Thursday, January 19, 2006
Days 7 and 8 - Yaroslavl is Closed
Days 7 and 8, Yaroslavl is Closed - Did you know that almost everything in Russia closes down for the first 10 days of the year? Probably Katja and I should have thought about this more ... as we found ourselves walking around Yaroslavl on January 2nd trying to change some dollars to rubles and to buy a few grocery items. And water. Yaroslavl water is the pits. Even Moscow water is perferable (I don't consider Moscow water all that bad, but Katja wouldn't touch the stuff).
But Yaroslavl water is discolored and smells like a swamp. Yumm-eee! So we were also on a mission to buy a few bottles of water as well. And maybe some ice cream ... I had been having a hankering for some ice cream also (not sure why I had this craving).
The streets of Yaroslavl were surprisingly busy, despite the fact that not much was open. There were some shops that were open ... restaurants ... grocery stores. But anything that was official and useful was closed. Like banks. We eventually found a casino where I could change some money (although not at a favorable rate .. I got 27.8 rubles to the dollar there). Such is the price of convenience. I also find that when changing money, almost any like mark or scratch on your $50 or $100 bill will result in the other party protesting that the money isn't any good. Sometimes they will accept it at a discount. (!) To heck with that, I just give them another bill that is nearly perfect. You could try to debate it, but what is the point. Besides, my Russian isn't nearly good enough.
So we found a suitable grocery store. Grocery stores here tend to be a bit smallish with less selection, require you to check your bags, and to go through a one-way metal gate to enter. Then the only way for you to then exit is past a cash register. Yep, you are pretty much figured to be a thief until proven otherwise (at least that is how I see this lay-out through my American eyes). When you pay, your rubles will be routinely scanned under a black-light to see if it is counterfeit. I wanted to make a photo of this but I was told "nyet".
All the women at these registers sit. (I never saw a single young man working a cash register.) And for some reason, all the women who work at these registers seem to be of a single type - young, round-faced, round-bottomed, not too tall. Like later day milkmaids or something. I don't want to perpetuate a stereotype, but that is the sort that I have seen in the dozen or so grocery stores I have visited in my visits to Russia.
What other things were different? More smoked meats, smoked fish, and sausages than you see in the US. Less beef steaks and various cuts of meats. Liquor is sold in groceries stores, which you won't typically find in the US. Over-the-counter drugstore or personal items (Shampoos, toothpaste, etc.) required us to check out of the grocery section and go to the other section of the store. I am sure there are stores where these products are mixed, I just haven't seen them.
Lastly ... Music. What is with Russian stores and this boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom house music pounding pounding pounding pounding all the time? Electronic dance-hall crap. Bump bada bump bada bump bada bump bada bump bada bump bada bump. It is all I hear in Russian stores. I thought this American soft Muzak was bad. But after 20 minutes in a Russian grocery store I'm about ready to pull all my hair out. Russians seem to tune the pounding disco house music dance club beat out ... which just goes to conditioning, I suppose. I found that it just made me want to get out of the store as quickly as possible, however.
Carrying the bags of food back to the Exeter House only reinforces my impression of how lazy we Americans are about some things. Like walking. Man, are we ever lazy about walking. Russians will walk for kilometers in the wintertime with bags of groceries. If I am going a kilometer or more almost anywhere, it usually involves a car. And it isn't that I don't enjoy walking, when I am forced to do it (like in Russia). I find it rather pleasant. But, why would I take 30 minutes to walk somewhere, when I can drive there in 5 minutes? I think it must be a cultural thing ... Americans might see it as wasting time to walk ... Russians might wonder what is your hurry?
Katja and I decided upon chicken breasts with rice for one meal dinner and pasta with peppers and tomato for the other. She has real stomach problems with anything that is too greasy or too spicy. Katja perpetually is drinking Borjomi to keep her stomach calm, due to this. She claims it is all related to salmonella poisoning with some bad smoked fish when she was young. Dysbacteriosis, almost never diagnosed in the US ... is a fairly common Russian diagnosis.
I brought a portable DVD player with me, and fortunately I could connect it to the smallish TV at the Exeter House. This allowed us to watch a string of movies together. Almost Famous. Ray. The Last Samurai. Rob Roy. My Fair Lady. Gattaca. Dances with Wolves. The 13th Warrior. And Katja's favorite, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Yep, seems that American Redneck humor is a real favorite with her. I had to explain some of the jokes, but she still thought it was very funny. I hadn't even BOUGHT that disk, my parents gave it to me, almost as a joke.
And so we settled in to a few quiet days in Yaroslavl, before our long day of travelling back into Moscow, where we would meet Anja and end this trip.