This morning we said farewell to our first wonderful host city, Warsaw. As we were being shuttled to the airport one of my fellows asked why it is that he did not see anyone jaywalking while staying in the city. The tour guide in response talked to us about how Polish mentality has changed over the past two decades and how people started paying attention to and gaining respect for each other and their surroundings. As an example she brought up pickpockets, who are now spare in Warsaw. Most, if not all of them are over 70, who spend most of their life having thievery as the only way to survive the hardships of Polish history. Suddenly, that wonderful positiveness that all Poles radiate so much made perfect sense. These people care for each other and they are genuinely happy - we have so much to learn from them!
One last thought on Poland and then I promise I will get started on Russia.
The poster above could be seen pretty much all over town since we landed in Warsaw. On our city tour we asked our tour guide about it and she explained that the actor on it was popular in Poland right before the first semi-democratic elections were held in 1989 and that is why the democrats decided to use his image in their campaign. Upon further research I found out that the poster was actually designed by a young graphic artist named Tomasz Sarnecki, whose concept was that a Polish version of the sheriff (Gary Cooper) from the American western, High Noon, would be a perfect symbol of freedom and justice taking power for the first time in modern Polish history. The bottom reads: "High Noon: June 4th, 1989" and instead of a gun Gary Cooper holds a folded ballot with red letters ("ELECTION"). While the leaders of the democratic bloc were not too enthusiastic about the concept, over time it gained extreme popularity and soon became a symbol of the American democratization in the entire Soviet bloc. Pretty cool, ha?
Ever since I found out about us coming here this summer I have been beyond excited about visiting the old Nabokov House (now Nabokov Museum) at 47 Boshaya Marskaya. He spoke so fondly about this city and his time here and at the house, I knew something very special was in store for us there. I will talk more about Nabokov tomorrow after having visited the place not only the facade... I am sorry that I keep bragging about this, I am just so very excited!!!
So, getting through Russian customs and immigration wasn't half as bad as it was told to will have had been. The airport was super nice and modern and the immigration officers were friendly and helpful. As we were leaving the airport, we had a chance to see the old terminal building which I wish was open to tourists. It was a stunning sight, a flat concrete building with five (?) upside down cupcake bottoms of thick glass on top. These glass domes are a perfect representatives of the functional-decorational easthetics of Soviet architecture in the 60s and 70s. According to the main architect, Alexander Zhuk, the idea for the five glass domes came from the old soviet glass tumbler that was used in restaurants, bars, cafeterias and in pretty much every home. Legend says that he was out drinking with his friends and as he decided he had enough and announced his turning in, he turned a glass upside down on the table and the vision of the building appeared in his head. My photo of this gem is not very impressive as we were speeding by and it was raining but it is still worth a quick look:
Saint Petersburg looks as if Budapest and Venice were mushed together and stretched out. Having read so much about it in Russian literature I arrived with a lot of expectations and I must say it satisfied all of them, even the contradicting ones :)
As it is the white nights, our little group of 11 decided to go on a late night walking trip to the Saint Isaac Cathedral and observe the midnight sunset from the top. It was worth every step! We had a stunning view of the entire city in the slowly dimming light, it was extremely touching to experience the Earth's globe-ness this way. And, I am sorry, but I must:
I will have some funny stories tomorrow. For now, I will say goodnight with another Russian literary reference, please guess in the comments (two things to assume: 1. the picture was taken in Moscow, 2. the cat was giant)