It would be remiss of me to allow the month of May to slip by without purging myself of every woman’s Moscow nightmare—the summer snow.
There are actually two types of summer snow. One is botanical—the fluffy seed heads that cover the city in a downey white layer that looks much the same as what you’d get if you left a puppy and a pillow alone in a room for a few hours.
The other is the female kind. As Mr A (our driver) described it the other day…
“Sara, THAT (he pointed to a girl walking down the street in a size 000 baby’s romper suit, a g-string and stiletto heels) is ‘summer snow’. As soon as sun come out—it start to snow. I tell my old boss wife—NEVER leave your husband in the city with summer snow”
“Hmmmm” I said, manually pushing my jaw shut with one hand. “I see what you mean”
Well, if that was summer snow, it certainly wasn’t my first glimpse. In my opinion, it had been sleeting since March; first the fur and scarfs disappeared, then the short skirts were out of mothballs and come 15 degrees, the streets were awash with handkerchief size dresses and necklines that plunge as low as a winters day in February.
Despite my wanting to fight fire with fire, I’m suffering a severe case of frost bite. These days for me, a good day, is having to block 3 or 4 randy US generals on Skype before breakfast! I think I could listen to the complete set of Anthony Robbins CD’s and still want to turn around and go home within 3 minutes of pounding the footpaths in Moscow at the moment.
However, this week also taught me that the euphoria of summer snow affects all men; great and small. The other day I was walking to the gym and was stopped by a balding overweight man. For some reason, this is a daily event; Russians seem to find me an expert authority on the geography of the city and ask me for directions constantly (which could account for the numerous amount of people on any one day wandering around lost). Amazingly, I understood what he was saying—he was asking me on a date! Despite the fact that he had 3 gold teeth and looked like someone’s driver, I should have taken this as a compliment, but it made the last 100 meters walk to the gym painfully slow; I virtually dragged each limb like a neanderthal with depression.
I think my snow has melted…
I’m so depressed.
For a bit of background, here’s a post from my old Tumblr blog, written not long after I arrived in Moscow.
If you haven’t already seen the video post of the Russian chocolate add, watch it here before you read this. You need to be able to clearly visualise the women I’ll be referring to, to fully appreciate what I’m about to tell you.
We’ve finally joined the gym across the road, a rather exclusive one that doesn’t allow children. It’s the kind of gym you need to get dressed up for—you know—the same way you clean your house before your cleaner arrives, and its full of the women off the chocolate bar add; incredibly tall, super skinny, beautiful women, who are NOT… 40 (albeit, JUST 40). I was supposed to go on Monday but I had a story to write, so I managed to while away the day telling myself I was ‘gunna’, but just ended up making another pot of tea and eating another IKEA biscuit (I’m shopping for food there now—the packets are see through)
Finally, my husbamd gave me a lecture about how I need to go 5 times a week to justify the exorbitant membership and given that it was already Wednesday, I figured I’d better, so I pulled out an old pair of faded black Target tights and a t-shirt and wandered across the road feeling like Clarissa Dickson.
Because I’d already had the ‘familiarisation tour,’ I knew I needed to avoid the women’s change rooms at all costs if my battered self esteem was going to have any chance of remaining intact. In fact, I’ll refer to the change room as the lion’s den from now on, because that’s exactly what it is; a huge room full of stunning naked alpha females who walk around (euro style) chatting on the phone and applying makeup for hours— absolutely starkers.
I decided to act super dumb and not speak Russian when I arrived (i.e., not say hello in Russian, because that’s pretty much all my Russian) this way they could take pity on me and I could just sneak up the stairs to the running machines with my bag and hide it behind a pole. But oh no, the receptionist spotted an infringement of the ‘must have locker rule,’ and came after me in hot pursuit. In the nicest possible way, she explained the “no packet in gym” rule with a hint of a smile and a side to side wag of a finger, handed me a key for locker 126 and held open the door to the lion’s den, with the other arm out straight, obviously indicating ‘I will stand here until you enter, now GO in and leave your ‘packet’.
I clearly had no choice, so I Stevie Wondered it, hand over hand along the walls with eyes closed until I found my locker, then did the whole thing in reverse and ran up the stairs to the machines. Thankfully there were only a few man eaters up there, so I found a treadmill behind a supporting beam, fired it up to a whopping 6.2 (yes, that’s quick) and walked 5 km, with fast arms so you look like you’re going even faster.
I’d seen a class on the timetable called Ab’s and Stretch, which sounded like the kind of thing you should do after 7 weeks in the US, so I wandered over to studio 1 after my fast walk and was greeted by Nadezhda (we’ll call her Nad’s) a scary looking man eater who was obviously starved and tortured as a child in a Soviet gymnastics camp; the kind of trainer who’s sadistic tendencies have obviously been satisfied with gym ‘instruction’, after her Olympic dreams were crushed and she was denied the chance of gold after a disasterous ‘battered sav’, with a ‘half Dutch wink’ (for definitions of these Aussie terms click here). Obviously not the kind of person you want to be stuck in a room with for 55 minutes, especially with just one other victim (bloody exclusive gyms)!
