Archive Page 3


i’m the walrus

What could be more fitting than this famous and delirious Beatles song to introduce the St Petersburg Walrus Club. You’ve very likely heard of them: they’re the headcases who dig holes in the 1m thick ice of the frozen Neva to go for a quick swim, throughout winter, temperature irrelevant. Well, as they say, it’s warmer in the water.


I must immediately admit to not having taken this picture, as I couldn’t bring myself to walk all the way to the “sheltered” spot they use. It’s difficult to reach by public transport and no, I don’t like to walk for 45 minutes by -17C. Also, I thought I might die of instant whole-body frostbite if I witnessed the event in person.

In the much balmier weather of early April (still only 8 degrees with a chill wind, however sunny), I finally paid a visit to the Walruses. You know when you’re entering their territory:

Man you been a naughty boy, you let your teeth grow long

While people in coats and scarves go by along the battlements of the Pietropavlosky Fortress, the Walruses work on their tan.

Boy you been a naughty girl, you let your trousers down

They are quite a tourist attraction and the guides who give tours of the Fortress never fail to point them out (as if they weren’t noticeable enough) when they reach the main suntanning spot. Standing is supposed to give you a proper tan.

Sitting in an English garde waiting for the sun /If the sun don't come you get a tan /From standing on a Russian beach

The leaning against the wall is important: I don’t know how but the granite (I think it’s granite) retains the heat to a surprising degree, you can feel it even through clothes.

Attila the Hun: surprisingly body-conscious.

Oh yeah, and, “He’s the eggman, he’s the walrus”, obviously.


royally taking the p*ss

I came across this today, on an incredibly long ramble I went on to make up for the fact that I couldn’t visit Velikii Novgorod (Novgorod The Great) as initially planned. We’re having the first of two consecutive 3-day weekends and all of a sudden tickets to everywhere that’s not St Petersburg are sold out.

Anyway, since we’ve been hearing quite a lot about the Windsor family lately, I found it funny to come across this rather irreverent portrait of Liz just now. It’s a sign for a clothes shop.

I thought I would generate some annoyance and jealousy by mentioning that in Russia, when a bank holiday falls on a weekend day, they give you the monday off instead…and when the bank holiday in question is the hallowed 1st of May, well, there’s just no cheating the People out of their birthright.

And next week we’ve got the 9th of May to look forward to. This is the biggie, the 1st has lost a bit of its shine since the USSR is no more, although it is still celebrated, and not just by the few surviving Commies in their reserves. But the day of the Victory of the Red Army, who kicked the Rodina-invading Nazis all the way back to Berlin is HUGE. They have military parades to end all military parades, I should know, I’ve seen the guys rehearse in full uniform on Dvortsovy Ploshad, almost every morning on the way to work, since early April. They all had number tags on their backs, probably to remind them of their running order; we think that’s because they can’t count to ten. Expect some fun pics…


southernstan bridge

Or whatever it’s called. It sits on the Fontanka river, sticking out. I always think of it as pagoda bridge because I fid the little pointy tops a bit Oriental-looking. Although that style could conceivably be from that unnamed zone south of Russia, East of the Middle East, North-West of India and Pakistan. I call it The Stans: Kzakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan. Excluding only their demonic neighbour, Afghanistan. The Southern Republics. The blind spot on the world map no-one knows quite where to place, that can only be described by where and what it’s not, because no-one’s been there or knows what it looks like, the black hole, the antimatter.

This is probably utter nonsense born of my overexcited brain, so what. I like not knowing, the world’s no fun if you know everything. Why shouldn’t this be Southernstan style? A mix of Islamic, Indian and Rus. I don’t even know the bridge’s name, can’t seem to find it on any map. All very mysterious.

Photo taken when the ice was beginning to melt, a whole...4 weeks ago.

Just another Peterite oddity...



Out of the melting snow heaps, emerge a multitude of sins…

Pure as the driven snow, 5 months on...

