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I want to write them here (and archive them) because my archives have been very useful to me. In order of when I first procured them:

1. Vasili - From JUNE of last year. I don't know if the school has a time limit for when students can pay and then take lessons but, if they do, surely Vasili's time must soon be up. He only wants lessons on weekends. He canceled his last lesson in early February (one hour before, I still get paid) and I have not heard from him since. I adore him (I adore all my students--Russians are endlessly interesting to me) but he only has three more lessons. His eyelashes are insane! Only on my brother have I seen eyelashes that long. He only bought thirty hours. I love his mother. She's maybe a decade older than me and is so fashionable and decked out every time I see her. All the young men I teach live alone with their mothers. Vasili's mom cuts up fruit and herbs, lays out pickled tomatoes and mushrooms, and an array of teas and coffees when I arrive. I'm like royalty. I tweaked his CV and cover letter and he got a new job, in Dubai. He's no longer in SPb very much.

2. (Int. Bus. Class-these classes I've had now for 12 weeks) - Valery - He's so freakin' funny. Where Vasili is very serious (and just over thirty), Valery is nearing 40, married and he can make great jokes in English. His face is so cute. He has black hair--very short, deep brown eyes and a tiny mouth. He's very, very intelligent. He began in the Pre-Intermediate class and the day I was going to ask him to jump up to Intermediate (he dominated every conversation and was clearly not Pre-Intermediate), he asked if he could jump a level. YES! He's the salesman of the company and I can tell. When he gets something wrong and I explain it he says a very small, "okay". I know I have to explain it with Valery. I could never just say, "Incorrect".

3. (Int. Bus. Class) - Nikolai - Nikolai is the student that is most often gone from classes but he is the funniest. His hair is short grey and he has the most typical Russian face, to me. When Nikolai is in class, I know it will be a fun class because he can spin role plays into pertinent everyday causes. He is able to take English easily into philosophy which is why I wanted to run Intermediate into Upper-Intermediate as soon as possible. Nikolai can often overtake classes because he has a lot to say. Our first lesson, Nikolai offered me a ride home. I didn't take it (Nikol always drives me home) but I thought that was sweet. He also only has daughters so he is fiercely in favor of girls.

4. (Int. Bus. Class) - Vladislav - Vladislav is a very nice man. He's the most reserved of the group and I often stop to ask, "What do you think, Vladislav?" Valery and Nikolai could easily run over him with their big personalities. When he starts to speak I wave off the others and make them listen. It's funny to me because he told me on our first meeting that he has the biggest problem with listening. NO, he doesn't. He has the biggest problem with speaking. He's a great reader, has excellent pronunciation but he rarely interjects. I have to make sure to be a traffic light for him. He is the best at word puzzles. Lately, he's been saying, "I am great in English." Yes, you are, Vladislav!

5. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class) - Sergey - Sergey always calls me "Jenice" and he didn't until about two weeks in so I feel reluctant to correct him now. In my business classes, he's struggling the most so I don't want to confuse him. He's adorable! Like a blondie teddy bear. So small and so cute. And he loves his family so much, he talks about them nonstop. We had three individual lessons together but he still scored lowest on my end-of-book placement test. Yet, he's often the first to supply correct answers in lessons, so I'm confused. What can I do to help him? When I gave that placement test he looked completely crapped out. That is not like Sergey. He's usually so bubbly. I am very invested in his success. We went over "say, tell, ask" like mad and he still got them wrong. I think it may be because he talks too much and doesn't listen. What else can I do?

6. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class) - Vladislav - (Russians have the same names over and over--I know at least 20 Natalya/Natashas, Sergeys, and Tatyanas/Tanyas) - He asked me in the first lesson to call him Slava, so I do. Though Nikol tells me it is highly disrespectful. Slava is the big boss of the building. Once I knew this, it made it difficult for me to call him Slava but when I call him Vladislav he slowly shakes his head at me. Okay, so, Slava, is far too advanced for Pre-Intermediate. I would have suggested he go up to Intermediate, too, with Valery. BUT Slava is never in the building. He has been to maybe four lessons out of the last sixteen. When he is there, he looks crapped out. And he gets fifteen phone calls. It's stressful for me to have Slava there because he so clearly needs to be somewhere else. I think he's very nice, to me, and I want to help him. He rarely joins in the conversation and when he does he is always correct.

7. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class--NOT my Advanced Elena) - Elena - Front Desk/Customer Service. (I can always tell a (y)Elena, no matter how they're dressed. When we go to the bowling alleys I know who exactly is a Elena. Elenas are the hidden intelligentsia, in my experience.) Elena is the one person of this class I had little hope for, because she was so disjointed in her English understanding, in the beginning. The smartest women who hide behind their intelligence are always Elenas. When I gave my end-of-the-book test, Elena scored High-Intermediate. But she will not speak in class. This makes me want to goad her all the more. Maybe offer free lessons.

8. Timofey - I only have six more lessons with him. He's gorgeous, in a male model way, and I adore him but we won't have enough lessons together to really connect. He's kind of a misogynist ass anyway.

9. Julia/Yulia - I love the way her mouth moves. It's not American at all. Of course not, she's Russian. I think I'm teaching her and then she sends me such horrific sms-es (texts). Next lesson it's all about writing. Good grief, I know her main point of English contact is email.

10. Advanced Elena

11. Evgenya - Advanced student. My boss and coordinator. I think she's amazing. I would do anything for her--okay within limits. She's brilliant and my main concern with her is that she realizes how amazing and unusual she is. There is no one like her. I recently decimated her CV and cover letter and haven't heard back (they were too long!) but I know her. I know it's because she's busy with her life. I did the same to Vasili's (see No. 1) and he came back, chosen out of 532 CVs, with a new international job. I know my power with resumes.

12. Natasha - Advanced student. Another coordinator at my school. I love talking to her because I am endlessly interested in quizzing Russians. She's so sweet. We have excellent conversations. She's a great student. Our time together flies by. I often hang out ten minutes after because we're so rapt in talking.

13. Marina - cutie pie (beginner) 11 year old. I bought her books which cost me/Nikol $90 but much cheaper than printing out endless worksheets. Plus, I think Marina really deserves an excellent education. I have 14 lessons left with her. Enough for a whole book. If your parents won't buy it for you, I will.

One thing I've found in teaching English: very wealthy parents make their kids work very hard. Sasha (an old student of mine who was 14) had to not only go to regular school, but had to go to extra-curricular schools, had to mentor younger students, had to keep a strict schedule and was happy for it. Because she saw how she was getting ahead on her own merit--granted on the dime of her parents, but because of her! SHE was making the rest happen.

Yulia, Ilya, and Nikolai (old students of mine, in their teens) had very wealthy parents but they were also plopped into hotel service as un-paid interns "to learn the merit of hard work". And now they're established in the business. Later, with their parents' money, they will know how to run businesses.

Wealthy Russian parents are very smart. They put their all into strict schedules, extracurricular studies and work experience. They do not let their kids sleep in late and be lazy. I wish my parents had done the same for me. (Not the money part, but the discipline part.) If you get to thirty and are undisciplined? It's frickin' hard to get over that.

Thank goodness Nikol's athletic discipline rubs off on me. And thank goodness I love my students so much.
I will post here, instead. (It's not THAT kind of TMI, it's just "keeping a self-reserve amongst those I may have not seen in person in over 25 years" sort of TMI.)

We went to Istanbul over the weekend, which was fun. It's always fun traveling with Nikol and our friends. Istanbul reminded me of a cross between Budapest and Muscat, Oman. Which makes sense, since on the Galata Bridge you basically walk from Europe to Asia and back again, several times a day.

The biggest thing in my mind is my meeting with the УФМС (Russian Immigration Services) this coming Monday. Have you ever seen those small yellow "Worst Case Scenario" books they sell in America? I found them fascinating. "Worst Case Scenario Camping". "Worst Case Scenario Travel". "Worst Case Scenario Kitchen". I made that last one up, I think. Anyway, I tend to think of worst case scenarios so that I'm generally thrilled those things didn't happen.

I'm not a pessimist, per se, not in every day life but with BIG life events, I am. What does the УФМС want to talk to me about? Nikol said it was unusual to be called in for a pre-meeting (April 25th is our official meeting) but Lena, lovely Lena, from upstairs assured me it's nothing to knicker-twist about. Okay.

