Tag Archives: Russia

In Soviet Russia, security go through you!

So once again I have the displeasure of visiting Sheremetyevo International Airport, an establishment of mixed purposes and systems. New Russia wants Western money, but the long lines leading to a single makeshift teller in a terrible mood don’t exactly say, “Добрый день.” (Dobry vechar) The Russian travelers are pushy and impatient, you can set your watch to the number of times you’re cut off five minutes.

Not to mention the entire place is like a cave. I’ve seen rat warrens that are better lit. I’d take a picture but I’d probably have my camera confiscated by one of the many very bored looking guards. It wouldn’t turn out sans flash anyway.

Transfer doesn’t happen without a queue up at a disgruntled teller in a dank, dust-encaked booth. Then you have to go through a single security line with every other transfer flight at the terminal. The monolithic 50s era flip-letter departure board still hovers overhead, unused, while a series of new LG plasma televisions occasionally report departure times in between a maddening loop of the same six 20-second commercials. The shopping is duty-free and bright, but the toilets are overflowing.

Of course I couldn’t come back from Mother Russia without a huge fucking bottle of vodka. This is Russian custom, of course. Virtually every man, woman, and child on my Aeroflot flight from Venice had at least three one-litre bottles of import liquor. The guy sitting next to me was reading a tabloid with the headline, “Dementia time bomb for binge drinkers”. The irony was not lost on me.

In Soviet Russia, beard grows you!

So my precious Targus Stowaway appears to be on its last keys, so to speak, and I am relegated to typing one handed, wwith the occasional key studder. I am on an Airbus packed with Russians and dicey ticketing has me required to check-in again at Sheremetyevo before catching my flight to Narita. I can only hope we don’t have any of that circling/deplane on tarmac nonsense again at Moscow, I’ll probably end being seated smack dab in the middle of the plane as it is

So, my first trip to Europe in two years is ending, and as usual very few of my anticipated celebrity meetings did not take place. There were no Von Trapp family singers in Austria, nor sweet long kisses goodbye in the Austrian way by girls named Elsa. I did meet a nice lady named Caroline and her daughter on the train to Venice.

I’m still not sure if people assume I’m European, I think that nearly everyone just wants to assume that I speak whatever language they speak natively. In Venice I spoke Italian to Italian merchants, French to French tourists, German to Austrian tourists, and Russian to Russian flight attendants.

When checking in for my flight to Moscow, a tall, attractive Alitalia clerk looked at my passport and remarked mock disapprovingly, “A name like Ventura and you only speak English?” I felt the blood rush to my face and managed a half tongue-in-cheek retort that I did in fact speak a little Italian. If I was James Bond the response would have been in Italian and suggest that she could perhaps help me work on native tongue.

Actually, most of my success seemed to come with French elementary school girls. In addition to my hangman partners yesterday morning, today I got into a face-making match on the vaporetto with another little French girl, and later told her mother which station the airport bus was at and how to find it.

In Soviet Russia, baggage check you!

I don’t begrudge a scheduled four hour layover. Why? Because shit happens. An original four hour layover becomes three and a half with boarding time for the connecting flight, three with a changed flight plan, then two-fifteen with three loops over Moscow because there aren’t any gates free, then one forty-five because you disembark onto the runway due to said lack of gate, one-fifteen to line up for a make-to security and customs array full of disgruntled employees, and then just about an hour when you get to your next gate.

Apparently zonno means “this seat is taken” in Russian, as in “my obnoxious, loud middle-aged friends and I are occupying this row with our pink hairstyles and gum.” It’s ok, Moscow’s international airport is a lot more glum than I imagined. It is indicative of similar economies in a state of rapid growth: half-completed and poorly managed construction all over the place, scores of valueless duty-free stores, and a single sketch bathroom. It’s incredibly dark; there is very little illumination and mismatched furniture, it kind of reminds me of old Grand Central– almost as intimidating, but a lot of the people sitting around look like fairly well-to-do Europeans, so I guess nothing too shady goes on. Not a lot of smiles though, unfortunately.

In Soviet Russia, subtitle read you

Yegveny’s impeccable dedication to quality continues on. Now our second movie of the flight has started, it’s what seems to be a 1960s Technicolor puppetoon film in the vein of Tom Thumb or Babes in Toyland.

