Saturday, 30 March 2013

Superstition / Culinary Adventures

I feel pretty rancid today, but that's a sign of a very good day had yesterday.

Class was ok, we had a grammar test (such fun!), finished the topic of religion and superstition in second class. The latter was easily one of the most interesting topics I've covered in my study of Russia, but that fits with my general interest in culture, literature and folklore. I found out all kinds of weird and interesting things Russians take for bad omens that are quite different to what we do in England, like:

  • No whistling indoors, it means you're whistling your money away (or at least offending the guardian angels).
  • No handing over gifts, no greetings and no goodbyes over a threshold - that's where demons dwell.
  • If you're moving home it's good luck to make sure the cat goes in first.
  • If you leave the house and feel you've forgotten something it's best not to go back. If you do, you must look in the mirror before you leave again or you'll have a bad journey.
  • The left side of the body is associated with luck and good fortune, and the right with evil and bad luck. So if your left palm itches you'll receive money, and if your right itches you'll give it away. If your left eye itches you'll be happy, but an itchy right eye will lead to tears. Stumbling on your left leg is a sign of good luck in the future, but on your right leg quite the opposite. Many bad omens seem to be counteracted by spitting three times over your left shoulder and saying "In order not to jinx it". Jinx is the best translation I can think of for сглазить - this verb comes from the noun сглаз (sglaz) which is the 'evil eye'.
  • If you break glass, the smaller the shards the more happiness there'll be, hence the whole thing of breaking crockery at weddings.
  • Monday 13th is unlucky, as opposed to Friday 13th. Monday in general is unlucky, and Russians try not to start new and important endeavours on a Monday, such as signing contracts, performing operations or lending money.
  • 13 is an unlucky number, 7 and 3 are lucky and lots of sayings and idioms feature them.
Just like in England they have the superstition of knocking on wood, but it's slightly different. In Russia they knock on wood if they're talking or boasting about something they want to happen in the future, to stop it from being 'jinxed'. In England we knock on wood when we're talking about something we don't want to happen, as if to forbid it from occurring. They have the same deal with spilling salt - you have to throw some over your left shoulder.

My lucky number is 4 and I seem to strongly believe in that, and I'll always lean towards picking the right-hand option or a even number. One of my obsessive habits used to be that I had to chew my last bite of food on the right side of my mouth. Actually, I don't talk about being obsessive when I was a kid, but really I was and it was very inconvenient. It was around the age when I went to secondary school and wanted to seem 'normal' and make friends, when I quit Sunday school because I decided it was brainwashing me to be a "good little Jewish girl", that I sort of decided that I had to quit all my obsessive habits. It wasn't easy, especially the handwriting - I've had talks with others and discovered I wasn't the only one who had problems with writing letters but finding them to feel 'empty' and had to go over and over and over the lines, until my letters were enormous 20pt. things. Things like the mobiles that hung in my room had to be arranged 'just so' or I wouldn't sleep.

Other things aren't just an irrational preference though, I know I act in a way that looks superstitious sometimes. Talking about all this made me notice how I really do knock on wood, throw spilled salt, try not to open an umbrella indoors, count magpies, and cross my fingers for luck.

I think even the people that believe themselves to be the most rational and educated can still have superstitious habits because they're so ingrained in us from early childhood that it's like a reflex reaction, and that way we end up passing them from generation to generation.

I'd love to know what you think. Are you superstitious, or do you do superstitious things even though you don't believe in them? What's your lucky number?


A more diary entry kind of thing:

Yesterday I got all excited about visiting an Indian restaurant with friends from school called The Magic Tea House. I really liked the jewel-embellished door and the gorgeous middle-eastern décor  Unfortunately they were all out of falafel platters which was our first choice of thing to eat, once we'd figured out the whole place was vegetarian. Felt rather bad about that, I didn't mean to inconvenience the guys who seem to be very much "I need meat! Every meal if possible!", but maybe the experience expanded their horizons or something - I got a lot of jealous looks from the burrito- and sandwhich-eaters when after a long wait my Cheddar-topped Moroccan vegetable bake arrived. Not the biggest fan of soya or the results of eating it (anyone who's eaten soya knows what I mean), but it tasted pretty decent with all those herbs and spices flavouring it. Also I was so hungry I burnt the roof of my mouth really badly, ouch!