That's the over-riding arc in my brain, everything else is small in comparison.

This morning I had a lesson with my most difficult student, Elena. Ugh, she drives me nuts. And I knew her when I had my first student, Nastya. Elena's the receptionist/front desk person/do everything human that is the face of that company. She's the one who always opened the door(s) to me on the third floor and who also offered me coffee. I also have two other students at that company so I'm there a lot! I have been for the last year plus, and I always really liked Elena*.

She is difficult because she's not a normal Russian. In my experience, Russians are very upfront. She's super-hyper-extremely advanced in English and you'd be hard-pressed to know she was Russian when you speak to her in English. But I do not get what she wants from me.

I have two other advanced students right now and I know what they want. They want to converse about really philosophical subjects, with me providing vocabulary when they become stumped and with me grading them at the end of classes, as far as their grammar goes (grading in MY opinion--I know a British person would grade them differently). My other students also want me to proofread their CVs or cover letters or presentations. This I usually do gratis because I adore them.

Elena, I only discovered this morning, has a different M.O. I was unsure of what it was until today. I thought she just liked to fight with me about the "rules of English"--which, hello, are different depending on region--but that is not it, at all. Now I know, she wants to teach me how to teach Russians better. I welcome this. This, to me, is fantastic! This morning brought an epiphany and I loved it. She is no longer a difficult student, she's a great help to me.

This morning's lesson was her teaching me how to better teach Russians present perfect tense (past simple and present perfect continuous). And *I'm* being paid. (She was half an hour late, but she always is.) How better to teach an advanced student than to have her teach ME? It's wonderful, for both of us.

I can't stop thinking about Timofey, her boss, whom I also teach--whilst we were discussing the meaning of the word "ambition"--saying, "Certainly, Elena is the smartest person here. But she has no ambition. If she did, she would go far, but she is content sitting at that desk."

I've never told Elena that, of course. It's bad form, in my mind. But Elena would make such a great teacher or a great interpreter. She could easily travel the world and she has no husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/children so she's on her own. She's free, basically. I can't understand what's holding her back.

This morning, thank heavens, I remembered NOT to drink her company's coffee. Julia/Yulia (all Russian Yulias offer their names to me as Julia, though I think Yulia is much prettier), my other student there, offered me some as I waited for Elena but their coffee machine makes some sort of espresso that makes me uncontrollably blabbery for at least half an hour. I made myself tea, instead. They gave me sixteen cookies (yes, I counted). I had none. I am FAT!

Things with Nikol are sublime. She is the best girlfriend I could ever hope for. I love her more every day. That first year was so frightening/unpredictable/discomfiting but now everything has fallen into place, as I knew it would, and we're just in love. She's such a massive comfort to me and I love her all the more for being her, now that I know her better. She's so kick ass. And kind.

Anyway, it's now the International Women's Day celebration here and I have no more lessons until Monday night. Time to get cracking making lesson plans.

*The company did not pay for Elena's lessons with me. Yulia just fell so far behind in her lessons that Elena offered to take some to use that time up. Yulia agreed, the school agreed, and here we are.

Wow, I never write anymore

What's going on? I'm still living in Saint Petersburg. I'm crazy in love with this city.

I had my most challenging student this morning and it was fun. She's the most challenging because she knows the rules of English grammar much better than I do. English came very easily to me (I won every spelling bee for the ten years I participated) and grammar was just natural. Only in the last year have I hardcore studied English grammar and there's nothing I don't already know (I read etymology and "grammar update" books for years, for fun) but trying to explain it? Yeah, right. We English speakers have a certain timeline in our heads that Russians do not.

Studying and teaching English so much has rendered me somewhat unable to focus on learning Russian. I'm still illiterate in Russian (except for signs--I can tell you what every billboard says), slightly less freaked out about speaking Russian (though CRAP! The cases make me nuts. I don't speak, usually, because I have no idea how to end my words--ye, oo, yem, blah!) so I'm frozen in a block of language ice.

And then I get frustrated and refuse to speak Russian. Some days I'm just over it and I speak English to everyone. I just don't care.

