Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

17 Jul 2001, 7:09 a.m.

St. Petersburger and Cheese

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 So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it!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.

"That's not blasphemy, that's just plain common sense!"
-- Katie yesterday

Okay, first priority is a long-delayed link to John's Journal of St. Petersburg happenings. Just another perspective. Link to it, read it, comment on it once he writes his own backend for that.

Note also that tomorrow I leave for Solovki (the actual Gulag Archipelago of Solzenhitsyn fame), and there may be no net access there, and tonight I go to Money Honey, and that yesterday my notebook got soaked in a rainstorm, so before stuff crumbles and smudges and generally disappears, I'm going to try to immortalize the last nine days or so in some diarizing here.

Back when I was in D.C., I saw some color photos of the Caucaus region of Russia, taken a hundred years ago. Very disorienting. I'm pretty sure Slashdot had some mention of this thing. It was an exhibit at the Library of Congress, if I recall correctly.

Stuff to read: A while back I was thinking that I should really read The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin. Now I'm starting Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, which was a bargain at 62 rubles at Dom Knigi. (It'll take up some time on the train, and I'm glad.)

I'm bonding with some of the people, especially the females, in my group. Erin and I, for example, share a common kitsch experience with Siri. We all watched "Jem" -- the cartoon based on the Barbie knockoff doll -- in our youths. Jem, Truly Outrageous! As well, Kate and John were with me when we got caught in a huge rainstorm yesterday whilst taking in the extraordinary view from the colonnade of St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Incentives. What market incentive makes a currency exchange feasible and profitable? I just wonder why there are so many Obmen baliuti about. Is there some statistically significant relationship among rates, commissions, location, friendliness, service capacity, and so on? What heuristics could help me get the best deal?

Russian roulette is not here called, as I had hoped, American roulette. It's just Russian roulette.

Intimidation. Yesterday at St. Isaac's, the cashier was really gruff and very mad that I didn't have exactly 5 rubles (the student fee). She said something about "these foreigners" in Russian. Excuse me? As John said, "Sorry your infrastructure is crumbling, but that's not my fault." Hey, I gave her a ten. Maybe St. Isaac should switch places with the Patron Saint of Pocket Change or something.

But the other day I saw a guy in a military uniform eating ice cream on the down escalator at Cherneshevsky metro station, and that cheered me up.

Literature. We're reading Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva on love. Which, of course, makes me think of unorthodox love metaphors. Anyone care to take a gander at Love As...

  • a pair of glasses
  • a purse
  • an old shirt
  • mineral water
  • a haircut
  • a movie review
  • a university
  • Communism
  • the DMCA

I actually was very bored today during Russian press and tried my hand at a love poem.

My love is like a long, long lawsuit
That's newly appealed in June.
It cannot die, it cannot fade,
Tho' it recesses each day at noon.

For some reason, recently I remembered a moment in middle- or high-school literature. We were quite intensely discussing some metaphor-laden bit of lit. And then someone raised her hand to ask, "Could we open the door?" And it took everyone else a moment to realize that we had to take her literally. It was amusing.

Baby Sitters' Club. A series of books for pre-teen girls, basically. There was -- early on -- a book, entitled New Girl or some such, in which Claudia had a new friend and that took her away from her established group of friends. Claudia was an artist, and so was Ashley! A common interest! But it turned out that Ashley wasn't such a good friend after all. She was untrustworthy. Perhaps I, too, should beware of new friends, and remember that common interests are not all, and do not always supersede personality. Or maybe I should remember that the author of that book had a vested interest in keeping Claudia with the Club and not letting her wander off with Ashley at the end!

Dreams. I've had several strong dreams recently. Making cameo appearances have been Weird Al, Tom Green, Isaac Davis-King, and Alice Hoffman (the last two are people from my high school), for no good reason, really.

Rynok. An authentic Russian market. I've seen one now.