This starry-eyed young man in some tavern says goodnight to the girl he’s in love with, and then starts talking to the marionettes in the common room. We have wide screen VHS but Japanese subtitles, and sound that only comes in once every seven seconds or so. So I am watching this grainy fairy tale (some Mother Goose lady is yelling down a well now, the starry-eyed boy is now in some kind of dream land I guess, wearing a toy solidier uniform and moving through a cave of skeletons while the old lady directs him from outside the well). Anyway, no audio I thought I’d put some BGM to the film, and since Russian hop-hop didn’t fit, I went with elevator music. But this channel is now some kind of Tales from the Crypt radio show.

So to summarize, I’m listening to what sounds like a Russian haunted house narrator, watching some Technicolor folktale, and reading very crude Japanese subtitles. And to think I was bemoaning the lack of alcohol for this trip (yes, it’s an all charge system, despite the eleven hour flight).

Old lady danced off, the hero wants to get back up, shoots his musket up at the winch outside the well that lowers the bucket. Climbs out and is now chasing after a cartwheeling grandma while we have closeups of a cat intercut into the film. Old lady’s head is cut off, rolls across the ground, her body replaces it with cabbage. Gold coins fall out of the old lady’s basket, and now the cat is transformed into some Chaplin-looking dude. Maybe he was under a spell or something from the witch.

Money talks. After a song and dance routine involving milk maids picking potatoes in the field and a bunch of chimney sweeps, the soldier returns to the candy colored town and with the aid of some gold coins at the city gate gets into town. Now he’s running around getting all gussied up in the latest pastels and what not, I guess with all that loot he took from the woman he beheaded.

Well, the movie stopped and has been off for about ten minutes or so. I suppose someone complained about the lack of audio and the politburo decided that in the interests of equality no movie was better that movie sans sound.

I like looking at the map of Asia as time goes by. I get to see the names of all of the Siberian cities. A good number of them are familiar to me since I read Farley Mowat‘s The Siberians a couple years ago. Talk about your weird media choices. Here’s a book that was written thirty some years ago during the peak of Soviet expansion for natural resource exploitation. Farley Mowat is an interesting guy to start with, but him writing about a time, place, and culture completely foreign to me (and him) adds so many layers of imagination it’s mind-boggling. I’ve never even seen a picture of Siberia, but the images in my mind are fantastic; endless snow, quiet, sparsely populated frontier towns, scrub tree lines, constantly dark, overcast skies, and a cavalcade of vivacious, land-hardened individuals pounding vodka like its going out of style and raving about the future of engineering and the Soviet Economy.

The Siberians is probably the bulk of the reason that I’ve dreamt of going to to Russia for so long. My expectations are so high; actually going there and spending time alone under that great, big, sky is surreal. I think it would be both a long and difficult trip, being off the beaten path as it is. Like China, I have to apply for a visa even to get into the country for a short vacation.

(An Olsen twins movie dubbed in Russian started and then was promptly abandoned after about a minute of opening credits.)

In Soviet Russia, drink consumes you!

Another fragment of things about Russia I recall from my youth is a reputation for engineering of questionable quality. Towards the end of middle school I developed a voracious appetite for automobile literature. Hot Rod, Car and Driver, Porsche restorer’s guides, two-stroke engine manuals, I tore through it all. In particular, I remember an editorial from 1992 Road & Track that told of all the amazing ways a Russian lemon could prove a formidable challenge for its owner. Right now, my reading light will not operate and I am forced to do my clerical work in the dark. This may be an American-made Boeing but Vginny’s dopey grin has got me thinking that this cannot be a simple coincidence. Fortunately my Visor has delightfully retro monochrome night vision so I can type. Tagging my Italian conversation book will have to wait until later.

