Every evening I sit down to eat with my host mother, who is usually in a beige flowered bathrobe and drinking either a cup of tea or (tragically) watered down red wine. She often prepares some treat while I eat: last night it was сырники, a sort of sweet fried cheese dessert (which may sound weird, but is absolutely delicious). I ate them piping hot out of the pan, smothered in condensed milk.
Another constant in my evenings is the sound of the television, turned either to a local news channel, a series, or a reality television channel that has both Russian and Ukrainian shows. A particularly fun one is called Орёл и Решка (Heads and Tails), where the hosts travel to a new country or city and, through a coin toss, determine their budget for their stay: either an “unlimited” credit card or a rather more paltry sum of $100 USD. Television has played a surprisingly important role in my study abroad experience, to a certain extent curating the world around me, giving me an insight into local perspectives and mentalities. I learn what sorts of stories are newsworthy, what the public finds interesting. Videos of extraordinary happenings are very popular, as is The Magnificent Century. But for the past couple days, the same story of victory has gripped the media.
All around me, people speak of only one thing: the Olympic Athletes from Russia are champions. Before this year’s games, Russia had not won a gold medal in men’s hockey since 1988. The public is transfixed: Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was packed full with fans anxiously waiting to welcome their heroes home. The match is repeatedly broadcasted on television, so that people who were unwilling to wake up at 7 am local time to watch the game (most people I have spoken to) can see exactly how their countrymen bested the German team. Instagram feeds of celebrities and public figures are plastered in pictures of the red-clad team. The Russian government will bestow presents upon their successful athletes, in the form of monetary gifts and a more unusual treat: a BMW. The precise model is determined by which medal the athlete has won, with the gold medalists receiving the most superior car.
My regularly scheduled kitchen television evenings have also helped me observe other events of national importance happening around this time. On February 23 it was the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland, which also serves as Men’s Day. All day, old Soviet war films were broadcasted, and my parents sat nostalgically at the kitchen table while eating one of the most popular Russian snacks of all- sunflower seeds. The presidential elections are on March 18, and this week televised debates and campaigns between candidates begin. The city is plastered in red, white and blue posters reminding people to vote, and animated versions are shown during ad breaks and on small screens on public transport. This week, however, promises to explore the upcoming elections in greater depth as politics becomes more present in public consciousness. I am also looking forward to what March 8 will bring to the screen- Women’s Day is celebrated very seriously in Russia, and I am curious to see which films the media considers to be the Women’s Day equivalent of Soviet war film classics.
Finally, a weather update: Saint Petersburg has endured a particularly cold week thus far, with temperatures at around –20 C. I have gained a new appreciation for the multiple ways in which it is possible to wrap a scarf around your head, each promising to insulate you better than the last. Find pleasure in the simple things.