Sunday, November 16, 2008

Novosibirsk (Akademgorodok) November 16, 2008

Disappointment and opportunity. They compete with one for control of our psyche. One day (or hour) disappointment seems like it will dominate. Next day (or hour, as it may be) opportunity casts disappointment aside. I tell clients to expect that their lives will seem as if on a roller coaster ride during the pendency of their cases. My advice: keep an even keel. Don’t get too down or too up. If you feel yourself going in one direction or the other, bring yourself to level.

More about this later on in the broadcast.

Yesterday, three of us trekked to an outdoor market. The paths through the forest provided a serene setting for our travels. Then, we arrived at the road. Since none of us had been there before, we asked three different people for directions as we got closer. Each person was very helpful and took the time to help us find the market, which wasn’t easy to spot from a distance. I have found nearly everyone I have met here to be very friendly and willing to help. There are exceptions: the cashiers in the grocery store. When it is obvious that I speak no Russian, except to say “Ya ne gavaryu pa rooskee”, there is a smirk and a sharp turn to sullenness. At least the registers display the total. Half the time, however, they ask (I assume this, since I don’t know for sure) if I have change instead of bills. My response is to pull the change out of my pocket and hold it there in my hand, while they pick through it to find what they are looking for. Then, they begin ringing up the new customer before I even have a chance to put my money back in my pocket, and pick up the bags of groceries. It’s a fast moving line.

The market was fascinating. I have been to Izmaylovo Market in Moscow, more like a bazaar. Izmaylovo has two sections: the tourist section and the locals’ section. The tourist section has souvenirs and plenty of vendors who speak English. The local side is wild. Everything you could possibly want, you can find. The market here is strictly for locals. The stalls and trailers are packed together with barely any room to maneuver. Every other one sold gloves and hats. You can buy flashlights, can openers, knives, fishing tackle, nylons, underwear, negligees, fish (no need to put them on ice; it was below freezing outside), fruit, eggs, pots and pans, jeans, jackets, socks, shoes, and so many other useful items. My companions were in a hunt for gloves and hats, and they were successful. I didn’t need anything, and in any event, I’m running low on cash since the bank wouldn’t take my perfectly good money (this is a project for tomorrow: find another bank, or a money exchange, or an ATM). We made our way back through the forest and to 22 Piragova Street.

Since it was Saturday, and Almira was taking me to the jazz club later in the evening, it was a perfectly good opportunity for a nap. After that, it was a quick dinner of cold soup and breaded cheese sticks, and a call home, and I was good to go.

Almira phoned shortly before 9 pm, and I went downstairs to meet her. She was outside the car, and greeted me warmly (did I mention that she is one of THE nicest people I have ever met? It bears repeating). She introduced me to her husband, and her daughter Sophia, who (and I didn’t know this until that moment) is a student in my class. She is the one who, when I asked on the first day how many of them spoke more than two languages, replied with her own question: you mean foreign languages, in addition to our native Russian? I mentioned that exchange to Sophia and she remembered it.

We were going to a place south of Akademgorodok, called Cochobka Sosnovka, which Almira and her family have been to before. It is now a resort hotel, somewhat like a spa, where one can get massages and skin treatments and the like. It is located near the Ober River, which has a nice beach for sunbathing and water sports in the summer. It also has an auditorium for concerts. I was told that in Soviet times, the hotel was a sanitarium where one could receive something like the same type of services that are now offered. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was purchased by private investors and now is a very impressive complex.

The Lobby Bar is where the jazz combo would be playing. Two of Almira’s friends, a very friendly couple, were waiting for us at the table reserved for our party. Almira’s husband and the other gentleman are old friends and quite the jazz aficionados. There was a jazz festival in Novosibirsk not too long ago, and apparently they attended many of the shows.