One thing that came to mind while trying to find a sleeping position that didn’t involve a steel protrusion into my back was how does immigration work on trains in Europe? The reason it occurred to me is because I haven’t been able to get Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” out of my head for the last three days. There’s that intro to National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Chevy Chase’s passport starts out crisp and new but as the credits are displayed it gets progressively more chewed up until it’s a barely tenable mess of stamps, tears, and coffee stains. If I enter Austria via the airport, then get on a overnight train to Italy at Westbahnhof, do I have to go through emigration before I board the train? Or does it happen near the border, or, what? The same goes for entering Italy at like five in the morning, sometime when I’m asleep presumably. It’s not like they’re going to come into the compartment and wake us all up and ask us if we have anything to declare.

I’d say that the train ride is probably the biggest dodgy part of this whole trip. I read there is a train overnight from Vienna to Venice, the Allegro. However, knowing only that I booked (I think) a ticket in a sleeper car and paid with my MasterCard via the Austria rail system’s website, which I can’t even pronounce. The English version of the page didn’t seem to work for international travel so I just fumbled through it running the text surrounding the form fields through Babelfish. There were probably any number of “You must agree to be informed of this” sections that I just completely ignored.

After I received what looks like a digital ticket via email I considered my blind groping validated and immediately claimed complete victory. I really have no solid proof that I actually succeeded in producing anything other than a perceived waste of forty-nine euros, so hopefully someone at the hostel registration will be knowledgeable and kind enough to let me know if I’ll be walking to Italy or not.

In Soviet Russia, plane boards you!

Once again I am fortunate enough to be in the position to visit hereto countries known only to me via American movies, which means every mundane event is subject to quiet ridicule. Though this week I will travel to both Vienna, Austria and Venice, Italy, I am traveling via Soviet Era air juggernaut Aeroflot, even transferring in Moscow.

This is no minor joy for me. When I went to Thailand, I had a small collection of stereotypes involving Anna and the King, Kickboxer, and Sagat. However, the former Soviet Union was a virtually limitless source of intrigue and propganda for the duration of the Cold War. A record score of James Bond and Tom Clancy films has provided me with Siberian-sized expectations of what and who to encounter, to say nothing of Rocky IV and virtually every male-targeted cartoon series from the 1980s.

Right now my obsessive imagination has reached a fever pitch while listening to the magnificent crescendos of The Hunt for Red October. The captain has just come over the PA in classic, on-the-mark, beleaguered Russian drawl, informing the crew of today’s flight time and destination. I will pepper the rest of my writing all the way to Vienna with a nearly endless tirade of heavily accented movie quotes.

Most things in here don’t react well to bullets.”

It’s amusing, because you see so much of the stereotypes of Russian characters in film and then when you actually run into real people, it’s so entertaining to find copious amounts of evidence to back it up. This plane is full of tall, thin guys with fair skin and blindingly blond hair or burly comrades with dark hair and beards thick enough require a machete for shaving. Even the CG passenger on the safety video looks like Ed Harris. I wonder how long until our complementary 3-euro Stoly.

Apparently the alcohol isn’t the only thing that costs extra when traveling Aeroflot. The vinyl backing from the seat in front of me seems to be separating from the chair proper. Though this isn’t a huge deal, I just hope Vginny the grinning Aeroflot maintenance technician spends more time checking the avionics than the cabin amenities. I haven’t flown on a 767 in a long time, most of the international flights I run into these days are A320s. My seat doesn’t recline as there is a wall directly behind it, but fortunately this isn’t a huge deal as I am the only person in my row. I may do the pull-up-the-armrest-and-lay-across-three-seats thing in a bit. The dearth of provisions (my inflight-snack was a wet tissue) on the flight will make it hard to get through the full ten and half hours conscious. I anticipated something like this and brought a litre of oolongcha and some Pretz to ration. I wonder what we get to see on the crusty CRT monitor hanging near the lavatory. I hope it’s more than just the Aeroflot commercial presumedly designed to make me feel better about my airline selection (read: the only airline with seats available two weeks’ before departure). The blankets, oddly enough, are quite nice, a retro quilting in UVa orange and blue with the hammer and sickle logo. I may have to have a rare ethical blackout while one finds its way Kenderlike into my bag.

“Brainstorming is one of the best products of American thought. All the modern gangs use it.” Object modeling.

Valentin: “Do you have any idea how long the winter lasts in this country? Tell him, Dmitri.”
Guard: “Well, it depends…”
Valentin: “SILENCE!”