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A DIFFERENT COLOUR

Автор: duffspb
Коментариев: 0
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Добавлено: 19.01.2010
Версия Для Печати

It's 20 years since the Iron Curtain came down, but today's Russia still remains a very remote place for many Europeans west of Kiev. We're probably more familiar with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky's characters than with the Russians of today. When Christian Diemer met a group of young musicians in St Petersburg, he stumbled into a disturbing world of new experiences. Here he brings us a unique insight into modern Russian subculture: it’s a story of snow, beer and music…

St Petersburg, 17th of January 2009.

It's at a party at a foreigners' student hostel that I get to know Pasha Leningradsky, my Russian friend. With his straggly, white-blond hair, pale face and red eyes, there is something profoundly Dostoevskyan about him. Of course, he's drunk. He stares at a Hungarian girl, with a disconcerting Expression of greed, affection and despair, for minutes on end, without saying a word. His pal, Jeff, is leaning in the corner; in the middle of the party he reminds me of the almost-dead grandmother in David Lynch's Eraserhead, whose only sign of life is the smoking end of a cigarette stuck between her motionless lips.

"Pasha likes you," he brings out after a while, his empty gaze resting on the Hungarian girl. "He is too shy to tell you himself."

No idea who invited these two to the party. When a Australian student is firmly convinced that I am Lev and not Christian, I notice that there are even more of Pasha’s Russian friends here. Lev, with whom I actually share only somewhat longer, blond hair, could be Pasha’s luckier twin; with bright, vivid eyes he has the look of a poet, and with a resonant voice of enraptured passion he talks me into reading Bul'gakov.

Somehow he actually does seem to be a poet, and somehow Pasha and his apathetic friend seem to be musicians. Pasha wants my mobile number to meet up with me and drink beer. If he calls, maybe I shouldn't go there alone, I think. Hell knows what they might want.

Bugry, 28th of February 2009.

I've forgotten Pasha when he calls, five weeks later. His instructions are simple: they're drinking beer at his place, and I'm to come and join them. I have a laptop and a camera in my backpack, I'm wearing expensive clothes. I say yes.

From Nevsky, the fashionable luxury boulevard in the pulsating city centre, I head outside, a seemingly endless series of metro stations I’ve never heard of. When I come back to the surface, I find myself in a vast desert of concrete monoliths – the outer district of the huge city, and in the snow-covered dark one can guess how this was once meant to be futuristic. But I'm still only half way to Pasha: now it’s bus 99 with a driver from the 1001 nights, and instead of being robbed I am invited to Samarkand, the driver’s hometown. I feel as if I've passed the end of the world when the sign "St Petersburg," crossed through, drifts past outside. Beyond the end of the world comes the end of the bus line. A few veterans are darting through the snow, bad roads, low houses, a chimney: Bugry, that’s where Pasha lives.
At his place, there is a girl baking bliny (Russian pancakes) and there are his friends, smoking and drinking. I can hardly understand anything of their slang. I can see that they talk about me, they call me the "Nemets," the "German," but whenever I ask, I am assured that everything is fine. Pasha is the only one to take the trouble – from time to time – to try and "translate" their language into the couple of sounds and words I might understand. I'm to make myself at home, so much I can make out, I'm to take everything I want, cigarettes, beer, food, cats, beds, without asking, and if anything disturbs me I'm to give a clout to the one responsible; he would love to accommodate me for the next week, if I wanted.

I am irritated by this aggressive hospitality, even more because at the same time I still fear for my laptop. I mean, I don't know these guys at all, I have hardly seen them before, I don't understand what they're talking about. What I know, see and understand is that they are people I would normally never be in contact with. Not only because they are Russian - I have a few Russian acquaintances, but they are different. I can’t even tell whether they hate me for me being obviously Western and wealthy, or if they make fun of me because I'm a foreigner and that slow in the uptake, maybe they would just like to be by themselves. Or maybe not, maybe they really want me to be here with them. They seem to find it very surprising that I help the girl prepare the bliny, but somehow I am longing for someone closer to me. I do not feel at home but exposed to an environment that is unsettlingly distant from my own.

And yet there is something warm. The family's apartment, somewhat untidy due to the parent’s absence, is something one could call cosy. The furniture, which almost looks like cheap Biedermeier, the wide beds in the dim sleeping rooms, somewhere I find a shabby teddy bear. The cat is hovering around, occasionally shouted at by Pasha from the kitchen. Orange streetlamps with a halo of illuminated snowflakes are looking distantly through the Windows… all this evokes deep inside me the vague feeling of home.

Next evening I come again. That's when they start playing the music. All of a sudden, two guitars, rather out of tune, are picked up from somewhere on the floor, the girl does the percussion – on a pot. A rough Russian rap is improvised, I don't understand a lot, it is about sex, about work, but I like it. I stay overnight, ending up on a sofa next to the girl, while Pasha and his friend keep smoking, drinking, and obsessively playing chess during the entire night.


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