Twisted phrases. One of the first phrases a student of Russian learns is "vui ne znayete, gde... [x]?" because that's the polite way to ask where x is. (The example is usually "metro," aka "nearest metro station.") There's a certain exaggerated intonation, too, coming up heavily (?) on "znay" and down on "ete." So, inevitably, I've combined that oft-parodied phrase with "Dude, Where's My X?" (sort of) to get, "Dude, Where's My Metro?" and (funnier): "Vui ne znayete, gde maya mashina?" (You wouldn't happen to know where my car is?)

Museums. I went to the Russian Political History Museum and the Anna Akhmatova Museum this weekend. I recommend the former highly and the latter tepidly. More later.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at

Musing over Museums

Tue Jul 17th, 2001 at 07:45:15 AM PST

I'm trying to transcibe my thoughts from the Anna Akhmatova Museum, the Russian Political History Museum, and the Piskarov cemetery here in St. Petersburg. The rain yesterday smudged up the ink in my notebook in some highly symbolic way or another. So here's what I've got.

"Who is not with us, is against us," is inscribed on a dinner plate (!) in Russian at the Russian Political History Museum. 1918, Petrograd.

I have only seen one sculpture, in my life, that I felt might come to life quite suddenly and naturally. That is "Mother," 1945, V. Eishev, in the middle of a room dedicated to WWII and the Blockade. Also disturbing were an actual Nazi flag and a picture of Molotov with Stalin in the background.

Sometimes I see an "i" -- not Cyrillic -- in a Cyrillic word. Yes, it's ancient, but it still bugs me.

Posters, posters, posters. Yeltsin (!) in "Strong President, Strong Russia." "Have you forgotten that you are Russian?" (Have I forgotten that I'm Indian? Or American?) And the very funny one linking your first time voting in free and open elections with your first sexual experience.

A great calendar with wordless and hilarious cartoons for every month.

I got really lost on the way to the Akhmatova museum. I saw a dead cat near 8 Fontanka . "FACK" was near 28.

In the museum, the question (posed by some non-Akhmatova artist) "Is there God on Mars?" interested me.

For some reason, I wrote "Snow Crash and Toilet Paper" in my notebook, next to a note about having to order ketchup separately when eating fries in a cafe here, but I can't recall why the Snow Crash/TP reference is relevant.

I've taken a lot of classes. High school, college, enrichment. And yet I've never received systematic training to enable/aid me in creating a sense of taste regarding art and music and literature, I think.

I visited the British Bookstore "Anglia" (near the Anichovsky Bridge, on the Fontanka) after the cafe, after the museums. It was a weird experience, English shock. There was no Russian! Anywhere! Withdrawal! And then someone spoke in Russian, and I was fine.

Sunday morning, I saw Russian boys running in the park near my house, evidently in a heat for some track-and-field meet.

I was on my way to Piskarov. There are mass graves there, because that's where most of the victims of the Blockade are buried. The ground was so hard, and the dead so many, and the living so hungry and weak, that eventually people dynamited the ground there to make trenches into which to shovel the bodies.

A kid next to me on the metro was also takig flowers and also seemed to take the way to Piskarov, at least, he got off at the right stop...does he come every Sunday? Or is today an anniversary?

I thought of Moxy Fruvous's "The Gulf War Song."

The Eternal Flame at Piskarov was very warm. The mounds covered with grass flickered, distorted in its convection, and so did the statue of Mother Russia, laying a garland on the dead. There is a wall behind here with sentiments such as Let no one forget and nothing be forgotten.

The Germans suffered, too.

I'm glad that there are no tourist vendors outside Piskarov. No Blockade Bread souvenirs. Not even flowers. Only the piped-in music is distasteful at times.

Should the living suffer, as they did during the Blockade, to pay respects to the dead?

But my visit was bookended by two enjoyable food experiences. Kafe Marko on Nevsky ("What country are we in?!") and a place near Vladimirskaya Metro. They played the Beatles in the background. The last time I heard a lot of Beatles was with Leonard.

I have to go to a club with my tutor now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at