Russia with love

Russia always fascinated me. The diversity, literature, the ballet, theatre, the vastness, the soft melancholy and in particular the people. I love Russians. They have a big heart, are helpful, one can passionately discuss with them for hours politics, art and many other topics and they can always again surprise me. I admit that my Russian is a bit rusty. But it would need perhaps one month and then it would be as it was more than 20 years ago, when I spent some time in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, in the course of a student exchange programme at university.

I lived in a hall of residence. The privacy was not worth speaking of. We were almost 20 girls sharing a large, almost 4 metres high hall with huge windows. The hall seemed more appropriate for dancing than for sleeping. But one does not look a gift horse in the mouth. I lived there almost for free. Such bagatelles should not disturb me. Everything was old but it was so old that it nearly had historic value. The metal double beds, the very old tables as well as the sanitary installations. On our floor was no shower room. Only one floor above was one. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays the girls could take showers, the guys on the other days. Mixed shower rooms were an absolute taboo. And to err in the day could mean that one was suspended from the hall of residence. All that was okay but what was really a catastrophe was the fact that the hall closed at 10pm. After that time there was no admission. For fun-loving students like me this was very annoying, if the hall only re-opened at 5.30am. The first two weeks I did not sleep much in the hall. The evening discussions with Russian students were simply too interesting. I immersed in the discussions, lost track of the time and suddenly it was half past nine. Too late to reach the hall before 10pm. And the caretaker, in Russian “Djezchurna“, was merciless. I only tried it once, without any success.

Many nights long I took part in discussions, drinking tea, because I never liked vodka and there was nothing else. To eat there were gherkins, bread and soup. It was wonderful. I admit that I did not spend much time at university. But how?! If one exchanges blows with the Russian intelligentsia until five o’clock in the morning and that every night, the body needs sleep. At the beginning I forced myself to attend classes. But the subject matter and the way how it was presented, were boring. And on top of that my tiredness. I slept then during the day and took a shower, if possible. Warm water was only available between 5 and 7pm. But my Russian got better and better up to perfection.

And then the day came, when I tried to convince the caretaker at 10.15pm to let me in, and I met Vanja. Because the caretaker did not let me enter. I was standing in front of the hall and was at loss. Back to the discussion which I had left an hour ago was at least one to one and a half hours by public transport. I had no money for a taxi and in fact I was exhausted and wanted to sleep.

And suddenly there was this young man next to me and asked me what was wrong. I explained my situation to him. He said that he lived in the same hall in the 5th floor and if I wanted, he would smuggle me into the building. I was thrilled and accepted. We went two buildings further and entered a back yard through a hole in a fence. The youth is naive and trustful and it is good like that. Today I would hardly go to such a place with him. But back then I went without any concerns. We reached a cellar and through various cellars we reached our hall of residence. But it was still not won. The exit from the cellar was barred. Vanja took out one of the bars. Like that there was a pretty small hole. With my weight back then I just managed to squeeze myself through this small hole.

The discovery of this route bestowed on me much more freedom (and in particular sleep during the night) and the acquaintance with Vanja many more adventures.

Now I am once again in Moscow on a business trip. I stay in the Holiday Inn hotel with view on the church, where Pussy Riot had its world-famous appearance. My room is on the ground floor, so that I can almost touch the passers-by from the window of my room. Unusual. But there is already my taxi driver, who will drive me back to the airport. I talk to him in Russian. He introduces himself as Vladimir Vladimirovitsch. The first ten minutes he makes compliments on how good I look and wants to know whether I am married, whether all women in Switzerland are that good looking and I have to guess how old he is. Then he tells me in detail the story of his life. Born in 1955, two daughters, 4 grand children, wife, dog and classical education. He studied saxophone at the conservatoire but from that one cannot feed a family. For the remaining one and a half hours of driving he declaimed Russian poetry for me. And I understood almost everything.

Because my Russian is just slightly rusty!! But that I mentioned before.

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