I went out again in the evening for the 'official' leaving do of some awesome people from school: we went to a great Georgian restaurant called Agravi. It was rather expensive compared to other places I've been here: £30 for main course, pudding, a glass of wine, coffee and water (tap water not being an option always adds to the bill in SPB). The food was delicious: I had a stew of veal in parsley and spring onion broth which was delicious: the meat was cooked so perfectly. I think next time I'm at a Georgian place I'll get a whole dish of chakhokhbili, which is a spicy chicken stew with tomato and onion that I tried a bit of. Also the bread they gave us for starters came with this great smoked-paprika-filled dipping sauce. I think we left there at 1am! Then we went on a quest to find a nice bar with cocktails and a dance-floor but were thwarted by the expensive deposit policies: 1000 to 1500 roubles to get in, which goes towards your orders of drinks and food (or maybe it's all-you-can-drink? I didn't understand). However, if it's gone 1am and you don't know if you'd like to stay in that place all night then you hardly want to fork out £20-30. We ended up in a quiet underground bar that had the weirdest 'fashion TV' channel on its screens, and chatted away the hours, shared a taxi and got back home at about 4am!

Hope you have a great weekend,

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sorry St Petersburg

Dear Saint Petersburg,

I am sorry I slag you off, honestly I don't mean to say you're always horrible. Sometimes you're in a bad mood, and you're all down-in-the-mouth, feeling grey and miserable. I get that too. Sometimes it's just the bad weather and that's not your fault either! I'm a way nicer person in warmer temperatures too.

Some days you're just fabulous, you're so bright and clear, warm and inviting. When the sun is out you're totally different, and I could hang out with you all day, strolling along the embankments and marvelling at the architecture. I really like spending time with you and my friends, you're always up for sushi and a beer, or for trying some place new. We can be out having a righteous time without spending a lot of money when we know where to look. Also you're totally into ska-punk music and that's totally rad, I can easily get used to going to 2 gigs a week every week! You like to party too, that's cool, sometimes I get past my inhibitions (and past a few drinks) and feel like dancing on the tables.

I'm sorry I called you 'large', that was uncalled for, especially as I come from London so I can hardly talk. You might be dirty but I heard that Moscow is downright filthy. If you were too clean-cut I probably wouldn't like you anyway, after all I'm a bit rough around the edges. You could do with being a bit more alternative, maybe getting some hair dye and piercings? Go on, you know you want to!

Yours apologetically,

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Don't Stop Skanking / Homesick

I've been feeling rather sad and out of it all day, and have come to the conclusion I'm currently experiencing the comedown from the Reel Big Fish show on Sunday night.

Avrora, located inside an oddly cylindrical frontage out the front of the Saint Petersburg hotel, is a pretty awesome concert hall. Compared to A2 it's smaller but still a mid-sized venue, but by a long shot more fun - the walls are covered in Jack Daniel's branding, the stage is a damn sight lower, and the circular standing space just begs for circle pits. The long bar has a pleasantly lethal-looking cocktail menu that I didn't dare sample on my own, and the loos are predictably hilariously rubbish (was playing the old game of 'Lock? Loo roll? Not too disgusting?'). The sound is rather good - I was very naughty and didn't keep my ear protectors in because it wasn't that loud.

The support act were Riot Gang, they're Russian but have a few English songs too. They play punk-rock with a pinch of off-beat ska guitars in a very energetic vein. Ok, they're far from polished and shiny but then again that can be a very good thing in these days of over-production. The vocalist adopts what seems to be the Russian equivalent of a bratty American accent, makes me laugh a bit and reminds me of Allister (don't shoot me, I like Allister, but you've got to admit the accent's a bit over-the-top). Riot Gang have a bandcamp here where you can listen to their music and download it for free.

Do I need to say anything about Reel Big Fish? Just... go see them live. They are just about one of the most fun live bands I've ever seen. Even if their new album Candy Coated Fury on record doesn't really do it for me, they played 5 of them live and I won't say they were low-points in the set. They fit very well into RBF's live repertoire, and they still played those compulsory numbers that everyone loves: Beer, Sell Out, Take On Me, Monkey Man, She Has A Girlfriend Now to name a few. My feet barely touched the ground as I skanked away the hours they were on stage. I'm pretty sure that I forced a guy to barn-dance with me at one point (you know, where you hook arms and swing round, then unhook and swing to the next partner). I bagged a set-list by pointing at the floor of the stage repeatedly until the roadie handed them out, and bought myself an obnoxiously bright yellow t-shirt that doesn't suit my complexion in the slightest, but caring about that isn't very punk! Don't tell me you need a link to their music, do you live underground?

Top-notch night really. Had a bit of panic when I thought the metro was shut on the way home but I followed some other people from the show who led the way to the other, open, entrance.


