The Northern, or Second, or Tsarist capital, that is. I'm gone to St. Petersburg ("Piter," as it's known in everyday Russian, because Sankt-Peterburg can be a mouthful).
It took me, granted, eight-and-a-half months of playing at all three of Chekhov's Three Sisters to get there. (They spend the whole play daydreaming about taking a trip to Moscow.)
I'll let you in on a secret confession, since I'm all gone to the other capital and what not. I can't suffer the ramifications of this confession. Oh, I make myself laugh.
The first time I went to Piter was to study abroad, which I can describe by an allusion to reality TV. Picture the intro to The Real World. "Six strangers, living together...find out what happens when people stop being polite and start being real." Now picture that, not with six strangers, but twenty; and not in a locale with citizens of the same country and linguistic background as those strangers...and you begin, I think, to see what happens in a study abroad program. Classes all day don't preclude the students from drinking almost every night; multiply the hormones and attitudes of a Real World cast by the power of 3 and 2/3.
My succeeding trips to Piter are full of funny-in-retrospect but not incredibly pleasurable memories. This was the time when Wounded-at-Broken-Elbow became Wounded-at-Broken-Elbow; this was the time when I called Starik at 4 am from a Russian hospital and tried to garner his advice in my broken, ADHD-addled three-year-old Russian; this was the time The Old Man by the Sea and his wife drugged me with a sleeping pill.
All of those memories inform my relationship to Piter. All of them poisoned my psyche, leading to that pregnancy-length hesitation to sit on the metro to Komsomol'skaya and buy a ticket; all of them are methamphetamines in my blood stream, now, all anticipation and excitement about the city.
The thing is I can never poise myself as a calm and collected, mature individual making a triumphant return to the city from exile in Elba.
I shake like little leaf in tree
Autumn wind it is trying to destroy
And leaf itself hard to keep its vein intact
To live, to feel glow of one more frozen day
Then comes little boy as hooligan
And pulls the leaf off its branch
"Ouch!" How it cries. "My tree, my love -
Never shall we meet again. Прощай!"
8 months ago