So, Nad’s fired up her stereo and completely skipped the warm up. She pointed to the floor and we got started with a whopping—geez I lost count—7000… sit ups with lots of double leg lowering thingos and lots of those side to side twists. After 10 mins of this torture I decided I needed to plan my escape route. I was, after all, on the floor, so I figured if I just did the worm, I could slip out without her noticing. But Nad’s had her eyes fixed on me, and because I couldn’t understand her Russian instruction, took it upon herself to stand over me and give me the full extent of her Olympic level expertise. I can’t remember the next 30 minutes, I just remember looking up when the music stopped and the other victim saying something in Russian and leaving, but as I tried to make my way out, Nad’s explained that the class was only half done—we still had the stretch part (which she ‘charaded’ like she was stretching a rubber band with a sadistic smile).
She pointed to the floor mat again and gave me what looked like an enlarged rubber version of a spring-form cake tin ring and told me to take my shoes off (Christ). Before I knew it, she’d darkened the room, flicked on the concealed disco strobe lights and cranked up the stereo with Elton’s Circle of Life. Once again, I think I must have been oxygen deprived, because I only have faint memories of Nad’s trying to stuff my left foot into my ear with the spring-form cake ring. Suffice to say, the walk down the stairs to the lion’s den was more like a slide and I must have been lulled into a false sense of security with the pain, because I walked in with my eyes open, just in time to be confronted by the rear view of one of the man eaters bending forward to blow dry her hair. Let’s just say, it was more like ‘the eye of the tiger,’ a sight I never, NEVER want to see again. After running face first into a locker and making a frenzied escape, I retreated for the safety of home.
That night, Jase was thrilled that I’d been to the gym, and of course I pretended that I loved it and that I was not at all threatened by the beauty and prowess of the man eaters and couldn’t wait to go back again tomorrow. But funnily enough, I’m actually strangely determined to rise to the challenge. I’m going to be like that Aussie speed skater that miraculously won gold when everyone in the lead pack crashed and fell over. I’m going to go back there and represent women over 40.
Here’s to you man eaters!
And later on Dec 1st this happened!!!
From the outset, I was determined that the content of this blog present the ‘real’ Russia (hence the password) but until today, I never anticipated it would be quite so racy, so if you’d prefer to stick to the souvenir and architecture posts, it’s probably best you pop out for a cuppa and check in, in a few days time.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, you’ll be pleased to know, in my efforts to be the new Steven Bradbury of svelte, I’ve been going to the gym regularly….ish. I’ve passed Nads in the hallway a few times and given her the big double thumbs up to make her think I’m keen, but the truth is, it took me a week to recover from that class and it’s a handicap for my architectural walks, so I’ve been sticking to fast arms at 5.5 on the treadmill till I develop some stamina.
This morning, I toddled off to the gym feeling like a true Russian: head down, pursed lips and a ‘F**k you’ kind of look on my face. I’ve now learnt how to say good morning, thankyou and goodbye, and if you say them all really fast, one after the other, you sound like the real deal when you check in for your key to the lion’s den (so long as you don’t smile).
I decided to do some swimming today, because: A. I can actually do it, B. Nads doesn’t enter the pool area and C. Russian’s can’t swim, so its permanently empty.
I’ve got a new modesty system down pat. I wear my swimmers to the pool, get undressed, pop one of Toby’s Bob the builder towel ponchos over my head and glide through the lion’s den in the terry towelling equivalent of an abaya. OK, it does draw quite a bit of attention because it’s not Prada, but at least they’re not looking at me.
So, now to the X-rated part…
I’d had my swim and was in one of those terrible dilemmas you sometimes find yourself in when you’re trying to get dressed too quickly before your’e dry, and your undies roll up into a kind of sausage, so I was sitting on the bench trying to remedy the situation when I thought I was seeing stars. Out of the corner of my eye, I was bedazzled by a flash of light, and then another one, and another, until finally, I had to look up. At first I thought one of the corporate man-eater’s Chanel lipsticks had set off a lazar pointer inside her handbag, but what I saw, was the furthest thing from my mind, and had I not been sitting up watching a re-run of The Graeme Norton show the other night, I would have been even more dumb struck.
The naked man-eater next to me, I mean STANDING right next to me (I’ll repeat-I’m sitting) was sporting, what I now believe is the latest rage in Russia—a ‘Vagazzeled’…… va-jayjay! For those who didn’t catch the Graeme Norton show, this requires the removal of any naturally occurring follicular accessories, followed by the application of jewelled stick on sequins…in designs about the size of.. Well….. Your iphone!
To be honest I probably looked for longer than I should have (well it was at eye level after all) I was half torn between rushing out and buying her a translation of The Female Eunuch and asking if she used a two part glue. I mean, this was fanny folk art of the extreme—she had more rhinestones down there than Dolly Parton has on a dress and after the initial shock, it kind of leaves you with allot of questions.
I just sat there— stunned under the hood of my Bob the Builder towel—my big knickers in a twist (literally) and a thousand questions running through my mind. Clearly this was a high friction kind of area for a man-eater—how do they stay on? How long does it take to stick them on? Are they like Pandora beads? Does her lover contribute to her collection and add a new flower or Fleur de Lis for birthdays and anniversaries? Is it a kind of “Yuri or Yevgeny was here”, kind of thing? Were they… Swartzkovski?
How ever you explain it, I just felt like taking the girl aside and saying, “Love, I used to teach interior design—take it from me—less is more” But what was I thinking. This was clearly a sign of competitor weakness in my quest for svelt gold. If the man-eaters felt they needed to vagazzle their vajublies, mabey it was a good thing? Mabey it’s like fashion, I mean, Pippa Middelton was’nt wearing Princess Beatrice’s hat at the royal wedding was she?