I rode the bus today. At least, I think it was the bus; it could just as easily have been an unusually large van.
The driver was awfully nice about it either way, and happily took me and my companions up the street for the measly sum of seventeen roubles.
It amuses me that, three weeks in to my stay here, Syktyvkar and its people continue to surprise me, whether through a lump of mayonnaise in my soup, ordinary pedestrians skiing serenely along pavements or a fourteen-year-old student asking for my position on Scottish independence.
My day began with a trip to the cinema to see Ben Affleck’s Argo, a film I had heard many good things about but which I was still feeling complete ambivalence towards. Fortunately, Argo couldn’t have been any more different from the director’s previous efforts, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Every time I go to the Rublik to see a film, however, I think I have experienced just about every variation of the ticketing transaction possible, but every time I am nevertheless stumped by a question I hadn’t seen coming. Today, the box office assistant would not accept my 5000 rouble note, and asked for smaller denominations, as vocally as possible.
It’s not just the transactions that catch me off-guard there, either. Just this weekend, as I arrived at the cinema to watch Cloud Atlas, I found the staff wearing party hats and my screening interrupted by a 5-minute long loudspeaker announcement as the Rublik celebrated its first birthday. And then there’s the fact that the cinema has been playing the title track of 1996’s Space Jam on a loop since my arrival. In October.
After the film, I made my way to the school in order to meet the teachers who would be joining me for dinner. From the bottom of ул. коммунистическая, we boarded the first “автобус” to come our way and set off for the restaurant. No two buses look the same here, and they lack the standing room and stop buttons that we would accept as standard in the UK.
Perchance, the driver somehow read our minds and stopped right outside of Абажур itself. While the buses themselves lack uniformity, just about every bus stop looks the same: road-side roofed structures that house a single kiosk, where you can buy food, drinks and cigarettes from a thickly gloved hand that pokes out of a small hole in the windowed display whenever needed.
I had already been to Абажур, once to wash the taste of Flint’s rancid burger from my mouth and then again a week later to eat Carpaccio with my entourage of students. It’s a comfortable little restaurant spread over two floors, with cosy little booths, a range of delicious little deserts and homely tartan lampshades hung from the ceiling. Even if they do have an unfortunate habit of playing nothing but Rihanna.
Wanting to eat something cooked this time, I ordered sausages (served on a bed of roasted vegetables) with a side of “French fries”, a glass of mulled wine and an apple strudel with a walnut on top. While my food was once again the last to come, it was so satisfying that I couldn’t bring myself to actually mind.
My increasingly futile attempts to break that 5000 rouble note were quashed twice more that evening, both at the end of our meal and at a fair-sized supermarket located just around the corner from my flat, where I stopped for chocolate, cookies and bottled water. I used the last of my change. A purchase is bound to go smoothly eventually, right?
I hope I can find somewhere to take it tomorrow, or I may have to brave my first Russian bank.