However, the comedown bit is that I feel really rubbish today. My old pal homesickness is back with a violent vengeance making me miss all my friends and family, and the cold, snowy St Petersburg climate with its filthy air makes me feel pretty down. There's a ton of scaffolding being put up on my street, think this means noise and inconvenience for the foreseeable future.

Lesson for all future year-abroad people out there

DO NOT go to a city you know you don't like. Seriously, me and Piter have never been the best of friends; I wasn't the city's biggest fan after my 2-week trip here in July 2011. Don't glamorise the White Nights: it's no fun being unable to sleep, covered in mosquito bites and sweat with no breeze for relief. I find Piter annoyingly large and poorly laid-out (why is every junction at an angle?!), the streets too wide and smoggy, and the climate revolting (I might be used to the minus temperatures now, but the slippery icy streets and constant feeling that I might fall over any second still gets to me). You can tell me that the old-fashioned buildings are beautiful and quaint or whatever, but I totally agree with Dostoevsky on the front that painting an entire city yellow makes it look sickly and jaundiced.

Right now I want London back with its silly glass phallus, giant snail-paced funfair ride, sweet little back-streets and all. I want Enfield, with Trent Park a few minutes from my house. I want Nottingham with all its rock bars, pubs, clubs and Uni Park campus.

It is a big but, and I cannot lie...
My parents are arriving in St Petersburg on Saturday and I am pinning literally ALL of my hopes for sanity and getting out of this terrible sad mood on them. I am praying that a week of being around them and sightseeing, going out for dinner and all that will make me think there's some redeeming features to living here.

Now I'm going to eat curry and watch Adventure Time and try to feel better if I can,

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Time


Since manic Monday things have been relatively settled. Well, I say settled, I've done quite a lot, but my mood in general has vastly improved from turbulent ups and downs to feeling pretty good about everything. I shall mainly put this down to a rise in my banana and peanut butter on toast consumption, and improvements in the sphere of work. This week I've been proof-reading various documents and brochures for Liden & Denz, and last Friday I helped write an article for the new edition of the St. Petersburg in Your Pocket travel guide (I was essentially taking Russian and non-native sounding English and turning that into a proper native-sounding article). It find it very exciting that my words shall be printed and distributed all over this city!

I've had some fun food-related shopping times this week:

  • Visited the Stockmann department store food hall. After recommendations from several people I figured it was worth the trek to the end of Nevsky Prospect. It was very much worth it; I was like a kid in a candy store, deliberating for ages over what kind of pesto to buy, contemplating various varieties of sun-dried tomatoes (something you don't see in shops here at all), picking up peanut butter and peanut-flavour crisps, dried thyme and non-salted curry powder. Yes, I did pay over £6 for a jar of peanut butter, but I kept being reminded about it and it gave me cravings, ok?
  • Walked home after my lessons, lunch, and three-and-a-half hour stint in the office in the Liden & Denz school today. I meandered through the shopping centre of the corner of Sadovaya which has quite an interesting feel to it: you walk through in a straight line and instead of having shops doors open on either side you walk right through the middle of them, or they are kiosks at the side. I like that, it feels like you can have a look at anything and everything, but you're not registering that you're interested in buying from that particular place because you're just passing through. I did make a few purchases though: banana milkshake-scented hand soap from L'Etoile, a vegetable peeler (I am way, way too clumsy for this peeling-with-a-knife business), some chocolate-flavour breakfast biscuits I've been hunting for here, and some strawberries-and-cream flavour green tea which I have yet to try.

    Then I was passing Gorokhovaya street and decided to pop into the Rada & K shop, which is attached to a vegetarian restaurant of the same name. It's a much smaller establishment than I expected but there's all sorts of goodies there: essentials for Indian and Japanese cuisine like sheets of seaweed, generous packs of ground spices such as cumin, many different varieties of soy sauce, but my favourite discovery was tinned cooked chickpeas. Do I look like I have time for boiling a 1-person portion of chickpeas every time I fancy a curry? No.
  • I finally bit the bullet and bought some fish here. Found some nice tilapia (it was the only fish name I understood), fried it up nice and simple with lemon and parsley. Flippin' gorgeous.
  • It didn't involve any food but I did go see Lampasy (lit. Pinstripes) play at Club Dusche and that involved a pint of delicious dark Kozel beer. I got there for doors at 8, the band went on at 9.30 and were done by half 10. I think the singer had a bit of a sore throat, but still I was a bit miffed I'd paid 400 roubles (£8.50) for that. They were pretty amusing, and sure I danced, but they were a bit rubbish in a funny way. As in their bassist and drummer weren't present so they had a backing track, and they had a measly Thursday-night crowd in a small, chilly club. Said club would have been a lot cooler (in the hip and groovy sense) if it wasn't nearly £5 for a whisky and coke, never mind the grim toilets that remind me of the Camden Underworld but more gross because they're unisex.

