Sometimes, every now and then, I forget that I'm living in a foreign country. When I'm in my house, for example, which is like a little island here, our warm American bubble (a little TOO warm, thanks to the overly enthusiastic radiators). But most of the time, I find myself taking in all the sights, sounds and smells that make up Yekaterinburg with a sense of wonder. It's a little surreal, being here, like a parallel world, or a dream (albeit a really long dream).
As I was walking home today, I started making a list of all the now-familiar sights that I see every day on my walk to and from work. I thought I'd share them with you, so you could get a sense of what my everyday life is like here.
When I leave the consulate to come home at the end of the day, I smile at the Russian guards, who sort of know me now and occasionally acknowledge me. (Incidentally, on our walk to work this morning, John and I saw a girl smiling at something on her phone; it was so rare that we actually had a conversation about it.) Then I cross through a parking lot riddled with potholes and make my way to the street crossing that will surely lead to my demise at some point in the next two years. As I said to John the other day, crossing that street is like staring into the face of death. Sometimes I get lucky and can cross immediately. Other times I stand there for four or five minutes before there's a big enough break in the traffic to run across. Occasionally, I give up and go the long way home, which takes almost ten minutes longer.
Once my heart-rate has returned to normal, I continue down the sidewalk and generally observe the other commuters out on the street. The men here really do dress terribly. It's generally some mix of athletic apparel and Euro fashion, which is, for the record, not a good combo. The women, on the other hand, are impractically fashionable. Even the female militia members who walk around outside the consulate wear skirts and heels with their pointy caps and batons. Despite the fact that it's not actually that cold here yet (40s for the most part), people are dressed like it's full-up winter, with fur-trimmed coats and knit hats. Their lower halves are a different story; most women wear skirts and tights with their high-heeled boots (and I've actually joined them, since my pants get too muddy during the walk. It's easier to just wipe my boots off at the end of the day). Russians apparently never got the memo about pantyhose, which they wear even when the weather is warm. I have yet to see a pair of bare legs.
I could write an entire essay about Russian hair. The woman here have some of the healthiest hair I've ever seen, which boggles my mind since the chlorine content in the water is so high that my hair is a frazzled mess (or maybe it's the heavy metals that don't agree with my hair. Hard to say). I've never seen so much waist-length, perfectly straight hair in my life. Occasionally you'll glimpse a woman with a 1980s Vidal Sassoon bob, but long hair is definitely the trend. Sadly, when it comes to men, the mullet is alive and well.
When I can see the ancient wooden house on the corner, I know I'm almost home. It's hard to believe that people actually live in these houses, which look like something out of a Russian fairytale. Even the metalwork on the windows and rain gutters is ornate. Unfortunately, the majority of the architecture I see every day isn't nearly as pleasant; mostly it's crumbling apartment buildings adorned with graffiti or ugly mirrored-glass paneling. I pass by several produktis on my way home, tiny grocery stores that you'll find on almost every block, along with the little kiosks that sell nothing but fruits and vegetables (sadly, the selection isn't great at this time of year).
I'm usually welcomed home by several giant gray and black birds, Hooded Crows, cawing noisily overhead. And then, of course, there's one more creature ready to greet me once I pass through the front door of our apartment: my little Jack, who's always himself, no matter what part of the world we're in.