Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roaming dark alleys

In a deep, dark, wood, there was a deep, dark house. In the deep, dark house, there was a deep, dark closet.

I can't remember exactly how the children's tale goes, but it suddenly popped into my head when I was looking for a certain address one evening (and it is a great text for teaching definite and indefinite articles, but this is not going to be a post about teaching).

When I first emerged from the metro onto Nevskii Prospect, it was still light outside. I knew where I was going. It was on a street I knew, but a little farther down then I had been before.

I passed the doughnut place, which was still open. But my goal was to take care of my errands and get home while it wasn't too late.

I reached the general area where the hotel was, and stopped under the sign. I had once again encountered a common problem in St. Petersburg: I was standing at the address where I needed to go, but could not figure out how to get inside, although the entrance may have been perhaps 10 feet from where I was standing.

I peered through the locked iron gate into an alley. The signs for the hotel continued. Evidently I needed to enter, but how? To the left there was a list of codes, but I didn't know what to do with them. I began to go around the building, to see if I could get into the alley from another direction.

Meanwhile, the sun had gone down. I went a little ways down the side street and stopped. It didn't seem like a good idea to continue. I returned to the gate with the signs and codes.

After a few minutes, the gate opened and a woman exited, so I slipped in before it closed. Now I was on the other side, and it felt like I had entered a fortress. There was no one around, just the hotel sign to guide my way. I made my way to the door that was directly under the sign. It said that the hotel was on the 6th floor.

I opened the door, which was unlocked. It felt like I had entered a regular apartment building. The entrance hall was old and rundown as if no one had lived there for a long time. After a few minutes, I found an elevator and selected "6th floor."

I don't normally suffer from claustrophobia, but each time I entered another locked area, I felt like I was going deeper and deeper into a fortress and wouldn't be able to get out.

Now I had reached the 6th floor. A young hotel clerk was walking around and invited me to enter, as I explained that my friends were staying there. "But I don't even know the room number," I said. She looked it up on the computer and told me where to go. I found it interesting that once I was in the fortress, security seemed fairly relaxed.

I found the hallway where the rooms were. My contact had come with a team of Americans, and I assumed that they had the whole row of rooms. But the hallway was silent and no one responded to my knocking. Surely if there some jolly Americans nearby, I would hear them. I hung out in the hallway for a bit, wondering if I was being watched via security camera.

Eventually, the door at the other end of the hallway opened, and they had arrived. They were friendly and seemed excited about their task, putting on an English camp for Russians in a town outside of St. Petersburg.

I got what I had come for and made my way out: down the silent hallways, down in the small elevator, through the dilapidated entrance, through the dark alley, and finally, through the gate, which opened with the touch of a button.

The doughnut place was still open even though it was past closing time. An elderly lady in an apron with a broom informed passersby that it wasn't too late to stop by. But my roommate had called saying she was locked out. So I had to hurry home.


  1. Ooooo - too bad about the doughnuts... You DO know how to tell a story, and in my experience such a GOOD one to give the flavor of the Russian experience. So much that is locked, not marked, unclear, odd, closed, frightening. Then, when you least expect it - friendly openness!

  2. I'm glad you were able to connect with Sacha.

  3. It is so hard to express in words, but it is one aspect of life here that always confuses me. I wonder if I would feel the same if I lived in another big city or if it is something particular about St. Petersburg or Russia.

    Yes, I found the elusive Sacha. ;)


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