As a parting shot I will leave you with this: have you ever wondered what I blobfish is? It is a real, genuine fish. Go and look it up, I'll wait...


Life on earth really does just carry on regardless, doesn't it? Doesn't matter if you're the most unfortunate-looking gelatinous bottom-dwelling blob of a fish, with no apparent contribution to the ecosystem other than eating whatever floats into its path, you've still got a life, and someone still cares about making sure you don't go extinct.

Take care, have a good weekend,

Monday, 18 March 2013

Open Your Mind to the Possibility That People Might Be Awesome

Yes, long blog title, but that is my lesson for today. Opening my mind to the possibility that people might be awesome, genuine, friendly, well-meaning. I know that sounds so, so lame and probably patronising, but hear me out...

Maybe it's a Londoner thing, but I have a tendency to block the world out when I'm walking around. Head down, looking at the ground or straight ahead where I'm going like a blinkered horse. But that isn't how opportunity strikes, adventure isn't lying there on the pavement. Adventure is in your heart and in the hearts of others, you've just got to say 'Yeah! Let's do this thing!'.

Today classes were quite interesting - for my news article in the first class I talked about Comic Relief and how Friday was Red Nose Day. I always enjoy that day because pretty much everyone reaches in their pockets and gives something, it's almost national holiday of charity. I don't like coming into class every day with news about death and gloom so I'm going to try my hardest to find positive news to bring in. Also that's more of a challenge because we covered all kinds of disasters in translation classes at university. In the second class Sasha asked me how my week went and I ended up pouring my heart out to her about how work is going, how I'm lacking in motivation and want to see my talents going somewhere, want to see a positive outcome of my work and see people interacting with Liden & Denz (aka me) via social media because otherwise my job is just shouting into space, which is most dissatisfying.

After school I went to lunch at Teremok with some girls from school (so weird to say school, makes us sound... underage?). They had plans to visit a cute vintage shop called Off, funnily enough off Ligovsky Prospect, so I tagged along (after all I hadn't been shopping for anything other than groceries since I arrived). We got to Off to find painted on the door in Russian "We have moved to Tkachi, 60 nab. Obvodnogo Kanala, 5 mins walk --->". So we intrepid travellers took heart and took off in the direction of the canal. With the help of maps and my having a handy sense of direction we found the big converted factory/warehouse which is Tkachi (lit. Weavers). The ground floor is a mix-and-match of trendy clothes stores, music shops, a comic book store, Off the vintage place, a hip upmarket bike shop and various accessories. I bought myself a shiny gold waist belt (could resist), and might have to go back for the oversized jumper covered in ice-creams. I don't even like Magnums, but it's just so... kawaii! The top floor is mainly a cafe called 'Cafe in the Air', which I won't say has the most amazing views, but you can get a darn good smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich there for only 100 roubles, and they forgot to charge for my hazelnut latte so I left a very generous tip. You can also have a game of table tennis... interesting combination.

We wound our ways back on the metro, I hopped off at Sadovaya and starting making my way along the Griboyedov canal, but this time in stopped in a shop whenever I felt curious. I found that 'Rainbow Smile' is actually like Superdrug or Boots, but you can also buy washing powder and loo roll and cleaning products there. I managed to hold off hair-dye temptation. I found a cheaper place to buy my favourite pens - erasable blue gel pens with thick points that write lovely Cyrillic.

Once on my street I was going to walk right past my door, go to the corner shop and buy groceries. I noticed a guy wearing a shirt that said 'Жизнь без страха' and smiled because I liked the slogan - Life Without Fear. He was standing outside the cafe which takes up the ground floor of my building, and beckoned me inside insistently, promising there would be free live music starting any moment. I could but laugh and say "Why not?!". He had been talking to another girl - I had thought they were friends hanging outside the cafe smoking or something, but it transpired she was also being talked into the free gig. We both laughed at the spontaneity and randomness of being dragged off the street, and took a table together. We got chatting (in English I'm afraid: I was tired so my slow, stumbling Russian gave me away as not from round here), listened to the concert and laughed about how young the singer seemed. Both of us were shocked when he said he had a wife - he looked about 17!

Stepan Korol'kov was his name, and he sang songs, recited poems and told stories of his adventures hitch-hiking from his home in Siberia to St Petersburg to seek some fun and adventure. He is possibly the most optimistic person I have ever heard. He opened with a song from the point of view of a newborn baby singing about its mother, he sang songs about his love for Russia and for his wife, songs about striving for your goals and going a bit mad out on the road, and also some famous ones like 'The Bremen Musicians'. He recited his own poems and some Esenin, quoted Mayakovsky (Polly McMichael my lecturer would have been proud). He told stories between songs about strange showers and bartering with sausages.

