Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Which I Experience a BIG Bang!

Temperature: -6C
Snow: Not much. Honestly, they clean the streets and sidewalks so quickly and regularly. In fact, if it snows in the night, we know it because we can hear the SCRAPE, SCRAPE, SCRAPE of the shovels on the sidewalks.
Number of Requests for Directions on the Street: I haven’t been out yet today. But yesterday a woman asked me if she was heading the right way for the metro, and I knew and said, “DA!” About a week ago a woman corralled me in front of the French school and asked how to get to the Turgenevskaya metro. I knew, but couldn’t say anything specific. (I couldn’t get the word Turgenevskaya out. It’s hard. Say it with me now: Tur gen ev skaya.) So I just pointed. She didn’t believe me and snagged another passer-by who confirmed what I was trying to communicate through mime. When she realized that I did, indeed, know, she was very apologetic and said, “Merci!”

Yesterday was a roller coaster ride with three distinctive parts.

I Take Russian Lessons My first lesson was on Monday. I found Russian Teacher through the wonderful, life-saving, time-sucking The short story here is that I think he will work out fine for me. But it’s a difficult language. It is not a language I ever had much interest in learning. However, my time here will clearly be richer if I can be a little more 3-dimensional.

I really am a rank beginner. I don’t even know all the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet yet. But every day I grasp another one or two and then find, to my delight, that I can read, albeit S L O W L Y, another ad on the metro. Tuesday, after staring at a series of ads for a magazine that looks like a Russian version of Newsweek, the words Russian Reporter finally materialized before my eyes.

“Hey! That says Russian Reporter!” I say to Baboo, who looks up from her copy of Turgenev’s Отцы и дети.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

“Well, I just this minute figured it out!” I say proudly.

“Yeah,” she sighs, slightly. “I know.”

So Russian Teacher has his work cut out for him. From 10:00 until noon, Monday and Wednesday. At the end of two hours of struggling yesterday, I am able to read and understand the following:

This is progress, but now I am exhausted.

I Am a Bad Mother He leaves. I eat a little soup, and am considering a nap, when my phone beeps. I have an SMS. From Baboo. Why would Baboo be sending me a text message during the school day when phones are forbidden? Maybe she is sick?

No. I open the message, which reads, Where are you? I am waiting.


Oh, shit. It’s Wednesday! On Wednesday Baboo is done right after lunch (except for the one Wednesday a month when she has no school at all). I have forgotten my child!

I frantically phone Braveheart, who lives a mere ten minutes from the school. Braveheart is on the case, and hurries over to school to collect my child for me. I head over to Braveheart’s, as fast as I can on the icy sidewalks.

Really, one can only move so fast some days. I watch people ahead of me slip at times. Some places are always icy, and I know where those are now. Others can sneak up on you. I finally fell last Friday on my way out the door to a Happy Hour, although it wasn’t a complete SPLAT but a 3-point landing as I put my right hand down first and didn’t end up lying flat on the ground. And, more impressive, several people walking past me PAUSED to see if I was okay.

But I digress.

Thankfully, my child was not shivering out in the schoolyard all alone when Braveheart arrived. And she was matter-of-fact and even slightly amused by the whole thing.

But I felt awful.

The Big BANG! Then the day took an even more bizarre twist.

A short while later, Braveheart and I are sitting in her kitchen. There was a terrific BOOM! as if someone doing construction had dropped a large piece of something. The whole building shook, and a car alarm began to shriek.The children had been playing on a computer while perched in a large window seat in the front of the apartment. Suddenly they come running into the kitchen, shouting, "Something has happened!"

The building across the street is on fire!

We can see that the windows have all blown out, leaving dangling bits of the wooden frames and shards of glass on the sills. There is an Asian woman, frantic in a second floor window, and what first appears to me to be a body lying below her in the street. But no, it is her belongings. She and some other people in the building with her have begun to throw clothes out onto the street.

A crowd gathers below her, and she climbs out of the window and sits on the sill, as if preparing to jump. The rooms behind her are dark, and she keeps looking back there, and then below at the crowd. Smoke is now pouring over the top of the building, coming from the side we cannot see. As she turns to look behind and below, we can see her head is bleeding. I see what look like couch cushions on the sidewalk now. If they came from her or from someone on the street, I don’t know. But again, she makes as if to jump.

We escort the children away from the front of the house, with promises of SpongeBob and Jetix TV. I take Skittles to judo.

Thankfully, there is fire station right there, and the firefighters are quick to respond. As Skittles and I walk out the front door, we can see someone has placed a ladder below the windows where the woman and other people were perched. This is good. But I can see and smell the smoke the whole walk to judo class.

About two hours later, when I returned with Skittles, the fire was clearly out and the firefighters were winding up their hoses. We pass Braveheart’s concierge.

"Gas," she tells me somberly.