For context, throughout my time in Moscow I had to write a couple of these assignments, called "fragments and vignettes," in which the objective was to write about small moments that were significant and stuck out in my experience somehow. Here is one of them.
The Gruzinskaya Pekarnya about halfway between campus and Novoslobodskaya has become a site of many late-evening khachapuri po adjarski runs for me. Most evenings, the same woman is behind the counter to greet me, an efficient but friendly lady, tall and thin with straight blonde hair. On one particular occasion, after I’ve cleared my plates of beet pkhali (they never seem to have cabbage ones, which I’m very curious to try) and khachapuri, she asks me where I’m from, having heard me falter in Russian plenty of times when ordering. When I tell her that I’m from the USA, she pushes further, asking whether I have Russian parents, and displays visible shock when I explain that I’m half American and half Italian, with no Russian background at all to speak of. It’s an interaction that leaves me feeling full and warm, not only of delicious food, but happiness and satisfaction after a meaningful linguistic interaction that helps me to feel like I’m doing something well.
On the last morning of our St Petersburg trip, the beautiful Venice of the North that it’s taken me all of three days to fall madly in love with holds another little treat in store, beyond a potential sugar rush. Our breakfast in the little pishki and coffee cafeteria across the street, which reminds me so much of the canteen at the Azerbaijan University of Languages that I spent so much time in over my summer, is dominated today by an appropriately round ginger cat. It accepts pats and scratches willingly, and then as we jump start our energy for the day of travel that lies ahead, jumps up on a chair next to a friendly babushka, who responds just as enthusiastically. The tender moment is now forever immortalized in a quick candid shot I manage to capture on my smartphone.
Even in the increasingly harsh cold of the almost perpetual November darkness, I still try to push myself to take little walks around the neighborhood, rounding the same series of corners in Miussky Park across the street. On one occasion, I notice in a bush, now just a collection of stark branches devoid of any flowers or leaves, a series of two or three former jugs of water, with large gaping holes cut into their sides, and birdseed sprinkled in the interior. This ingenious reappropriation of plastic materials widely and appropriately regarded as dangerous for the environment as birdfeeders seems fitting.
One evening, Qiao and I decide to finally venture across the street to try the Chinese restaurant inside Druzhba, which even my Lonely Planet guide to Moscow regards as a decent eatery. After a surprising amount of trouble navigating the labyrinth of the mall trying to find the place, we find ourselves in a little corner of existence that seems to have instantly transported us across Eurasia. The patrons inside chatter and laugh amongst themselves, and shouts over the sizzling of the stoves, likely concerning their orders echo from the kitchen - both are entirely Mandarin. I find myself questioning whether I can even use Russian in this place. Its authenticity is confirmed, and the warm broth and noodles, for a time at least, ward off the chill of the November afternoon.
On an exceptionally rainy evening, having failed to add any ticket stubs to my growing collection from various museums and other places I’ve visited in Russia for a while, I decide to seek out the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, equally out of interest, and hope that it will offer relevant and poignant information to inspire my term paper. I wind up spending many hours inside, enthralled at its highly technologically interactive and expansive exhibits, and also the surprising amount of the parts of them written only in Russian that I’m able to understand. I hear a couple of families with young children, clad in monochromatic Hassidic garb, speaking to each other in Hebrew. I wonder if they may be members and exemplaries of this curious and beautiful community of Israeli citizens resident in Moscow, this inspiration of my upcoming work that has brought me to this museum.