Once he'd finished his set I and the girl whose name I hadn't even asked yet(!) put some money in the jar for him and ordered coffees. We sat in Щелкунчик, exchanged names, and chatted until long after they had closed. We went to the corner shop where she showed me the Kosher cereal bars (hooray, cereal bars at all!), and said our goodbyes outside her front door, which hilariously enough is house next to mine! What a happy coincidence, what a warm and outgoing new friend to have made because of it :)

A most serendipitous day I'm sure you'll agree!
Needless to say I haven't done my homework, time for me to get on with that. Ta-rah!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The return of Спасибо Sundays!

Here we go again chaps, it's my not-very-regular regular feature! Спасибо (say it spass-EE-ba) means thank you in Russian if I didn't already explain that, so Спасибо Sundays are all about being grateful for the all the good things in life. I mean to do them on a weekly basis again, as they're a great way to focus on the positive things in life and about living abroad. So without further ado:

Thank you:

  • Anne for giving me so much guidance regarding my job (and not quitting it just yet). I can be quite rash when I'm frustrated, so I'm very glad she calmed me down and spoon-fed me what to say to my boss.
  • To Laura for inviting me out with them lot on Friday. I'd come to school all dolled up just for the hell of it, went to the Maslenitsa party, got pretty drunk on free vodka and juice and stuffed my face with pancakes and biscuits to try sober up! I wasn't expecting to end up in a club with a big crew of people, but that was an absolutely fantastic way to spend the evening that I won't forget. Really though, sometimes I can feel all weird and foreign being the only English person in a big group of people but when others include me in their plans it makes me feel so happy.
  • To Robin for looking after me Friday evening and letting my sleep in his bed. Seriously can't thank him enough for insisting, I think drunk me would probably have tried to walk the hour home on my own so very appreciative that I stayed at his round the corner.
  • To all my friends and family who responded with words of empathy and encouragement to my cry for help on facebook. You guys give me hope.
  • To St. Petersburg Ska Jazz Review for absolutely smashing it at Zal Ozhidaniya last night and to everyone in the crowd who danced. At first I felt a bit lonesome like it might be just me and 3 other people skanking, but my how things warmed up! By the end we even had a (lone, cowardly) stagediver!
  • To Rob for putting up with me being a crazy hormonal muppet.
  • To Deepak Chopra for his 21-day free guided meditation course. Mmm loafy and relaxing.
That's all for now,

P.S. I intend to buy a camera of some sort this week, that'll make this blog more exciting if there's some pictures on it! Hell yeah.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

(Not) Wasting Time on the Internet

I read a lot of internet articles, click on many links and always have far too many tabs open. That's just the way I've been since tabbed browsing and broadband have been around. However much rubbish I read which is of zero consequence and does not enrich my life at all, I thought I'd do a series of articles on my favourite things I find in my misadventures.

I'll admit this idea is stolen adapted from Gala Darling's formerly weekly and now monthly Carousel series. She posts all sorts of links: from fashion, home-styling and life inspiration, things you can buy (or are too expensive to buy), technology, serious journalism, beautiful places to travel - all that is interesting, funny, cute, beautiful, delicious, thought-provoking and more.

So without further ado, an insight into what I liked on the interwebs this week:

Wolf & Badger jewellery, especially the rings. Oh those beautiful rings!

What Lesley from XOJane writes about fat-shaming. She kicks serious butt with her words.

Preschool Gems on Twitter makes me laugh. The amazing, hilarious things little kids say.

Bolshevik Mean Girls is my favourite comedy tumblr right now. Texts from Dog who?

☆ If this actually takes 4 minutes I'll eat my hat, but I'm seriously considering buying eggs just so I can make Four-minute chocolate mousse. Actually, maybe the four-minute bit is referring to how long it would take me to eat the lot.

☆ Big Bang Theory fans will enjoy this flash mob clip:

Apparently it's Pi Day but I don't really buy it, because when did anyone decent say March 14th? It's the 14th of March. Also I have had zero pie so I'm not feeling festive, bah humbug. Maslenitsa 'party' at school tomorrow, where I will eat pancakes and drink vodka until I'm probably very irritable and self-concious (vodka is not my happy drink, it tends to make me hideously self-aware and embarrassed of how I don't feel drunk but I'm talking rubbish and am losing control of my body parts).