So smoking is bad for your health, but I wonder exactly how lethal a drink contained in a bottle that colour can be? What’s more toxic, the liquid itself (more likely an alcopop or energy drink than a beer, although I’ve come across some revolting flavoured concotions) or the industrial grade chemical pigments saturating the bottle? If anyone feels like putting their life on the line in the name of science and morbid curiosity, I can bring back a specimen…


baden-powell would have hated this

My first 3 weeks in Piter, I lived near Pionerskaya Station, in the north of the city, where the classic tourisitc image of St Petersburg is only a vague memory lost among behemoth resdiential blocs and three lane motorways: “Boulevard de la Laideur Habitable” wrote a Belgian author about an avenue in Beijing, “Inhabitable Ugliness Boulevard”, here too, I guess, but as I wrote here or there, I like presence, I like atmosphere, and ugly does both better than pretty ever could.

Entrance to Pionerskaya Station, with looming megabloc in the background

Aww, Soviet Bambi. The rather lovely Pioneers statue outside the station.

But back to my intended subject: Pioneers. They’re Commie Boy and Girl Scouts, basically. Only the species is now extinct,  membership was compulsory, and they worshipped Lenin not God -although the difference is far from obvious. They even nicked the motto,  as can be seen on the official badge below:

"Vsiegda gatov!" = Always ready. Copycats!

As retold by a friend who was lucky enough (!) to be roped into it, they mostly sang edifying hymns to the glory of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Motherland, and did all sorts of Good Deeds, for fundraising or just to be useful to the community. These included clearing junk from courtyards and reselling anything not too rotten at the next Lada-boot sale. Of course, the opportunities for cutting yourself with a scrap of rusty metal and getting tetanus, or dropping a wheelbarrow full of bricks on your young Comrade’s foot, or getting a hernia or slipped disc from carrying old leaky fridges were plentiful. Character-building stuff.

I found trainers just like these in Primark last year

Who said “Hitlerjugend”? This is completely different, isnt’it? I mean, look at the flags. More seriously, organisations dedicated to twisting the minds of the young have been a distinguishing feature of every dictatorship worth its salt, the Communist regime was no exception. Did I tell you -or maybe you know anyway- that Reds are not Dead in Russia? A bit like Mussolini’s granddaughter being a bit of a hit in Italy, thanks to delirious old mammas who remember that he made trains run on time. Honestly, when they showed her going to a market to glad-hand the locals, this is what they were all saying to her, that under her grandad, clocks and everything else were on time. WHAT DO YOU CARE about train schedules, you pestilential old hags??? What is it with you people and your obsession with the 15.34 from Fachista to Blackshirto being in the station bang on the dot??? You never leave your fucking hole except to go to church and pray that Jesus will come back to throw all the Arabs in the sea! You don’t even want to go to Rome or Torino, it’s full of foreigners!!

Deep breaths. End of rant. Well, over here it’s the same kind of misguided nostalgia that keeps a faction of Communists on the political scene. People remember the few good things in their everyday lives, especially if they were children at the time, and forget or embellish the rest. Like the fact that nothing actually worked that well, that shops were usually empty or selling crap no-one wanted, that efficient organisation was an alien concept to factory managers -why bother, it was all pre-planned, the state told you in advance what your production rates and profits would be…Like French playwright Courteline once wrote: “What would happen if you moved Communism to the desert? For 50 years, nothing. After that: sand shortage.” Ah, the joys of the centrally-planned economy…

Here’s an excerpt from a blog called “Real USSR”:

“We became less free!” — this shout of despair can be heard from many blogs. Here is one more citation: ”I recall that time, and the main sensation is the feeling of uttermost freedom. Life was not subordinated to such tight schedule as it is now, and there was plenty of free time. Our parents’ vacations lasted for month and if someone was ill he could easily be on a sick leave, instead of continuing working being half-alive. You could go anywhere you wanted, and nobody would ever stop you. There were no coded locks and on-door speakerphones, there were no security guards at each entrance, in each shop. The airport was an extremely interesting place from where travel began, instead of being a part of the high security zone. In general, there were very few tablets with inscriptions like “No trespassing!”, “For personnel only”, “Stay away” etc.

There is a strange metamorphosis of memoirs. In the Soviet Union there were much more frightening inscriptions like “No trespassing!” — but childhood memories erase them.” 

