Studying Russian in Russia Part 1: St Petersburg

мост

Educacentre St Petersburg 23 March to Friday 5 April 2002

23 March

Flight from Heathrow to SPb. Slava meets me at the airport and takes me to the landlady’s flat. She says there’s no hot water–maybe after 26th. Transfer costs me $50.

24 March

I wander round SPb and when we return landlady says we are going to the theatre. We go the Aleksandrinsky ands buy some very cheap tickets, after which we occupy the most propitious vacant seats. На всякого мудреца довольно простоты is quite entertaining.

25 March

Landlady takes me to the school. Eventually a young woman turns up and says I’ll be studying with Wilma. I do some tests.

When the lesson starts, Wilma decides she doesn’t want to study with me and goes to see Raissa. Raissa asks where she’s supposed to get another teacher from. I go home, and manage to get the door open this time.

26 March

I arrive at the school. Irina and I stare at each other for a bit. Then I say they were going to find me another teacher. She says I need to see Raissa.

I end up in a room with a young woman called Veronika. She gives me a test and says I understand even complex sentences.

I do my homework in the evening. The landlady spills hot water on my trousers.

28 March

Veronika and I have a long talk about philological subjects and the educational systems of Russia and GB. In the evening, I try to get into the Akhmatova Museum and on a deserted street I am set upon by a gang of gypsy children.

Afterwards a detachment of police fondle their sub-machine-guns as we drive round looking for the gypsy children. We find nothing and I am despatched to give the station commander a packet of cigarettes.

Landlady says (but more sympathetically) that she told me so and sews my rucksack back together.

29 March

I tell Veronika what has happened. She is quite shocked, and tells me how everything has got much worse under the new system.

She reads through my exercises, and is taken by the ideas of David Irving–there was no mass extermination of Jews, only Slavs. She tells me that the two Russian classics of the 20th century were Sholokhov and Bulgakov.

In the evening I go to the Blok Museum and the lights are ceremonially switched on room-by-room to mark my progress.

30 March

I have a cold. Landlady says I have to go somewhere out of town. I get on a very crowded train to Pavlovsk, then my fever and I get lost in the ice and snow of the park. We manage to find our way to the station and get an even more crowded train back to SPb.

31 March

I wonder round and buy some books. I go to the Akhmatova Museum. Little old ladies insist on guiding me in what they think is English.

Landlady shows me photos of her trip across Europe to England.

1 April

Veronika arrives after me. I say I am ill. She says that Mandel’shtam, Brodsky and Nabokov are non-Russian writers. But Irina Rimskaya-Korsakova wrote a very good novel called Побежденные.

We talk about who pays for research in Russia and GB.

2 April

Veronika reads my homework and says drug-dealing is now officially allowed in Russia because of the Mafia. She is quite negative about Дни Турбиных.

I get an email from Severa saying she has got divorced. Irina says that people at my level usually do not want to study any more.

In the evening I go to Дни Турбиных. One of the actors looks very like Sid James.

3 April

Landlady bangs on the door to wake me up.

Veronika reads my sentences and says I don’t need to carry all of my papers with me all of the time.

4 April

The Metro is so packed that I can’t get off at my stop. But Veronika arrives later than me.

She marks my sentences, and tells me about концепты. I say this is nonsense. I say if there is a typical концепт for Germanic languages it must be Home. She says I am wrong.

5 April

When Veronika arrives I give her a guide to the National Gallery and a magnetic Constable. She is pleased.

She says that Eduard Limonov is a fighter for freedom. She says it would take too long to explain образ-понятие-концепт and I can look it up myself.

She tells me I should re-qualify in historical linguistics and become an academic. There was no need for me to study Russian but I could come to visit the theatre and buy books.

I hope it has not been too boring for her and she says No, one rarely meets someone with such abilities.  I give Irina a form, and she gives me a certificate.

I buy some books in the evening.

6 April

Taxi to airport. Flight to London. Конец.

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