The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Out and About in the City of the Czars

Russian Culture for the Uncultured American Tourist

Episode II

View of Petropavlovskaya Krepost

After leaving the Hermitage, Shmuli and I went around various other locations in the city . . .

Click on the Link to see the photos (and text -don't forget that I write things as well!)

Note to -now this is called photoshoping (let's see who can guess what was taken out)

Russians being Russians in front of the palace.

The Hermitage from afar

Of picture of the week fame (I love this photo)

On the island of the Petropavlovskaya Krepost . . .

crossing over again . . .

Of Russians and Their Actions:

One of locals told us that it was some sort of Petersburg tradition to take one's photo in front of the statue of Peter the First.

So we went for it.

However, despite a cluster of locals hanging around the statue, no one wanted to take our picture.
A lady walked past us, and I asked her several times if she could take our picture. She stood there ignoring me for a moment . . . then finally consented to take our picture -a look of extreme disinterest in her eyes.

. . . and the photo didn't even come out well.

As we were walking back to the Shul for Mincha, a Police car pulled up besides us.
The passenger side door swung open and one of the cops called me over,

"у вас есть документы?" -Do you have your papers on you?

Though almost all of Europe exists as a theoretical police state, officially requiring tourists to carry their passports on them at all times, I never bothered to bring my documents with me . . . besides during this trip in Russia.
Approaching, I produced my passport from my jacket pocket.

"конечно." I said. -Of course

Looking at me the officer smirked,

"ты еврей?" -Are you a Jew?

I've never been asked that question before, and seeing as how it was irrelevant to need to see my papers I look at him and said,

"ну, что?" -So, what?

Agitatedly the officer asked again,

"Я спросил, ты еврей?" -I asked, Are you a Jew?

"Я от Америка" I'm from America. I said.

"Америка!" He growled, apparently being from America sounded like it was worse then being a Jew.

Meanwhile, one of his partners in the car had seen that Shmuli's papers were intact, and began to tell the guy speaking to me that they ought to go . . .

"Я американский еврей" I said -I'm an American Jew . . .

Finally mumbling something about having worked for Jews, he gave me my papers and drove off.

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Leora said...

Being an American is worse than being a Jew? Only in Russia.

The czars sure did build a beautiful city. May they stay far away from us.

Der Shygetz said...


Russian culture for the uninitiated:

Polar bears run rampant in major Russian cities, but they are tame, cuddly furballs whose only crime is begging tourists and natives alike for honey, candy, fish, bread and of course beer and vodka. Polar bear eggs are often found on the streets. They are of course not eggs as even Russian polar bears are mammals, but "medvezhy yaitz" is a euphemism for umm...bear poop.

Unlike the larger polar bears, smaller brown bears are kept as pets because unlike dogs, they sleep all winter and do not need to be walked in the freezing, dark months of December, January and February. When the bears wake up, 10 and 20 kilo buckets of honey appear at outdoor markets, where a kilo can be anywhere from 430 - 800 grams instead of the traditional 1000.

Beggars eat caviar for breakfast. Russia throws out more caviar per day than the US consumes in 10 years.

The Lada and its larger counterpart the Volga run on alcohol as do their drivers.

Most apartments have three taps, the center one being for vodka, of course. However, it is considered low class to use tap vodka, known as "Gorodskaya" (municipal) for anything but window washing, cleaning skin, and making soup. The "in" vodka, Russky Standart, supposedly invented by Mendeleyev of periodic table fame, costs less than a liter of milk.

96% alcohol is a prized delicacy known as "spirt" and in fact it is given to children of the "New Russian" nouveau riche at lunch in their elite private schools as early as kindergarten.

One still has to queue up for neon green toilet paper, pairs of shoes consisting of two lefts, bread, eggs (chicken, not polar bear as described above) and other standard consumer goods. Average queues last 10 - 24 hours and former classical violinists beg for money by playing Russian classics such as "Pashol-ti Na, Nach, Nachu, Nachui" for the bleary eyed customers.

And anyone who knows what the above words mean would probably tell me just that for these comments!

Itzhak Schier said...


By the way, what time did your fast end? Are the nights still white? Reb Yitzchak Kogan told me stories about Havdalah and ending fasts during the summer in his days of mesirus nefesh in Peter but I don't remember the details.

Mottel said...

They are no longer white . . but I'm in Vilna now where it ended at 10

Itzhak Schier said...


In Moscow it would end about 11.30pm so 10 is not bad at all. Rebbe's Shtodt - we ended at 8.38 pm.

joshua said...

For sure being American is worse than being Jewish - come to UK everyone will agree :)

This picture "Russians being Russian outside the Palace" reminds me of the courtyard of the Ari's Synagogue - I am not entirely sure why, on my browser the pic is big and with the kids cut out and seeing the building through the trees... I dunno.

Anyway love this puddle reflection thing you have going on @ the moment - it's great

Mottel said...

That's the problem with Europe . . . we save your tails in two world wars, and take down the Iron Curtain . . . and you guys hate us for it. :-)

Thanks for the complements on the pics.

brit boy said...

England is not Europe, England is England. We have the pound not the euro.

G-d save the queen! (english anthem, not punk band version)

chaviva said...

Eek. May the American reputation be heightened perhaps after this coming election ... we really have become the bad kid in the back of the class.

On another note, I really love the picture of the woman with the yellow kerchief, because the color matches the building in the distance, and it's a beautiful juxtaposition.

therapydoc said...

I never thought I'd want to go there, but you're making a good case for it!