Thursday, 29 September 2011

Episode 11: Birthdays, bands and beer bottles...

I recently read that a computer program designed to solve the Shakespeare-Monkeys-Typewriters conundrum (link: has just proved it to be possible. Well I could do with a team of type-writer monkeys about now as things are happening quicker than a boy can keep a blog!

Did I just say boy? Oh gosh! Should I be saying man now? What is a man? An ape? God's image? A sentient fleshpod on a spinning ball of elements suspended in an endless sea of meaninglessness? A 21 year-old English boy in Northern Russia? No idea! But philosophy aside: I TURNED 21 OVER THE WEEKEND!! And I did it in style too! By this I mean in a Russian nightclub, eating pizza* with the Finnish 'Guns n Roses'. Let me set the scene a little...

*nightclubs often serve food here though the service is slooooooooooooowwwwww

This weekend was the Carelian Faces international music festival! This yearly event is a ray of political sunshine in Nothern Russia promoting peace and international friendship through the combination of cheap beer and folk rock. Highlights included self-styled Rasta Man 'Papa Zai' and his reggae politics. He regularly stopped his "Selecta" to announce things like:  "Crowd-a people...all we need is to burn tha' germs in society and get ridda corruption" - always to raptuous applause. There was a brilliant female-fronted Russian punk/rock group who sang in an obscure Finnish dialect, as well as 'Caroline' (the aforementioned Finnish Guns n Roses) who broke hearts and guitars on the main stage in their tight leather, bandanas, guyliner and heels.

After we had all fallen in love with their inimitable swagger we followed their camp-as-you-like tour van to the afterparty at a Russian nightclub on the otherside of town. It was quite a trek and as we wondered the city streets we discussed Gogol (as is the custom) and picked up a trail of other drunken festival goers who had stopped at wayside kiosks to get refreshments. This is an interesting and excellent Russian pecularity as at any time of day, seemingly seven days a week, you can find these kiosks open. Each one has its own pecularity. Most are diddy off-liscences others are fruit and veg shops, so whether you have a mad craving for another brew or are going cold turkey from an abscence of cashew nuts all you have to do is leave your flat and head towards the glowing neon of the nearest 'Zodiac' kiosk - absolutely ace! It does feel a little odd speaking into the little window to the cashier though...As if the poor person inside is doomed to a life of being perpetually awoken by drunken foreigners tapping the glass window and demanding liquid gratification in dreadful Russian. Passing money through a little window and receiving chocolate and beer in return though is a wonderful experience but I still miss Oxford kebab-van banter quite badly...

Eventually we found ourselves in a club underneath what looked like a swanky office building. The entrance hall was bizarre and massive. According to the custom in most Russian, buildings bars and clubs, we had to first locate the cloakroom and trade-in our jackets for a piece of plastic with a number on it. Failure to comply usually results in looks of disgust and your being dragged away by bouncers. It'll be the same situation with boots when the snow comes...

Valya - the first girl to ever buy me flowers...
The next morning, being my birthday-proper, I awoke to my first present: not having a hangover. I stared at my fresh-faced reflection in the mirror with genuine surprise. My experiences of Russian beer so far have been akin to batheing in salt and I've often woken up after just one or two drinks to a swimming headache and chapped, dried-out skin. I assume it is the cheapness of the beer, the addition of many chemicals and the fact you never know how strong draught is.

Anyway haha! Not today fools! I was plucky and bounded into the kitchen, narrowly missing Luis the cat's tail, only to be greeted by Valya, my landlady, who gave me an extra friendly "Dobroye OOtroH!" before wishing me a happy birthday with a multi-layered gateaux, flowers, a mug of Karelia and a bottle of political "stop-using-my-shampoo" shampoo.

My birthday cake :)
I happily ate my porridge as quick as possible and taking a mug of tea and some cake back to my room began to open cards from home and display them all over my room. Then I got hurridly showered and dressed and bounded into town for my combined birthday meal with Ben and the rest of our group of English students. We'd picked the local Karelian-themed restaurant which proved to be an incredible experience in itself. After pulling open the heavy, wooden doors we stepped into the main body of the restaurant. It was laid out like the inside of a traditional Karelian home, wood-pannelled, very warm and full of cultural bits and bobs. Fake windows were a novel way of framing pictures of the countryside and kept up the illusion of being in a Karelian village decades ago.

The food was somehow even better. We tried everything from yak pie to home-grown, vegetable platters and sampled some genuine Russian Kvass - a kind of summer beer, very bready and fresh. If you're ever in Petrozavodsk, and have quite a bit of money on you, then seriosuly consider finding this place it's called: Kareliskaya Gornitsa and is opposite the Hotel Severnaya.

We rounded off the birthdays with cheesecake and milkshakes ala clockwork orange in Begemot which I needn't praise anymore for fear of becoming an online advertising agent.

So now that i'm able to drink in the USA and, according to one of our teachers "marry without my parents consent", I feel its time to get back into routine and head off for another week of Russian uni, folk dancing and trying to run a semi-indulgent travel blog (with hopeless spelling mistakes)...cheers for reading!

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