Monday, June 20, 2005


St. Petersburg, Russia

We got back to our crumbling wreck of a hotel around 11 PM and decided to go back out. The crowd at Metro was a bit on the young side. Jason in particular was keen to see more of the nightlife in Saint Petersburg. I was doubtful that there would be much action in town at this late hour on a Sunday, but I kept my thoughts to myself, and was ultimately rewarded for my silence. The longer we are at this, the more I learn to trust Jason's instincts.

Not long into the fifteen minute walk to the metro, a group of college-aged Russian kids tumbled out of a door across the street and started walking along in the same direction. One of them (a very lovely girl who we later learned is called Simona - pronounced Simoooona), crossed over to our side and demanded a light. I tried to play it cool and use a bit of Russian, but I'm sure any observer could see the "wow" written on my face. She took my matches and returned to her friends, only to cross the road (without once looking for traffic) again to return them. I made a "throw 'em here gesture" and she pitched the small box directly into to my waiting hands, smiled a bit, and trotted off around the corner after her friends.

I was just about to give myself a good kick for not making more of an effort to make contact when we rounded the same corner directly into the hands of our soon to be captors. In mere seconds we were surround by Simona, Stacia, and Daniel who demanded to know our names and where we are from, but also insisted that we return with them to Simona's place so we could all have a party. Jason and I bought some food (cheese, salami, and Twix) and some bottles of wine and headed back off the direction we came in the company of our new friends.

I have never been in a crack house, but the entrance to Simona's place looked like what I a Russian crack house must be like. No lights. Crumbling plaster. Big scary doorway. The building was the same kind of early 20th century design that you see all over St. Pete - wide staircase with ornate, modernist banisters and high ceilings. I had spotted many of them and was pleased to actually see the inside first hand even if it was dark and a bit spooky. Three flights of stairs and we reached Simona's door. It was a good 2 inches of heavy steel and reminded me of a secret bunker or a hatch on a ship.

Behind the crack house entrance, the spooky steps, and the blast door, there was one of the nicest apartments I have ever seen. The main room had a very high white ceiling holding up a heavy glass chandelier supported by matching white walls covered in distinctively Russian paintings. The floor was mostly open and made of a light-colored wood with a deep red patterned carpet in the middle. Large double doors opened onto a small balcony that overlooked the street. The rest of the place was a confusing maze of rooms. Among them were several bedrooms, 2 modern kitchens, a formal-looking dining room, and at least one bathroom. Daniel told me that the place had once been two separate apartments.

Waiting for us in the flat were Polina, Antonio, and one other girl (who's name I can not remember). The latter two were mid-shag (as Daniel put it - I was surprised to hear that word from a Russian) and they later disappeared again, presumably for more of the same. We set about the wine and food with gusto and the conversation flowed easily from topic to topic. We talked a bit about California, English, wine, music, and the nature of love. There was a great deal of dancing, many cigarettes, and the carpet was scrubbed and re-scrubbed as successive glasses and bottles of wine were kicked over or dropped.

Simona told me that the reason she had stopped us on the street was because she felt a harmonious energy coming from me and Jason. Despite characteristic skepticism, I cannot help but feel that she was right. I felt very comfortable and free in the company of our hosts. We all were looking to have the same kind of high-energy silly fun. I like that wavelength.

Everyone started to drift off to sleep around sunrise, so we decided to make our exit. It took about an hour to get out the door. Polina cried, Stacia and Simona showered us in gifts, and Daniel made arrangements to see us the next day. I feel a deep affection for our new friends in St. Petersburg and am very thankful for having been kidnapped. Our chance meeting was a great stroke of luck, an experience not soon to be forgotten, and just the kind of thing I had in mind for this journey.


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