Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Jul 2001, 5:46 a.m.

Cheap, Tasty, or Blessed: Pick Two.

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

One brand of mineral water available here in Russia is -- it says right here on the bottle -- blessed by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. (When John discovered this, he said, "I hope that's not how they get rid of the giardia.") It's pretty cheap, although Erin (classmate) says that she doesn't much like the taste. How demanding!

Today, homesickness, resemblances, reading material, and conspiracy theory.

On Tuesday night, I forgot to mention, Krista came over for dinner. She's another girl in the group of ACTR Summer-in-St. Petersburg participants. We had some really nice conversation about a wide range of topics. (Me and Krista on Russian TV news and anchors: "Do you ever get the sense that Russian news shows aren't quite as, you know, professional, as in the US?" "He's no Tom Brokaw.") And I was rather embarrassed that her Russian comprehension, with regards to my host mother, seemed better than mine, even though I'm in a "better" group than she in our classes at the university!

As I walked her back to the metro station, I stopped dead in my tracks. Hindi music! And it stopped, and then started again. Yes, a parked car was emitting Hindi film music, which I had not heard in any form for ages. I had to stop for a moment just to listen. (No, I don't know Hindi, but you don't need to understand Hindi to understand anything about Hindi films. Love, songs, dance, women in white under waterfalls.)

Maybe that was the first moment I realized that I was homesick.


Yeah, I have the blues. The postcommunist blues. The St. Petersburg, Leningrad, Petrograd blues. I have the too-long-been-a-tourist blues, the language breakdown blues, the cliche blues, the royal blues.

I've got the blues! The friend-losing blues, the Grand Hotel blues, the another-day-another-29.15-rubles blues.

Oh, yes, I've got the blues. The blues! The lock-on-the-backpack-on-the-subway, spare-change, television-shows-that-don't-start-on-the-hour-and-half-hour, stupid-feeling blues.


I find myself singing all sorts of nonsense, in the shower, on the street, between classes. It runs the gamut from Moxy Früvous to "Dixie."

And she's watchin' him with those eyes
And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it
And he's holdin' her in his arms, late late at night
Y'know, I wish that I had Jesse's girl
I wish that I had Jesse's girl
Where can I find a woman like that?

And this morning on the bus I saw a fella who looked just like Lenin.

And when we passed a plaque of good old Vladimir Ilyich it was even more obvious.

And I'm reading -- or starting to -- Guns, Germs, and Steel, just to take my mind off it all.

And I wish I had the power of having nothing to hide.

Did you know that in Russia, it's bad luck to give, say, knives or handkerchiefs as gifts (because they have to do with, respectively, cutting and crying), so people give, instead, money earmarked for those items?

Today in Grammar, the teacher got a bit caught on some obscure point of, well, grammar. It involved collective v. cardinal v. ordinal numbers, and the fact that if you're referring to 1, 2, 3, or 4 people you use chilovyek but for more than that (usually) liudey. We saw an example that seemed to break this rule. As she tried to figure it out, I briefly entertained the fantasy that what we're learning is some impossibly complex fake Russian, with four extra cases and all sorts of gratuitous rules. When we're not looking, maybe Russians only use the accusative and the nominative, and they use liudey all the time, no matter what the number, and they're just putting us through this for spite at losing the Cold War! And now, revenge! Bwahahahaha!!!

But eventually we got an explanation and I reassured myself -- mostly -- that we're learning real Russian, and not some ginned-up facsimile thereof.

And today was the last Phonetics class. (Or, as I like to call it, "The Weakest Link.") Thank the Maker.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at