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?

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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,
x

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