Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cross-Cultural Bling Bling: Russia and Southern California

For the last three weeks this blog has been on hiatus while I traveled and visited family, first in Russia and then in Southern California.  The following somewhat atypical post (for this blog) results from those travels.

Walking up Tverskaya Street (because in Russia life is hard, hard, hard, and one walks up, up, up, always up, never down, a street), the flashbacks of Rodeo Drive hit suddenly and without warning.  Slip sliding along the snow and ice, the thermometer reading ten degrees below zero, the winter night lights up with the glitz of haute couture, the shiny black Mercedes parked in front of the new Marriott Tverskaya, the abundant window displays at TSUM (rhymes with zoom, like the Russian nouveau riche moving at warp speed), the Bolshoi (Nutcracker tickets starting at $700!), brooding under renovation but glowing with promise.  On the metro, I sit next to an old, mustachioed, tight-lipped Muscovite, her arms folded resolutely across an ample frame wrapped in matching fur coat and comrade hat, both made of beige ermine.  These new fangled comrade hats also come in cashmere.  In GUM on the edge of Red Square, I rest my feet outside Accessorize, the only store where I can afford a purchase.  In St. Petersburg, I barely set foot in Gostiny Dvor, one of the world's first indoor shopping malls dating from 1785 and where these days Dolce & Gabbana vies for attention with Sonia Rykiel.  Across the street, old women beg in sixteen degree below zero temperatures outside the doors of Kazan Cathedral.

Four days in Moscow, six in St. Petersburg.  Then I head to the old Soviet style domestic airport, where I wait in a barely heated pre-departure area.  A group of Chinese workers huddles together.  A troup of Russian soldiers marches onto a flight headed to Kaliningrad on the Baltic.  My gate is changed.  I can't ask where.  The signs are in cyrillic, the announcements in Russian.  A tall, handsome, sharply dressed Central Asian shows up.  He speaks good English, is on my flight to Moscow, and helps me find it.  To board, we walk outside through blowing snow and upstairs to the plane, which takes off without delay.  At Moscow International Airport, trying to help me find my connecting flight, the Central Asian reveals never having traveled internationally.  How did he learn such good English?

I fly Aeroflot (barely edible food) back to NYC, then a 2 hour subway ride to my apartment, home at 10 PM, unpack heavy Russia-oriented clothes, re-pack Southern-California oriented clothes, up at 3.30 AM, another 2 hr subway ride, a lay-over in Las Vegas, land in Long Beach, California, where de-boarding is delayed 20 minutes by rain, then a 3 hour car ride (traffic delays) to my family in Rialto.  How to explain the disconnect between these two worlds? I am in a sleep-deprived time warp.

I sleep for two days.  The temperature is fifty degrees *above* zero (sixty degrees warmer than in Russia). In my haste, I have not packed enough warm clothes, and wear the same sweat shirt day after day (I wash it twice).  Family members arrive for Christmas, bringing more food than fits on the table.   My nieces, 10 and 6 years, receive an all-pink Barbi McMansion, with working elevator, jacuzzi tub (with sounds of rushing water), and chandeliers.  It is the type of plaything my sister and I had dreamed of having as children.  We wait with anticipation for the girls to unwrap it, secretly wishing for our turn.  I take my 10 year old niece shopping at Victoria Gardens, an outside mall designed to look like the streets of East Coast cities.  Our day stops at Clare's, where she weaves amongst glitter and sparkle, her eyes gleeful.

Southern California is known for bling bling.  Russia, in the age of the czars, used to be.  These days, bling bling, for those who can afford it, is resurgent in Russia.  While I can't speak for bling bling of the Rodeo sort, it seems to me that in Southern California bling bling of the Clare's sort, and especially of the sort that makes little girls happy, is hanging on.  And I don't see anything wrong with that.

One thing is true: when denied, bling bling comes back with a vengeance.  Best to have a moderate, steady supply of it to avoid starvation and keep one's appetite at bay.    

No comments: