December 2008 Archives

Meteorex, or Russia part 2
By Lydia on December 15, 2008 4:45 PM| | Comments (1)
Wednesday 26 Nov.

Conference Day One

Woke up early and got all dolled up for Meteorex/Teco '08. Black pencil skirt, gray fancy tights, gray turtleneck, braid over head, mascara and eyeliner (whoa, hella makeup.) and large Indian earrings. Breakfasted at the hotel buffet on croissant, coffee, and odd dumpling. I passed on the assortment of preserved fish, as my travel-weary stomach had protested my experimentations of the day before. We got on the shuttle and were ferried in the mid-morning pre-dawn to the convention center on the other end of the same island. St Petersburg stradles the Neva River, where it runs into the Baltic, and is made up of a number of islands and land crossed by canals. The hotel we are staying at was on Vasiliostrovski, where the university is. The main historical area is right across the Neva.

We arrived at the center at a quarter past eight, and found that no one was allowed in the exhibition hall until 9. Why, you ask, was the shuttle running at 8? Well, those are Russians for you. For more on this phenomenon, stay tuned for Lydia Tries To Get Home And Finds It Very Difficult.

When we managed to get registered and to our booth it didn't take longer than 15 minutes to stick our posters to the "walls" and rearrange our rented furniture. Now I sit, surrounded by prints of happy bangladeshis with antennes and balloon, reasonably adept after 4 hours at the International Meteralogical Systems spiel, just waiting for middle aged men to come by and inquire in broken english (or russian) after the specifics of the 1680 MHz groundsystem, or the iMet-1 radiosonde. Its kind of painfully boring, and my shoulders feel vice-gripped, and I'm only halfway through the first of 3 days. Luckily for me, a lady from the {unpronouncable, untype-able, BH(backwards K) (weird half-box) M(backwards N) -M (not Y) (not A)} booth gave me a cup of tea and a cookie. She looks like a character from The Office, or something. Anyway, its lucky I don't have to eat every hour and a half like I did last time I went overseas.

The crowd is overwhelmingly male, one exception being cookie-lady, and she is dressed in a gray suit, with a gray bob, large gray glasses and an electric tea kettle. I cannot tell you her name. When she beckoned me over with tea and cookies I introduced myself, "Ztrasvooste (garbled formal hello) I'm Lydia." "Maria?" "No, Lydia" and I tapped my nametag helpfully. Well, then she understood, and said a sentence or two, I am assuming one of the words was her name, and when I looked confused she helpfully tapped her nametag, which of course said something completely perplexing in cyrillic.

Apart from me and cookie-lady, there are many girls who are part of the school groups wandering around trying to score free shit, and the Met  men have a lot to say about the young Russian babes. "Don't see anything like this at home," mused a wind-meter guy from Traverse City. High heels and skin-tight skirts are rampant.

People keep mistaking me for my father's Russian translator which is alternately flattering and embarrassing. Its always nice to not be immediately judged a tourist, but I hate looking stupid every time some Met guy is talking russian to my dad, and when he shrugs, they look at me and say things, and when I shrug they look back at my dad like, "wow, shitty translator." And I have to say "ruski niet."
Preevyet, or I Can't Pronounce the Formal "Hello"
By Lydia on December 4, 2008 11:30 AM| | Comments (0)
Tuesday, Midday:

"Well, my fingers are almost too cold to write, having spent the last 4 hours walking around St. Petersburg. It is very cold here, and the buildings seem to span miles. Large as they are, the city might feel forbidding if they weren't painted such cheerful colors, mostly salmons, aquas, and yellows.

"Everyone walks very fast. The women are taller, thinner, and better dressed than in the Midwest, and they all wear boots. Some wear sensible ones like me, but an impossible number are wearing very high heels. Nonetheless, they all march straight through the slush with no regard for it at all. There a defiance to walking through ice and snow in 5000 ruble boots, an air that says 'I have seen winter, and I am not putting up with its bullshit.' I must say, it was refreshing to see no one prancing about squeeling over the snow, which is often packed icily 3 and 4 inches thick over roads and sidewalks, and I cannot understand how it is these women navigate them in high heels. Perhaps the heels grip the ice better, being all spiky; or maybe girls are just trained from birth, and so have so many years of practice they hardly think of it anymore. I saw a man lean against a building, only to have his feet slip from under him. I laughed, but not a minute later I had my own embarrassing tumble and remembered humility.