Yesterday Nikol and I went bowling for about 3 and a half hours. I had a brain freeze and kept saying "hello" in Russian instead of "thank you". I must've said "hello" instead of "thank you" about fifteen times, until I got home and laughed my head off about it. I'm such a dork. I know these words extremely well but I still messed up. Rudimentary. Yikes.

It's very hard to go from being overly verbose in English--"It's like Jack Frost, himself, landed upon each of my toes and personally blew icicles under my toenails"--to speaking just slightly more advanced than a Neandertal--"My feet fingers - cold". I blame my lack of Russian grammar knowledge. I have the vocabulary, I just can't use it.

That's probably why I'm always so exhausted in Russia. I have to smart up and dumb down so many times in a day. I have to give up thinking I can speak like I do in English in Russian, because I just do not know Russian at all. At some point, I hope I'll have time to.

I'm super happy

I'm a little bit wary of how happy I am right now. Everything is going along swimmingly.

My place of employment loves me and wants to clone me, so they say. I have seven individual students and two classes (several times a week, so I'm very busy). I worry about my upcoming visa expiration but I'll (we'll) take care of it.

I'm concerned about my girlfriend's sister, a lot. She has not been doing well, but I believe she's doing better. I love Elja. It's very strange to me that all my Russian friends in San Francisco also suffered hypertension. Why do Russians have such high blood pressure? I have the opposite problem. My blood pressure is so low I just want to sleep all the time. Last time I checked it was 90 over 50. But a slow-beating heart runs in both sides of my family. Maybe this is why I feel sloths are kindred.

My girlfriend works endlessly so I appreciate her deeply when she's here. I love Nikol so much that I dream about her constantly. Every night she's in my dreams. This has never happened before. I generally dream about faceless strangers, but I nearly always dream (now) about Nikol since I've been with her. Maybe because I adore her body so much every night before we sleep. I am definitely only thinking of Nikol when I finally crash.


Last night, we were vacationing on the Isle of Wight. (Why? I have no idea.) We were on a small barge that capsized and were both thrown into the water. The waves were HUGE but we swam to shore and made out like mad. I woke up very crazy in love with her. But I swam and swam and swam against palpable waves of deep bluish-green that crested right before me. No wonder I woke up tired. I kept thinking, "I am so happy Nikol is my cousin otherwise how would I have met her?" Dreams are so weird.

Sometimes, like tonight, I think, "Will my fascination with Russia ever wear off? One day, will I just want to run back to America?" It seems crazy to me that I can maintain this level of obsession with Russia and her people, but I just do. My resounding answer to those questions are always, "NO!!!!!!"

I am endlessly fascinated with Russia and with Russian people. I love them deeply. I love them more the more I know them so it's a cycle that will only end up with me being here for the rest of my life.

"How long do you think you'll stay in Russia?" two students asked me last week.

"I lived in America for 44 years. I would like to live in Russia for the next 44."

"Wait. So you're over 40? I thought you were maybe 37," my Wednesday morning student said.

"I'll be 47 in two weeks. I just dyed my hair." We both laughed.

I'm super happy.


Is quite crazy right now. I have two classes and seven individual students. Only two of my individual students are studying from the same book so every lesson has to be done separately (except for the two--I can do two at once). Most of my students don't have books (only the two classes have books) so that means a hell of a lot of printing on my part. Not to mention looking up material.

Plus, I have students ranging from Beginner to High Advanced. I have to rev up or loll down my lessons. It's exhausting. It wouldn't be as exhausting if I was happy with being mediocre but I want to actually teach them and keep them interested.

All in all, I freakin' love what I do and can't believe I wasted so much time (almost nine years) working for a huge corporation. Well, that did pay off with the money that allowed me to do what I really want, so I can't complain.

My "boss" (I don't have an actual BOSS person, but she's my go to human--I also give her lessons) told me last week that she wished she could clone me. Me, too! That would be awesome!

Tonight was especially rewarding. I adore Nikolai, Valery and Vladislav (my intermediate business class) and love how much I can make them laugh. It's so easy to teach them because they're so interested. Tonight we were talking about business lunches. What would you recommend people new to Russia try in restaurants? How are these dishes prepared? What would you recommend against?