Fun fun fun fun,
Looking forward to the weekend (St Petersburg Ska Jazz ensemble Saturday night!)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Life Is What You Make It

  You don't just learn from the successes and mistakes of others, you also learn from your own successes and mistakes. I aim to make this blog a positive place, where you can learn from my experiences, but also where you and I can see how I learn from my own experiences.

Today's blog is more the latter.

Last night I had a rather dramatic sort of homesickness-based breakdown and posted the following, which was really a cry for help:

  "Had enough. Want England now. Want to fuck about all day. Want friends. Want family to look after me. Want a job I actually love and feel passionate about (which I don't think I'll ever find because I seem to find applying myself to anything other than skanking, listening to music and baking some shade of dull). Don't want studies, work, pressure, responsibility or to be alone and looking after myself (because I'm not much good at it)."

Boy did my friends respond to that cry. 8 peoples responded by commenting, 3 messaged me, 1 called and 1 asked in person. Though I might not have shown it at the time, all those messages of support and concern really touched me. Through them I saw that my friends not only care about me but also believe that I can weather the homesickness and my own neurosis and come out of them having a fantastic time in Russia. Sometimes my friends know me better than I know myself.

I figure I need actions, not words to pull myself out of this slump and negative thinking, so here's my little plan:
  • Put myself out there more so I can make friends, show people the outgoing side of me and not the protective shy shell that I reverted to when I got here. (Yes, believe it or not I was once a friendless nerd alone in the primary-school playground with my head in a book). I actually put this plan into action today by asking a fellow student where they were going for lunch. Things kinda snowballed from there and ended up in a Turkish restaurant drinking tea & ayran, eating baklava and smoking shisha with 5 others. Good times :)
  • Start doing my homework earlier when I'm more alert, and therefore endeavour not to turn on my computer until I need it for work and homework.
  • Start walking home or walking to school several times a week. Exercise = endorphins = happy feelings. Also will help me keep healthy despite the ready availability of coconut macaroons.
  • Make time to do the Deepak Chopra 21-day meditation challenge because the first session was really relaxing and focusing. See this link if you're curious to try, it's completely free, what's the worst that could happen? 
  • Keep my room tidy and free of mess - now I have this huge mirrored wardrobe I can hide my clutter away and thereby keep my mind free of clutter too! Clutter is a weird word... clutter clutter clutter clutter... rhymes with butter...
  • Start up Спасибо Sundays again - making gratitude lists helps focus on the positive. Perhaps I'll do something like Galadarling's Carousel feature too where I post fab links of the week, as that will help me figure out what's worth reading and how to enjoy my time on the internet. I spend a lot of time link-clicking and not finding it funny, useful or inspiring in any way and ought to focus on the quality of what I'm reading and cut out the junk. Like eating properly, but consuming internet content instead of food.
Anyway, that's enough of the feels for now!
Hope you're having a great day,

P.S. I put my monkey onesie on and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water like it ain't no ting. Denis didn't notice at first, but then he got up for water too and exclaimed "WHAT?!". Hilarity ensued as he tried to understand why onesie are, what they are for, where you even get them etc. Then he took pictures of me holding a banana. Making him laugh made me feel really happy too :D

P.P.S. I accidentally put a background colour on the text and don't know how to remove it, hope it's not too annoying!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

How to Skank in St Petersburg + Gig Review: Alai Oli

Lazy Lois speaking, leaving a gig review till 2 days after the gig :$

It seems to me that, much like in London, if you want to know where the good ska, punk and reggae gigs are going to be you've got to find the clubs that put them on and go trailing through their listings. So far I have found:

These seem to be the places putting on the almost majority of the bands I want to see (with the exception of Leningrad playing a show at the Ice Palace arena, which is a bit big for most alternative music I'd guess). If you know of any others please let me know in the comments!

Oooh, thanks to researching this article I've discovered the St Petersburg Ska-Jazz review! Wow! I know what I'll be doing next Saturday now :D


SO! I went to an incredible gig on Friday night, on International Women's Day. There were 2 female-fronted bands playing, I don't know if that was a deliberate Women's Day thing but if not it was a good coincidence.

