Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Culture shock

When I got home I experienced a bit of culture shock. About twelve hours after getting home I headed out on the subway to visit a friend who lives out of town. For those who know Boston, I was on the Green Line, which admittedly isn't our fastest. In fact, I found it incredibly slow and I'm convinced that at its top speed it was still slower than a Minsk subway train is running before its last car leaves the station.

Now let's talk about who was on this train with me. I felt that the only colorful clothes I saw didn't fit properly, and the few people wearing tailored clothes wore extremely plain and drab colors. Apparently you can have color or fit here, but it's unusual to find both. I'm going to shape up and stop dressing like a slob when I go to the gym.

Some of my return-home contrasts were much less jarring. My health club, for example, offers a dazzling array of facilities in a clean and modern environment unlike anything I saw in Belarus. And I sure did enjoy riding high-tech bicycle I keep at home. I don't know where I could have bought anything even approximately like it in Belarus.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

On the way home

I wasn’t sure I really knew Minsk all that well yet, but as we left the city I realized how much I recognized along the main road leading toward the airport. My subway line runs under this road and I recognized pretty much everything all the way from our apartment as far as the State Library. I watched it all go by with considerable nostalgia and longing to return. Of course I will be back; I’ve already filed my application at the University.

Alla and I are trying to speak Russian to each other now. It’s surprising how much I can talk about, and it’s also pretty painful to struggle many minutes to say something simple.

Now we’re in Frankfurt. During the cold months there’s no afternoon flight to Boston so we booked a hotel here. When we emerged into the main railway station we saw vividly the scope of choices in the western world. We probably wouldn’t have noticed it except by contrast to the place we just left. We were amazed even by the variety of sandwiches laid out at a fast-food takeout restaurant. You don’t get nearly so many choices anywhere in Belarus.

We’re enjoying our little foray into Frankfurt. We found our way to a pleasant restaurant beside a church, and we arrived just as the church bells began ringing. I wonder how many bell-ringers it took to play the change-ringing we heard before entering the restaurant. All I can say for sure is that they got our attention and stopped us in our tracks.

Having gone to bed rather late last night and still awakened at the usual time, we’re feeling pretty tired tonight. This is probably a good thing because we guessed wrong about the room we chose at our hotel. We went for a room on the first floor because the upper room facing the quiet courtyard seemed small to us. Unfortunately, the municipal services people chose tonight as the optimal time to jackhammer the streetcar line outside our window. Imagine my disappointment, then, to discover that the hotel has filled up and it’s too late now to change rooms. The woman at the desk assured me that the city workers promised to stop jackhammering after an hour. I hope they keep that promise. Looking out the window, I’d guess I’ll be wearing earplugs all night.