To me, Russians are terribly interesting.

Feast or famine

For the month of December I had SIX hours at work. That's not even $90. Paltry. (Granted, teaching hours are 45 minutes long so it's a decent chunk of change for Russia but really.) I wasn't in Russia until late mid-December and then, of course, it was the many holidays here. I had no time to make any money.

Post-holiday (now)? It's CRAZY time. Seriously. I have seven individual students and two classes every week which means ka-ching! My school tried to foist another student on me today but I had to decline. I need to finish up with Vasili, my (extremely random) weekend student, so I can take on other weekend students. I am loyal. I hate lingering, unfinished business. Plus, I love Vasili's mom. He's extremely sweet, too, but his mother is well worth any pain in the ass he is.

Oy, my school is making me nuts right now. They just emailed me at nearly 10pm! And I started work at 8am. No, they want me to take another class! It's alternately fantastic to be so in demand and exhausting.

Secretly, I still think of my job as a great game. It's fracking fun to me. I would give no push back except for the fact of travel time, preparation time and Nikol time. In reverse order of importance.

A small retail rant for me

I worked retail for 24 years, in the stores and online. I much preferred in the stores despite getting paid 4X as much for online, and I had to lie about an MBA to get my spot online. I could never afford an MBA. That was crazy talk. My lesbian boss knew it and let me get my new (over-paid) position because I could spell "supervisory".

If I were non-gendered ruler of the world? I would pay the people who actually have to face the frickin' furious customers about the uber-folk's idiotic decrees a LOT more than I would pay the drones at the keyboards.

Working online was a piece of cake. It was easier to say "NO" at my keyboard than it was to defuse irrational customers at the cash registers. The heavy emotional toil it takes when you're an empathetic human on the front-lines is really invaluable.

Every day, in my online job (which was for nearly 10 years) I could not stop thinking, "I am highly overpaid."

Okay, I had some REALLY creepy extreme Christian customers who not only invaded my email inbox. I never said ANYTHING un-Christian with customers (I am a PROFESSIONAL, people, professionals do not discuss religion unless you're defending yourself from it--and I do not discuss my personal life with random people) AND my phone! I always thought my work phone line was off-limits but somehow they always got through reception and called me. How is that?

I had the woman who self-published a book about her father's ministry and thought HER book should be featured! No, I'm sorry, she thought it should be FEATURED !!! and YAY!!! And OMG!!! TOTALLY!!!

I had the woman who was telling me all her proceeds would go to war veterans if I sold over one million copies of her (highly Christian fanatic) drivel! One MILLION copies? Really?

I had the man who was blinded in WW2 (I am sorry about that) who had the CEO of Wal-Mart('s personal assistant) threaten me with getting it onto our site (with my job--I worked at Walmart.com) until it was shown he was not blind nor did he have a book. Wal-Mart execs are not good on research. I found that out in about two minutes on Google.

The worst was a New Ager named Brenda (not a Christian) who harassed me for TWO years about her Egyptology book. TWO YEARS. She was relentless. She had self-published. I very patiently guided her through the self-publishing process (on my off-hour times) and she still called me a cunt. Nice for me.

That was NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING compared to what I and my associates (okay, my employees) got every day in downtown San Francisco. At the Union Square Borders Store. That was probably less than the norm of freaks we saw every single day.

And yet I got paid $42 an hour online. And $10.80 an hour to manage a store of 160 employees. PLUS the lunatic author-artistes AND the shoplifter morons. Not to mention the junkies in the bathroom. OH, and I had to got to training in Michigan, supervise corporate accounts, coordinate in-house author readings and in-house music events.

Yet I still prefer the latter to the former. Why? I love people. Working on a keyboard is boring. Building teams of people who fight together against idiots who are trying to fleece you or who are simply incapacitated is invigorating and makes for amazing backroom bonding. And after hours bonding.

What's better? Money or bonding? When it's a 4X as much split? And now that I'm almost 50? Money. But why do the people working online make so much more than the people who have to face the actual customers? If I'd been making $20 an hour at Borders? I would've stayed there for... well, until they closed.

I still think Wal-Mart should axe about 75% of their online associates' salaries and give it to the inhouse associates. Why are people being paid more for being able to afford more education in the first place?

