Tomorrow the music begins – S and I are going to see Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Bolshoi. And we had a good time this afternoon sitting around at a cafe griping about the Met (S lives in New Jersey). I know, complain complain complain, but sometimes it’s fun to get a good gripe in.
We are staying with an extremely temperamental friend of hers, an individual named Derek (he’s a PhD student in Slavic Studies) who is the sort that will hand over the keys to his very nice shared flat in Arbat and offer to give a tour of the city – but when asked what he might have in mind for said tour will lose his temper and say forget it and what do we want from him, and when he is in this state he’s best left alone. S says he is a very nice person but a little high strung.
And it’s sort of grad school redux around here in a more general way. The two other flatmates (one is American, the other Russian) are both students, and the American one is frantically attempting to finish a master’s thesis by either today or tomorrow. So he has that hollow kind of panicked look that people sometimes get at that stage. Whenever I meet graduate students, I am always very glad that that part of my life is over. I mean, it was fun, and I actually did like being a student even though I suspect I do not take the profession as seriously as some of my colleagues, but I am glad to have the degree. Rattling around in foreign cities for months on end is part of the process if you’re doing archival work, and it’s often an enormous amount of fun, but it’s one of those processes that can also be both extremely lonely and extremely stressful.
The stresses of student life may be behind the several ashtrays on the kitchen table here and the little pile of empty cookie packets nearby. (Or, alternately, the ashtrays may just be a fixture – people smoke a lot here. It’s been a while since I have been in a cafe where not only are there ashtrays on the tables, but if there isn’t one, someone turns up, unasked, to provide one. Russia is probably a regretful ex-smoker’s paradise: all that second hand smoke, which means you can inhale as much as you like with no guilt, because you really can’t help it.)