Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ho! Ho! Ho! A Study in Contrasts

I received a call last night from Trusted Girlfriend. Her husband had my Christmas tree; was it okay if he dropped it off at 7:45 this morning?

Okay?! That's terrific!

The girls, especially Skittles, have really been into the whole idea of Christmas. Last year was such a wash, what with the move and all happening, and our shipment being delayed. We spent what felt like an eternity in this empty apartment with only an air mattress (that leaked) and a few dishes for us (not even a coffee pot) and bunk beds for the girls and pieces of cardboard to play with. December 25 came. The girls opened a few gifts, and then the Spouse went to work (it isn't a holiday in Russia). By the time Russian Christmas/New Year's came, we had furniture, but it seemed too late and not the right time to be putting up decorations.

I stored the box on the stairs to the building attic. It's locked. The neighbors and we have keys, although technically we aren't supposed to. A few weeks ago, the woman who manages the people who maintain the building came along and, without accusing us of having keys we shouldn't, very nicely but firmly said we had to remove anything we wanted to keep from the stairs as they had to paint.

So the box moved into our bedroom. The cat likes to sleep on top of it, and slash at us with his claws when we walk by. Looks like we'll actually get to open it. Too bad for Cat-O.

I let the tree sit in its box for a while this morning as I harbored some sort of illusion that if I waited a bit, it would be light enough to see what I was doing. Around 10:00 I realized that this was about as light as things were going to get. I was sitting in the dark at the computer, and the rain outside was not about to suddenly stop, heralding blue skies and sunshine.

So I assembled the tree. It was harder than I expected. Here's how it looks right now.

If you follow the Lolcats link on the right of my page, you may be familiar with the "Basement Cat" concept. Here's one. Above you can see that I have my own. He is fascinated by the tree.

Buoyed by my productivity, I even got dressed and went to the grocery store. I filled my cart with eggplant, Parmesan (a real luxury here), avocados, cleaning supplies, milk, granola, grapefruit, wine. All in all, it was about a $100 trip. The clerk didn't put my change in my hand, but set it, coins and bills, on the counter. People often leave the small coins behind as they aren't worth much, and there is sort of a "Got a Penny? Leave a Penny/Need a Penny? Take a Penny" view on the kopecs. I collected my bills, but ignored the coins.

While I was bagging my purchases (the only store here that bags for you is the Why Pay Less? store), I noticed the fellow behind me.

He was grizzled and carried a cane. He didn't exactly look homeless, but he had that worn out look of the street drunks we so often see. He was buying a bottle of vodka, and I realized he was unsure if he had enough money.

I wish I knew more Russian because I would have just leaned over to the clerk and said, "This one's on me." But I couldn't. By the time I even cobbled together a few words in my head, he had pulled out the appropriate bills (all small) and was waiting for his change.

I probably would have only embarassed him.

But I felt awkward and self-conscious carrying my Trader Joe's and Mono Prix reusable bags full of groceries back to my apartment with my Christmas tree waiting.


Bob Bishopric said...

Why do cats like to do that sitting on things slashing at you thing? Our cat, Betty Boop, has what we refer to as a Tower of Terror--one of those three-tiered, carpeted cat perches with a big scratching pole. Having been slashed on the shoulder more than several times, we now automatically give the thing a wide berth, even when it's catless.

TRex said...

I got used to tossing 50 ruble notes around. Doing the underground walk thing, whatever. It buys a cheap bottle and at least three ppl are happy.

There is a tradition here that you cannot drink alone, you need three ppl.

So spread the joy when you can. Costs nothing.

The Expatresse said...

I knew about the three people thing. I often give a little something to the old guys I see in the "under passes" just singing with a cap out. And the guys with the street dogs. There's one near my kids' school who has no legs (the guy) and always has two muddy dogs with him. I see him sharing snacks with the dogs.

Kelsey said...

Hey there. I found you through link-surfing on various other expat blogs, and yours seems pretty neat! I'm currently an expat in Korea, and I tend to travel quite a bit, and I have a strong interest in Russia, and so I was wondering if I could add you to my blogroll? You can add me as well, if you want, but you don't have to. Mine is here:

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