Why Following Babushkas Around the Streets of Saint Petersburg is like Watching a Bag of Popcorn in the Microwave

photo_2018-12-09_17-58-22

It is common knowledge amongst young residents of Russian cities that Babushkas [older Russian women] do not like to be followed. If you tread, especially at night, too close behind a babushka, she will turn, check to see if you are a murderer or a thief, then pause and let you pass.

This is normal.

The trouble began afterward. I stopped in a store for a pack of cigarettes. I came back out, lit one, and continued my journey home only to find myself, again, treading a little too closely behind that exact same Babushka. She stopped quicker this time, turned faster, she scowled and hugged her purse a little closer and so I nodded as if to say, “I’m sorry,” to which she read, “I’ll get to you in a minute.”

The first few kernels had popped. I walked on.

A little further down the road, I bumped into my friend, Ivan. I stopped to chat. I couldn’t help but notice the babushka passed yet again. I tried to smile in the least creepy, I-am-going-to-find-you-and-steal-your-bread, possible way. She was puffier, redder, expanding.

But it is no use. I vowed to take a good long while with Ivan, who turned out to be in a rush. He left. But, for good measure, I stood and finished my cigarette. I looked up and found the babushka was nowhere to be seen, so I trekked home.

I came up to the end of the alley into my courtyard and–oh dear god. There she was, she had stopped to feed the homeless ginger cat that lives behind the dumpster. She saw me. There was a panic in her face and she was popping at full speed now, backing away. I could almost see the fluffy pops of panic flying out of her brain, accumulating beneath her bonnet. It was tense.

I held up my hands, “I am sorry! I live just there.”

Then something happened. She frowned. Her whole demeanor changed, and I could almost hear her thoughts as she shrugged and went back to feeding the ginger cat: 

Oh, he’s American. I could take him.

Why Russia: Speaking Russian

Trying to speak Russian feels like fumbling around a room of people I’m sure I’ve met before but whose names I can’t quite seem to remember. Sometimes, I think I’ve got one. I walk over and cry, “Frank!” The man turns and says, “no, I am Frankы, Frank is over there calling Julии, just behind Frankом, the novelist. Jackass.”

IMG_3071And, this is nothing compared to my perpetual fear that I might be offered a voice-activated Russian time machine. If I were told I had to go back and save the world in 1953, I am sure I’d find myself 21 years, or 223 years, or 347 years in the future, or possibly past, and I’m sure that when I stepped out of it I’d be a man or woman or at least a noun (or worst case, an adjective) and hopefully there would only be one of me, though I’m less sure that I wouldn’t be eating my own nose upon arrival.

Either way, the world would surely burn.