no matter where I lived...

My adopted Ukrainian family - Vasilly's mother was really a good friend to me.  She fed me cheese and sausage while discussing comparative literature through extremely broken Russian.  She painstakingly repeated every phrase about four times until I understood what she was talking about, and when I didn't, I just smiled and said "Da."  You can see what close quarters we were in - my bed was about 5'6" long and had very little headroom.  You sit on the lower berths during the day.

Everyone told me to expect wild parties on the train, but I found people to be relatively boring.  Almost everyone was asleep by 9:00 pm Moscow time - it was just me and my headlamp after that, reading and writing letters.

This is the drunk man from the Ukraine who apparently lived less than 500 kilometers from Chernobyl when it exploded.  That may explain why he talked so slowly and incomprehensibly...

And now I'm in Ekaterinburg, staying at the house of my teacher's best friend from university.  I really love it here, especially the conversation and the sense of adventure.  Or whatever.  I gave her some maple syrup as a gift, and I had a really hard time explaining what it was for in Russian - I'm not sure if she'll ever use it (it's on the bookshelf now) but she did seem pleased when I brought it out to light.  Tomorrow, sightseeing in the town and buying more train tickets.  And right now, I should definitely sleep.

Споконой ночи!  Good night!

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