Other musings on Russia

For the most part, Russia is about 25 years behind America. Which is probably one of the many reasons I love Russia so much. It's going back to the '80's for me. Back when I was a new adult and when I felt most comfortable.

What do I mean by 25 years behind? I mean haircuts and fashion, for sure. That's the most obvious. I mean a certain crispness in the air. There is jadedness here, in spades, but against "old ways". There is a bright naivete about many things. There's an innocence here I have never seen in America. It's, honestly, refreshing.

Normal appliances in America are not in Russia. Clothes dryers, dishwashers, garbage disposals (even more esoteric: high volume mixers, decent hair trimmers, WaterPiks, dehydrators, all the stuff I had in San Francisco). There are no good pots and pans in Russia. Only disposable things.

But, people here are not caught up in the rat race. As Tima, my aggravating/adorable student, said today, "I have simple needs." Russians are generally (I said GENERALLY--not counting my gf nor her sister) quite happy with what they have.

I'm not going to go into politics because, as we all know, in every country the prime places are purchased. Russia is not different from America in this aspect. It's not even worth mentioning.

I do love the complete lack of religion, everywhere. You can find religion, if you want, in the gorgeous, extravagant churches (paid for by people who could not afford it, no doubt). But in every day life, religion is never mentioned. That is such a humongous plus for me. That's the way it should be. If you want religion? Good for you. Go to church. If you don't, don't go to church. The church is not actively trying to be political, like it is in America.

TV shows in Russia tend to be very violent or very insipid (this, I think, is learned from America). Reality shows are emerging but I don't know if they're popular. My students watch little or no TV so I have no info on this. Violence is EVERYWHERE on Russian TV. I'm quite sick of seeing guns and hostages on the television. (I never pay attention to the TV--unless it's children's shows as they help me learn Russian--but I like to have it on as my company during the day). When I do pay attention to TV shows (serials), I'm shocked at the horrible portrayal of Russian women. The shows make them seem unhinged and hystrionic (I hate that term, btw) when Russian women I have met are all very level-headed and strong.

This morning, during my ride to my lesson, I was thrilled--as I am always when I'm tooled around Saint Petersburg--at just how gorgeous this city is. This is the most beautiful city in the world. At 10am it was still pitch black so all the lights adorning every street lamp and every apartment building were glowing bright. Snowflakes, trees, icicles made of light strands are everywhere. No one does the season like Saint Petersburg. Even without snow.

Some bad things about Russia

I'm diametrically opposed, time-wise, to almost everyone I know in the U.S. My afternoon (when I'm generally home from morning lessons and before evening lessons) you all are asleep.

I have a new (male) student (young) who's very sexist. I bite my tongue a lot with him. Otherwise, he's quite funny and very sweet to me (he gave me three New Year's gifts) but some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth makes me want to sock him in the throat. It's not my job to teach him empathy, though. It's only my job to teach him English.

The concept of retail is very new to Russians. What would be a seamless transaction in America is a bumpy ride here. Case in point: today I bought a gift for Nikol. I knew it would not be as it is in San Francisco--you choose it, you pick it up, you take it to the cashier, you pay and you leave. (There are many other cases I could provide but I'll stick with the freshest, today, as it's the epitome, really.)

I chose it, I picked it up (very unusual in Russia--most things are behind glass/plastic and you point and they fetch), I took it to the cashier but the cashier was closed. She looked at me like I was crazy. I understand now that they were changing shifts but at the moment I went to pay, there were no cash registers open. Handy for paying.

She screamed for Ivan and he came up and very slowly opened his register. I paid. But then the alarm went off when I tried to leave the store. Of course because Ivan didn't demagnetize the security strips. I waited for "охрана" (security). She spent at least five minutes trying to figure it out. I showed her where the strip was (I could see it). I was laughing about it but the security guard seemed none too pleased.

I've been in retail management for most of my adult life in America and everyone involved today would've been talked to about their behavior if I were boss BUT this is not America and they handled it wonderfully by Russian standards. I felt like kind of a small shit stain for even trying to purchase something but that's because you have to be pushy and bad ass to be Russian. I am not Russian.