The whole article is an interesting read, if you’re interested, follw the link: ussr/behind-the-myth-veil/

It goes on to describe why the bad old days hold such appeal for some, especially the 70’s generation who didn’t see the horrors of the Stalinian era. It’s the same as everywhere else in the world it seems. The old order values are collapsing, leaving people confused and having to make choices for themselves for the first time, as dominating religions and prescriptive political ideologies are being kicked out, they -we- discover freedom has a price, a first commandment: “Thou shalt think for yourselves” * There is nothing scarier it seems, or else why would we flock like sheep behind “strong daddy” authority figures? And as the equipment needed for thinking isn’t evenly spread between all existing human brains, many seek guidance in the worst places, according to the old “better the devil you know” principle. Let’s hope they won’t turn out to be a majority.

Hmm, so very serious today aren’t I, can’t think why, it’s even sunny and warm-ish here in the Kultural Kapital. I’ve borrowed this unflattering description of Piter from Will, fellow resident alien, who has a powerful love-hate relationship with it and writes about it well. If you read me you must like a good rant every now and then, I can guarantee he won’t disappoint on that head either.

Can’t resist showing another USSR kitsch photo:

So wrong. Vladimir Illytch looks like he's enjoying himself...

Today I’m starting my Daywatch**: dawn happens around 5:15 am, and it gets dark at about 10:15 pm. White Nights, this way!

The temperature is going up at long last, with the inevitable corollary that the mosquito population of our good city is waking up. I didn’t think monsters that big existed outside the effing rainforest, their bite is as bad as their buzz, and they like my skin, the bastards. It’s all logical, because StP was built over a swamp. What a jolly good idea! So, this Peter guy gets fed up with Moscow and instead of invading lovely warm Kiev, canters north to a disease-ridden swamp and kills tens of thousands to build a city there out of highly polished granite, of all bloody materials, thereby ensuring many broken legs/noses/teeth, because in a place that freezes solid 5 out of 12 months, polished granite slabs are the stupidest thing you could build the pavements with!! And they call him the Great???

"You missed a bit over there. You shall be flogged to death to amuse the moujiks"

PS: In case you’re wondering why there never are any capital letters in my titles: the blog template I’ve chosen actually prevents me from using them. No letter must stick out! We’re all equal! It’s a Commie template!! I thought it was a sign, that this was the one for me.

I’m off to drink a Baltika in the sun. This is the local beer, made with Baltic seawater. Not really.

* Many thanks to Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip for this line, if you don’t know who these oddly named people are, educate yourself here:

** “Daywatch” and “Nightwatch”: two very…Russian action/fantasy films, worth a look just to see how oddly their minds work! It’s good fun. Warning: contains scenes of violence soundtracked with heavy metal, like it’s 1988.



I was once a child-geek, obsessed with such things as prehistory (especially dinosaurs), human anatomy (especially skeletons), and outer space. I dread to think what would have happened if we’d had Dr Who in France at the time. Today I’ve forgotten most pre-human creature names, I still remember most bones and organs, but above all I’m still fascinated with anything happening above the stratosphere. Last tuesday, 12th of April, was the 50th anniversary of Mr. Gagarin’s 2 hour trip around the earth. The posters advertising an evening’s revelry for the occasion were all over town, and aren’t they just beautiful and kitsch-tastic:

CCCP 1 - USA 0

The truly Soviet-tastic statue in his honour in Moscow:

OK, so it wasn’t quite self-propelled flight as the monument appears to imply, but for 1961 it was quite a performance and an incredibly brave thing to do, as rockets do have a tendency to blow up…

I still haven’t managed to find one of those little Gagarin dolls I put on my Facebook profile pic a while ago, dammit.

Anyway, I couldn’t attend because my parents were here being tourists and I was the tour guide. Which explains why I have posted nowt in the past week.

PS: Проехали! (pronounced “Proyerali”, more or less) means something like “We’re off!” or “They’re off” (there’s no distinction in russian, at least in the absence of a pronoun) and that’s what they said in the control room when the rocket took off.

PPS: I was amazed and amused in equal measure when I realized that absolutely no-one this side of Kaliningrad believes the Americans walked on the moon. You will draw looks of pity at your naivety if you maintain the opposite. They’re so sure they actually managed to make me doubt.

PPPS: Kaliningrad is the westernmost Russian city. It’s separated from the mainland and utterly weirdly wedged between Poland and Lithuania.



Hermitage, shmhermitage. You’re way too shiny with your fresh coat of paint. Bring on the dust and the rust. Here’s to the louche derelict old palaces, falling to bits with the melancholy charm and unhealthy fascination of a syphilitic harlot.





(This above photo has to be one of my favourites ever…)