I didn't know there was going to be a support act, so I got a nice surprise when I turned up to find Monroe already on the stage. They call themselves punk-rock, but I think they're more pop-punk-rock. Think like a Russian Paramore, but not shit like Paramore (Oh alright, Misery Business and some of their singles are ok, the rest is dreadfully boring filler). They seem relatively new, only having an EP out and an album release show at the end of the month, but their songs are slick, catchy and fun. They're energetic, fun stuff and I have high hopes for their full-length release - for now there's a few songs for free download on their site here. Plus they did a cover of Against Me's I Was A Teenage Anarchist and that won my heart a bit :P

I had never heard of Alai Oli (Алай Оли) until I came here and went looking through Club A2's listings, which is ridiculous because they play exactly the sort of Reggae-Rock which is ludicrously listenable at any time of day, in any kind of mood. They've got fast songs, slow songs, funny songs, super-sarcastic songs, anti-racist anti-nazi songs, happy songs, sad songs. Everything. Which makes for an excellent gig when the band know how to get all of that into an evening and put on a great show. The lead singer Ol'ga has a great voice and is a very energetic front woman despite being heavily pregnant (heavily pregnant and still jumping about on stage, that is baby is going to learn to skank before it can walk!).

Picture by Alina Pasok, more here
Highlights of the gig for me were jumping up and down with the vast majority of the A2 hall; the mass fist-pumping (or what do you call that when you all bop your open, face-down palms up and down in the air? You know what I mean) during Воруй-Убивай Регги; and the touching ballad during for which Ol'ga got everyone to go deadly silent.

An audience member pointed out "Where's the trumpet?": the regular trumpet-player was in Germany as he's emigrated to live with his family. As far as the gig went the music still sounded great and not too much lacking - there was one song during which everyone was singing the trumpet part which was cute. They said they'll get a fill-in in future, but who knows when that'll be because the band is expected to take a break for what is effectively maternity leave.

***** - 5 stars, or a swear-word censored?

If every gig is like Friday night, and I go to one a week, I think I'll get by here just fine!
*dances off*

Edit: For those interested I found the link to this torrent on their official website, they give all their downloads away for free or pay-what-you-want. Or you can go clicking around on their website's music section and clicking "Скачать альбом" where you see it, which will give you a normal download if you don't like torrenting. I asked their merch guy where I could buy CDs but he said "Only in this one shop in Moscow", gutted!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Gig review: Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra

In an effort to have an adventure and stop feeling like the only one not having any fun (you can have the Reel Big Fish quote for free), I decided to splash out 1500 rubles/ £32 on a ticket to see Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra at A2 last night.

I also went because Emir Kusturica is a very famous and cool director from Serbia. He is probably best known for Life is a Miracle and Black Cat, White Cat, but I got to know of him through a module I took at uni on how the Balkan wars were portrayed though film, in which we watched Underground. I expected the live show to be as crazy as his films (read: very).

Unza Unza Time by Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra

A little bit about the Russian gig experience: it's weird. Club A2 isn't too much of a pain to get to, but now the nearest tube is shut the simplest way to get there seemed to be to walk 25 minutes from the next-nearest tube, so I guess that's like walking from Mornington Crescent to Chalk Farm to get to the Camden Barfly. That's after I've walked the 20 minutes to Sennaya Square tube on my end and stayed on that for a quick 10 minutes. A2's Mir is a medium-sized venue, maybe the size of Koko/ Islington Academy in London, a bit smaller than Nottingham's Rock City. It's clearly used for clubs because the upstairs VIP section has a separate entrance and is furnished with sofas. Read that as the upstairs has zero atmosphere. Downstairs wasn't that great either, maybe due to this band being not super-famous or super-cool: there was the odd girl or couple jumping and dancing but 95% of people were stood stock still, unless there was clapping required, which happened a lot. In that case it seems the majority can seem to muster the energy to put their palms together. Russians really dress up for gigs, I knew once I'd got there that nobody had come to do anything energetic as the girls were wearing high-heels and a lot of slap.

The reason Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra aren't very danceable is because they lose momentum constantly. The gig started out slow, and between numbers they always went back to riffing on the Pink Panther theme, slowing everything down, sort of destroying any dancing momentum they'd built up. It was more like a sort of cabaret or circus in parts; they got about 15 girls up on stage to dance and then Kusturica asked them to copy him. Queue conga-line around the stage and making them all do press-ups. It was pretty funny actually. The violinist was dressed in a sort of graduate's robe which is later removed to reveal layer upon layer of dresses. Bizarre. At one point he put his bow in Kusturica's shoe and played his violin like that, but holding it against the bow. Things just got weirder and weirder really. There were light-up spinning guitars, kazoo battles, a member of the audience picked out and then serenaded and waltzed about on stage. It was just... so very Emir Kusturica.

Sure the music they play is called a mix of Balkan folk/gypsy/rock/jazz. The Guardian described them as playing "some of the world’s wildest, most joyous and most unrestrained music", and apparently when they played that Glasgow Concert Hall the security were starting to panic. Not a chance of that in A2, more a risk that everyone was going to fall asleep. I can't even point my finger at exactly what it was: the unenthusiastic crowd, the soulless venue, the music wild but failing to keep up the tempo, this gig was not great. It was just OK.

