My new Petersburg home is a vintage oasis frozen in time. It’s a place where Glenn Miller plays on a worn-out record player. Stacks of books consisting of world classics and anthologies reach perilously unstable heights. Films from the forties like Sun Valley Serenade are dubbed in Russian and played on repeat. Finally. People who get me. These people also happen to be in their seventies. Two different types of old souls collide.
Larisa Ivanovna first greeted me with a squirmy wiener dog on her shoulders. Her husband, Mikhail, excitedly pushed me into their small yet labyrinthine Petersburg flat. I clumsily removed my boots at the door – Russian law – and put on the warm, arch-supported slippers that Larisa kindly provided.
They ushered me around the apartment and began to explain everything I needed to know about living there without being a complete menace. They showed me the cramped kitchen and the WC that is so small one cannot fully sit on the toilet and close the door at the same time. I’ve found ways around this problem, but I won’t disclose how.
My room is dripping with Soviet floral fabrics and lace. A dusty blood red rug hangs on the wall next to the bed. A tall bookshelf is filled to the brim with Russian classics, historical books, films, and random books about random interesting things. It also displays, front and center, a very sensual picture of Marilyn Monroe. Staring at Marilyn on the opposite wall is an Orthodox depiction of Mary and Jesus. I have more than I need – even a comfortable windowsill that overlooks the city so that I can stare out the window pensively. The windowsill is also home to a cactus. Score! So the place and the people are essentially perfect. Perfect for me and in themselves.
It’s funny that things turned out this way. They could just as easily not have turned out this way.
More coherent thoughts on Russia/Petersburg are coming. I just need time to make sense of that street fight I just witnessed.
Note about the picture: Gemma the wiener dog deserves her own paragraph. I’m not one to subscribe to small dogs. I like a dog I can hug firmly and wrestle to the ground. But Gemma proves to be the exception to the rule. She’s so excited about everything all the time. She stares at me for long periods of time and then suddenly attacks me with kisses. She’s a cuddler. She runs in circles around my bedroom, which is a pathetic endeavor given the size of my room and the size of her wiener dog legs. She finds her way under my bed cover and stays put – I’ve never met such an invasively happy animal, and I’m convinced she’ll be the source of my happiness once the wintertime darkness descends.