August 29, 1996
Asymptotically Approaching Slavjanka
So much for the outing to Slavjanka. After a restless night, I slept until 9:00.
I would've gone back to bed even after that if Marge hadn't knocked on my door.
We settled on an excursion down to the area near the football stadium to try
to find the art gallery that Lena took us to on Monday. We never found the art
gallery but we did do the aquarium and the dolphin show - first time for Marge
but I enjoyed it a second time.
It turns out there is a "zoo" next to the aquarium. For
another 5000 rubles I got to see a tortoise trying desperately to escape its pen, a
bunch of lethargic snakes, some iguanas, geckos, monkeys (4 or 5) in smelly cages,
a really depressed looking frog and some turtles, among cages upon cages
upon cages of parrots. We had discovered the zoo by hearing what sounded like
monkey chatter behind one wall of the aquarium. Well, the monkeys weren't
chattering, the parrots were! The zoo was kind of dark and the brightly colored parrots
really stood out. Exotica for the kids and their grandparents to marvel at on the last week before school starts.
Most kids did seem to be with grandparents - with or without parents. One boy
got ice cream all over his grandmother's purse.
Report on the Photographers
On the photographer front, a new entrepreneur has appeared in front of the aquarium
with a bear cub. At first I thought it was a funny looking black dog but when it
stood up I was like "ohmigod it's a bear!". The photographer
was making his sales pitch to everyone who strolled by but we only saw
him get one customer, a woman in a beige dress who looked distinctly
uncomfortable while her boyfriend or husband did the photography.
Down on the plaza by the beach, the regular monkey guy was absent but the tiger
guy has two monkeys in striped shirts sitting on his tiger just
waiting for customers. The guy addressed us in English asking if we wanted
a photo with the tiger for a souvenir of our visit. We said no thanks, bought
some pies from a vendor and found some shade to have our lunch.
The First Law of Souvenir Shopping
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Nostalgia for coffee. It's the only decent
cafe around - in addition to being the best restaurant and the best gift shop. We did
find a place near the football stadium that advertised espresso but they were not
ready to serve us at 10:00 in the morning. The door was open but the girl who works
there was sitting reading a book and was disinclined to make coffee for us. We half
meant to try that shop again later but we came back along the bay so ended up at
I had coffee and cake and finally broke down and bought matryushka dolls for
Elizabeth and Andrea, as well as that huge coffee table book ,
Vladivostok: The Edge of Russia, which I'd been coveting since my
first visit to the shop. Unbelievably, all the Yeltsin dolls were sold! The busload
of Japanese bought them this morning. Maurice had warned me that the first
law of souvenir shopping is "if you see something you like, buy it because it
won't be there later". Not that I would've known what to do with the Yeltsin
doll when I got it home - its topicality is already getting passe. Anyhow, if I'd spent
the 200,000 rubles on the Yeltsin doll I wouldn't have spent it on the book and
the book is a far better reminder of the trip. There are pictures of placers I've been
so it conjures up the memories better than the doll would have. Yeltsin and Moscow
are very far away from Primory.
The Edge of Russia
I invited Marge in to look at The Edge of Russia over coffee/tea in my room. Afterward she left to change some rubles back to $$ at the money changer next
Still no sign of Marge. She left her key and her coffee mug here.
Just got a phone call from somebody who wanted to know if I wanted
something I couldn't quite make out but who when she figured out I was
a woman decided I wouldn't want it and laughed embarrassedly. It reminded me
of the calls I got on my first night from some woman advertising "pretty girls,
massage, sex $100". Maurice said he got those calls every night. There have
been a few times late at night when I haven't picked up the phone so
they may well have been sex solicitation calls too. 7:30PM seems a little
early for the solicitors though.
When Marge came back from her foray to change money, she reported that the
construction trailers were gone from around the train station and one
side of the part where the trains go in was open. They're clearly nearing
completion of the renovation.
I thought I should rush down to take a picture of the station without the
trailers in front of it but the sun was already low enough that by the time I got
down there I would've lost the light. I guess if I'm ever going to get a good
photograph of the train station I'll have to come back next year for Team III.
I 'm basically packed except for the stuff I'll need in the morning. I still
have to figure out how to pack my scallop shell so it doesn't break. It's
a fine shell and I like the fact that I found it while diving instead
of buying it from the sad looking woman outside the aquarium - actually
today she had moved inside the aquarium.
I won't miss the street sounds, the magpies ,the headlights coming over
the hill next to the Aeroflot building, the humidity, the smell of burning garbage.
I will miss the street market, the dark bread, the people, especially Andrey and Slava
and of course Alex and Genia. I will miss the vibrancy of the goings and comings and
renovations and new businesses springing up everyday. I will miss my daily
walk down to the post office/train station/marine terminal, the sunset
over Amursky Bay, the sense that something exciting is happening right before
my eyes. I won't miss the pounding disco music, the bizarre videos at the North
Korean restaurant. I will miss the borscht and blini at Nostalgia.
I never did
learn the names of the two generals whose portraits were next to the one
of Admiral Kolchak opposite Nicholas and Alexandra on the red velvet plush walls
at Nostalgia. Maurice told me at least 3 times but I don't think a lot of what he
said sank in - either about the generals or about Russian grammar. I'm now
at the point where I can decode Cyrillic letters without the phrase book
so it must be time to go home.