3 stars, actually 2.5 because of the poor value-for-money. I wouldn't pay £32 for a gig of that size even in central London.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Music: a Steady Riot in My Soul

I try not to talk about music too much on here because my love of music and the amount I'd like to talk about it could make up a whole other blog that nobody would read. Everyone's got their own music tastes and I'm not about to go imposing mine on you if you came here to read about a year abroad.

On the other hand, I would like to thank music (and especially Big D) today for getting me the hell out of bed. I was lying in bed being frankly nihilistic and crazy homesick and not being very nice.

These are the songs that got me on my feet again:

Perkie - Getting Old

"Get off your lazy arse Grandma, no you're no dying just yet. Put on your walking boots Grandpa you've still got further to get..." Never mind Grandma/pa, that's me lying in bed going 'Зачем?" all self-pity. Twat.

Ash Victim - Back Stabbing Foot Shooter
"I just want to go home, wherever the fuck that is" Too right, I feel homesick but I don't even know if going back to London is what I want. I like learning Russian and there have clearly been times when I've enjoyed it because otherwise I wouldn't have been studying it for 9 years. So going home to sleeping 12 hours a day and volunteering a couple times a week and having my family around me might seem really nice, but if I were there is that what I'd really be happy doing? I bet I'd have mad itchy wanderlust ants in my pants.

Big D and the Kids Table - LAX

This is a brilliant song for being angry at anyone, about anything. It involves saying the F-word an awful lot and telling people they're terrible, which is great when you don't feel like blaming yourself for anything :P Warning: very, very explicit lyrics. Turn the volume up or something.

Big D and the Kids Table - Steady Riot

"Music: a steady riot in my soul" A song which seems to me to be about life being hard, but friends and strangers help you out, inspire you, help you keep going. I guess the bands you listen to are like friends and strangers at the same time, and they give you inspiration, help you through the tough times, and their music will never go away and will always help drive you onwards. Steady, but also a riot. Title sort of makes sense now.

Big D and the Kids Table - Souped-Up Vinyl

"See, when I get home I'll be fine, because our time's now ours, yeah, and we spend it with the souped-up vinyl spinning round and round" The moral of this story is that even if you're not liking work, school, whatever establishment you attend, there'll be the moment when that part of the day ends and your time begins. You can but your headphones in, you can go to a gig, you get your music fix somehow. Then it's not all so rubbish because for a while nothing else matters but the music, and you know you're not the only one feeling that way.

So yeah,
I promise I won't make the music posts a regular thing, but I bet this was more fun to read than me going on about how I'm not settled in here yet, haven't had a lot in the way of friendly face-to-face contact or at least not nearly as much as I'm used to. Basically I want to be everyone's friend. Now. Without all the awkward bit before we're proper mates where I worry about what people think of me and I'm trying so hard to make a good impression and seem normal I'm not even being myself.

That's enough of that for now,

Monday, 4 March 2013

How Much of What to Pack for your Year Abroad

Is an article Vicky and I co-wrote, and it does pretty much what it says on the tin. You should check it out at

Protip: in general has loads of info for everything to do with a year abroad, from advice on studying and working abroad to articles on long-distance relationships, and an ever-increasing number of blogs from students all over the world. Check it out!

Also good news arrived today in the form of my brother announcing he's coming to visit me mid-May. Originally we planned to hop on the Trans-Siberian together and see where it would take us, but failing that because of disorganisation, time and money restrictions this will also be highly awesome.

Have a sparkly shiny kind of day!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Lingua Franca

Just a quick one today and I'll leave you alone (pfft that's what he said :P).

If you're reading this then you can read English. Take a moment to realise that means you can communicate with countless people in countless countries, because English is a lingua franca in real life as well as on the internet. If the Swiss people and the Swedish guy from the beginners' class at Liden & Denz hadn't made the effort to learn it, or been forced by their schools from an early age, then how would we make friends, have lunch together, make conversation? I can understand the odd bit of Swiss-German, but they talk so fast and it varies enough from the Hochdeutsch I learnt up to A-level that I can't really understand more than a couple phrases. As far as Swedish goes I only know swear words I learned from watching PewDiePie videos on YouTube.

I've seen estimates between 328 and 510 million for the number of English-speakers on the planet, but you get the idea; the ability to communicate with people from other countries is a wonderful thing, and you should count yourself lucky that so many people make the effort to learn this language. Think about returning the favour next time you take a trip abroad, your efforts will not go unnoticed.

Have a great weekend!