Russia – Part 3: Winter’s End

Last time I posted was right after the first New Year celebrations. I did not write anything about it since I wanted to experience the New Year’s Eve celebrated worldwide and the Russian New Year’s. Let me say, I have been in some patriotic countries, but never was I in a country where people turned on the TV in the middle to watch their president give a speech. But let me go back a bit.

I was supposed to get ready for the New Year by going to a Russian bath. But I  had a very high fever, so… I could not go. But my host still wanted me to go to his house for the evening meal and celebration. He asked me how high a fever I had and when I told him, he turned around and asked why I had not requested a doctor. My answer was that my mother had confirmed I was still ok. He laughed saying that my mother was not in Russia and the doctor was. I tried explaining to him about having a Jewish mother but I could see it confused him a bit.

At his house, his girlfriend made me tea whilst he was giving me cognac. The meal lasted a few hours and was mostly typical Russian food, better than I had had since my arrival. So far, everything was normal to me despite some of the funny rituals the girls engaged in (such as writing down a wish and putting it in your drink). The part that was really interesting was when they quieted down and listened to a speech by Putin for the New Year’s. After that, we had a bit more food and went for a walk around the city center. The next week or so, the country was completely shut down. I had been told it would be this way, but actually experiencing it was surreal. Practically nothing was open. In my client’s office building, no one was there except one guard and even he did not have access to the computer system. I have experience Yom Kippur in Israel and while that experience is completely surreal it lasts just one day. Here it was at a lower level but for more than a week!

Russian pride goes along with their patriotism. Russia truly is an incredible country and every public building has incredible architecture. There is no way to look at it up close and not be in awe. It explains a lot about the way they feel about their country. I tested the waters a few times by mentioning the great sacrifices they had made as individuals and none ever denied it but there was always a moment of pause with this as an afterthought “but look at what it gave us!”

When traveling I like to experience the local traditions and cuisines. But my hosts were so intent on showing me how international Moscow is, that only three times did I have authentic Russian food. The first was New Year’s, the second was a dinner with friends at a house (most amazing Borsch ever!) and the third was on my last day there when I want to a Ukrainian restaurant where they grow their own vegetables. It was absolutely incredible. The decor, the food and the uniforms.

One of the reasons I was able to deal with the cold so well is that it is so dry. Weather is easier to deal with when dry than when humid. The down side of it is constant static electricity. I would get in bed and I’d see a little light from the friction of the sheets. When picking up my phone while charging I would first lightly tap it to get rid of any static electricity. But the strangest thing related to this was washing my hands or the shower. Sometimes the first touch of the water would include a tiny little jolt.

But by the time I left I was walking around only in a t-shirt and a hoodie. On my last day, I even ventured only in a t-shirt. Essentially, within 10 weeks I had become more Russian than a Russian. And I was proud of it.

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