Looking for Ecuador

I was walking down Dostoevsky Street when a middle-aged dame jumped right at me from out of Candle Lane and screamed, “What an obnoxious street, solid zigzags! There’s no way I can find the right address!”

Somewhat blown away by the notion of a “zigzag street” in Petersburg, I asked what street she needed.

Razyezzhaya, 12. Ecuador is there too.”

“Ecuador!?” I repeated, even more flabbergasted.

“Well, yeah.”

“Razyezzhaya is over there,” I said, pointing up ahead. “You haven’t reached it yet, but you’re blaming the zigzags, although you can actually break your leg here in South America.”

The woman looked at me unkindly, and quickened her pace. I caught up with her at the intersection of Dostoevsky and Razyezzhaya. She was pestering a young fellow about which way Number 12 was even as she stood right under a sign that showed the range of house numbers on that block. The young man was in fact trying to point the sign out to her.

Then she saw me and charged off in the right direction, gesticulating and repeating, “One moron after another.” And I, waving at her as she walked away, suddenly realized that she had meant Aquaphor, [a water filter store] in the consumer services center on the corner of Razyezzhaya and Bolshaya Moskovskaya, not Ecuador.

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 3 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Serving Russia is real work: voluntary service in the armed forces”: a recruitment ad outside Yamskoi Market in downtown Petersburg. Photo by Marina Varchenko, who captioned it on Facebook as follows: “The horrors of our little town.”

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 19 March 2023


Today I wound up in the Metropolitan Garden at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Even though it’s March, the weather was wintry: sunny, frosty, pretty clouds in a blue sky, birds chirping. It was fine. I wandered around, taking pictures (which I’ll show you later). A fairly young lady came towards me and looked at me and my camera.

“What is there to shoot here?” she said. “Go to Kazakhstan, to such and such city”—I’ve forgotten the name—”there is definitely something to shoot there.”

I was so taken aback that I said nothing in reply, which is strange for me in such circumstances.

Okay, whatever: I’d had my little walk. As I was leaving the garden I saw a twenty-something kid begging pitifully and mournfully for money to buy food. When someone gave him ten rubles, he would ask for twenty. When someone gave him twenty, he would ask for forty. When I handed him a 100-ruble bill, he asked for 200 — so insistently that I decided I wouldn’t give more. So he shouted, “That’s something, at least” at me as I walked away, his voice dripping with mockery. Okay, the day was getting interesting.

I wanted to go to the Fontanka, but I was tired already. I decided to take a bus down Nevsky several stops. The bus was packed. I was shoved up against some old biddy, who immediately asked, “Is this where I get off for the Interior Ministry House of Culture?” That was when I let loose about culture, and the Interior Ministry, and everything else. The passengers responded aggressively. Basically, I didn’t make it to the Fontankа — I got off earlier. Otherwise, I would have risked being charged with defamation.

I walked the rest of the way to the Fontanka. The sun was shining, and it was beautiful. I began to calm down. I saw a decent-looking dude, opposite the Mayakovsky Library, doing number one right into the Fontanka. People were walking by him, trying not to notice. I decided to walk on by too: otherwise, I would have got carried away again. As I walked by I was thinking about culture, of course.

I turned onto Lomonosov Street, then onto Razyezzhaya. Seeing a young woman coming toward me, I tensed up in advance. “Where is Dostoevsky Street, 12?” she asked.

“I don’t know where Number 12 is exactly, but it’s somewhere nearby. But you have just passed Dostoevsky Street, you need to turn around and go back,” I said to her, pointing with my hand.

I went on, but the girl stared at her smartphone. And don’t you know, she took off away from Dostoevsky, not toward it.

Since I was freaking out big-time as it was, I went into a store, hoping that nothing would happen at the final frontier before home. And everything did go well, but while I was unloading my groceries at the checkout, the cashier lady was possessed to congratulate me on the upcoming holiday [International Women’s Day], and I was likewise possessed to reply that I didn’t celebrate communist holidays. In a nutshell, I walked out (ran out) of the store as old women and not only old women screamed at me that they had lived well under the Communists, but “liberasts” like me had ruined everything. Yes, sir, it wasn’t a good day.

Source: Marina Varchenko (Facebook), 7 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader

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