The worst part of today, though, was after my lesson. For some reason, journeying down into the Metro (at the really deep stations) makes me dizzy. I often feel I'm going to throw up when I step off the escalator down. Nearly every time, I think, "Okay, well, if I pass out, I know these people will take care of me." And it's true. Russians are very caring people. Not EVERY one, but most.

It takes me a good while to acclimate to the deep underground so I linger a bit, sometimes. Getting over my "I'm going to barf" feeling. I did this today at Sadovaya (I was on my way to collect my pay from the school). Sadovaya is especially hard for me because it takes at least eight to ten minutes to even exit. A lot of walking is involved. (Granted, it's the New Year season and the wait for the escalators is longer than usual.)

So I was feeling dizzy and a babushka with crazy eyes started barking at me and I was just not listening at first. Maybe she's not barking at ME. No, she is. I told her, in Russian, "Excuse me, please, I speak very little Russian. Maybe you can speak more slowly?" She told me she doesn't understand. "I'm American and my Russian is bad," I say. She turns away. Okay, then. She turns at me again, "You're American?" "Da."

Okay, we went off on our separate ways. Except not even one minute later a lovely man with big eyebrows and wearing a fur cap tells me about my coat. My coat? What? I'm still considering the run-in with the disgruntled babushka so I, unfortunately, don't understand the kindness of this man. Plus, I'm dizzy.

Finally, I get it and touch the back of my jacket. It's globbed with spit. That babushka spit on me! Like a humongous loogey. Gross! And I never got to thank that man for telling me. He went in the opposite direction. And why did she spit on me? For being American? I stopped and tried to help her. Oy, I'd helped at least three other people get to the correct lines on the Metro beforehand (I have a subway-friendly face, plus I can say line 3, line 4, line 2) so I don't get it.

Anyway, some babushki are freaking crazy! And some are wonderful. On my way back into the Metro, another babushka asked me directions. I was feeling frightened (a bit) but I did the same routine with her and she thanked me very much and wished me a happy new year. For me, that totally retracted the spit.

Suffering from jet lag

I have to teach early Monday morning so I need to "get in the groove" here in Russia but it's hard. So, I will occupy myself by posting random things:

1. In Atlanta I was "sir"ed twice. I assure you, I am less butch now than ever before. Plus, I have 13 earrings. Most men do not have 13 earrings. I have not been "sir"ed since I was 19. Can we stop with the gender-based greetings? How about "Hello!" or "Good morning!" or "Good Evening!" or anything else than "Nice to see you, sir! Or, I mean, ma'am?" Why the genderizing? Irritating.

2. People in Atlanta (despite #1) are crazy nice. Atlanta is one of the nicest places to be in America. If you're not gay. In Atlanta (and Arizona), though we booked a king bed they saw us and tried to double bed us. I had to make sure we had ONE king-sized bed. "Are you sure?" "I really am sure." Frickin' annoying. She is my lesbian lover, if you must know. We're not idiots about booking rooms. This is what we get around the world so America is no more guilty than Sweden. Or Spain. Or Slovakia.

3. You have to go through security to get OUT of the Atlanta airport, international side. Really? Yes. So bizarre. To just get out to the street, in Atlanta, you have to stand in a long ass line to be x-rayed and have your bags x-rayed. The mind boggles. How much money do they have? It's not that way in JFK nor LAX, the two most frequented international airports.

4. Delta Airlines was fantastic to us for our nine flights. We had no problems. They were kind (even in JFK!) and the flights were marvelous. I had an issue with Atlanta's passport control but it was taken care of, very professionally. (My issue was: generally, I can take Nikol in with me on the U.S. Residents side because I am an American citizen, and she's not. The line for citizens is about 1/4 what the line for non-citizens is. The passport control guy was giving me a hard time about "Is she related or married to you?" So I summoned a passing supervisor and he let us through. But then they raced me through to the baggage claim. Without Nikol. That was annoying.)

5. It's very hard to be a lesbian couple from different countries. After endless flights and scuffles about hotel room accommodations, it's exhausting to have to get through governmental controls. As Nikol told me, I can't live without you (her). It's what we must do but why can I not count her as my family? She's the only family I have.