"My dad and I had decided that shopping took precedent, pairing nicely as it does with walking around and looking at stuff. We crossed the Neva, the river that splits the city into bits and islands, and headed for the major downtown shopping district, Nevski Prospect, which my dad kept refering to as 5th Avenue. We stopped occasionally to take pictures: Lydia with Hermitage, Lydia with Winter Palace, Lydia with 'Historic Thingy.' I was dressed in what seems to be a decent aproximation of Russian style: jeans tucked into boots, long wool coat, and rabbit fur earmuffs. Yes, my vegan friends, I have rabbit fur earmuffs, and they couldn't have fit in better in Russia. The Russians seem to have no moral qualms with animal skins. This is so overwhelmingly evident in the number of fur-lined coats, fur collars, fur hoods, leather boots and gloves and the most hilariously stereotypical of big fur hats that even I was surprised. Then I saw the taxidermy store right next to a furrier. Perhaps it is ineveitable, given the frigidity or climate and the oppressiveness of such a lack of sun. The sun, even at its highest point today was lower than a 3 story building, and it was dusk at 4 in the afternoon

"Of course, my body has no idea what time it is, given my total 17 hour trip (12 in the air, 5 in airports) and my 8 hours of jet lag. The second leg of the trip, Detroit to Amsterdam, was a nightmare. I knew baddness was in store when I put my bag down in 24B and saw 24A occupied by a man with an irritating little white ponytail. The World's Most Annoying Irishman refused to switch seats with my dad (which is fine, I get that you have some sort of seat preference, and no obligation to switch) saying that he needed the window seat because he was going to sleep the entire flight. This made me happy, actually, as there is no better seat mate than a sleeping seat mate. Maybe a dead one? In any event, Irish Ponytail was soon in his own little world, listening to Best of Bowie on his tinny airline headphones, and every Bowie yelp was completely audible to anyone sitting within 3 feet. Unfortunately, this meant only me, as the row in front was beheadphoned as well, watching incomprehensible indian soap operas on a laptop, so I was the only one who was in any position to be annoyed. I tried to shut it out. I drank some tiny bottles of wine and read some, and I kept telling myself that it was ok, that he was on song 12 of 16 already, soon it would be over. But no, as soon as the cd ended, he pushed play again, I was in for another dose of "Ch-ch-ch-changes." He actually took the headphones off during dinner and kept them on his lap, still playing the music, so he could listen along as he ate.  So I keep downing the red wine, hoping to pass the fuck out, and he's drinking a lot too, mostly wine and brandy, and now I am thinking that its ok, he'll fall asleep real soon, he's got to be pretty drunk, and then I'll be able to go to sleep. Well, that didn't happen in any timely fashion, so I wrapped my scarf around my head an managed to drift off for a couple of hours, only to wake to Ponytail drumming on the tray table to the Same Fucking Bowie Album, and doing a little twisty dance move. They guy didn't sleep, or suspend his enthusiastic appreciation for the entire flight. 7 Hours of Bowie. Faaaaame- do do duh do do duh. Aggressively hogging the armrest did nothing to tame his abandon, so I moved on to other passive-agressive ways of making him misrable. I wish I could say that pointing my air jet and nasty looks in his direction had any effect whatsoever, much less anything like what he was putting me through. The rage slowly grew in me until I sat clench-jawed, staring glassy at the little plane icon moving slowly across Northern Europe. I swear I heard a heavenly chorus when the captain announced that the "entertainment" portion of the flight had ended.

"If anyone would like to purchase a used copy of 'Pinups' and one of 'Ziggy Stardust' please comment below"