The combo included a pianist, an upright bass player, a drummer, a saxophonist, and a vocalist, who sang in English. They played two sets of about six songs each, and I thought they were quite good. It was evident that they had played together for a while. We sat and just enjoyed the music. During intermission, Almira, Sophia and I chatted. After the show was over, I was asked how I rated the combo, on a scale of one to five, five being the highest. Now, when you are a guest in someone else’s country, and you are invited to attend a musical performance in such a lovely setting, with such lovely people, you’ve got to ask yourself: how exactly do I answer this question, especially with people as knowledgeable as these? One way to go would be to rate them in the middle, but that might be viewed as not respectful of the combo, nor appreciative of the hospitality extended to me by Almira and her family. The other route would be to rate them higher, expressing appreciation for local talent. So, consistent with my usual diplomacy and tact, I said: “4.5.”

I’m not sure that I elevated myself in the eyes of these jazz fans. In fact, I may not even have held level. There was some discussion in Russian, after which Almira said: “My husband and his friend said ‘They haven’t played abroad yet.’” There you have it: a succinct and final word on the matter. In other words, they need more work.

It was a very enjoyable evening, and such a nice gesture of friendship from Almira and her family. I was grateful for their consideration and need to find a way to express that. Almira also gave me a ticket for a jazz concert tonight at the House of the Scientists.

Back to the theme of the opening: disappointment and opportunity competing with one another to gain control of your day.

I speak, initially, of the results of the FSU-Boston College game. Homecoming in Tallahassee. I was able to catch the last few minutes of it online on The Seminoles have become an average team after being a dominating program for so many years (I am somehow blamed for this; since switching allegiances when Brendan began at FSU, I am told that I jinxed the program). Is Bowden getting too old and out of touch? Is Jimbo Fisher not the genius he has been touted as? Is it the players, not up to the caliber of stars of years past? Do the breaks just not go their way? No matter the reason, they disappoint. Thus, the morning began.

There was only one other table occupied in the café this morning: a father and his young daughter having a nice breakfast out. She was busy drawing and he was lovingly paying close attention to her creation. The café has three electrical outlets for one to plug in a computer. My battery loses juice so quickly that I have to plug in, so it’s always a relief to see an open table near an outlet. The place also makes a good cappuccino.

One of the ways I am reminded that I am on the other side of the world is that when I log on to read my emails, they are usually several hours old. And when I respond, it will be several more hours before the recipient reads it. Thus, it is at least a twenty-four hour turnaround. This is no good. But this is the way it is. Get over it already.

There were some important emails that I needed to read and send, so it was a three cappuccino session.

Here is where opportunity entered the mix. As I left the café, instead of turning right to walk back to the flat, I turned left and walked towards the street. There didn’t seem to be much to see within walking distance, so I turned around and headed back to the flat. As I was walking, a green car came from the opposite direction. As we passed each other, the car stopped and went into reverse. The door popped open and the driver yelled out my name. It was Ian. I was planning on calling him Monday to ask about the internet, and also to firm up plans for taking me to the airport on Friday. Had I stayed in the café two more minutes; had I not walked towards the street and instead headed directly back to the flat; had I gone left or right on the street, I would not have met up with him. There are those who believe in coincidence. There are those who believe in a greater plan. There are those who don’t believe in either. And there are those, like me, who are situational believers. So, today, I believe in the higher plan.

Ian was on his way to another job, but asked me how everything was going. Feeling inconsiderate and selfish, but nonetheless needy, I told him about the internet outage. He promised to call Max to come by maybe Monday to check it out. Then he said: “I have some bad news.” Uh oh. Self-centered foreigner that I am, I immediately feared it was something that was going to affect me in a negative way somehow. “I’ve been fired.” Sure enough, my first thought was “Now who do I get to help me navigate the rest of my time here?”

“I was fired Friday from my position at the international office. No worries. I have other jobs. I’m still a teacher there. I just won’t work in that office anymore.”

“That’s terrible, Ian. I’m so sorry.” He has a family to support.

“No worries. Now, let’s talk about getting you to the airport on Friday.” Soon, he wrote down all the information on my departure, and told me what time he would be picking me up on Friday morning.

What a mensch.


Scott Richardson said...

Situational believer....sums it up perfectly. We are really enjoying your blog!

Scott Richardson said...

Thank you. Can you tell me who sent this, because it says it was sent by me!

Lisa Tobin said...

Hi, that was me too!