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June 3, 2006

Russian Women make Wonderful Wives

On Saturday night I was seated next to a Russian woman who struck up a conversation with me. I was delighted to have someone to speak in English with at the ballet so the conversation extended through the intermissions and out the door into the rain. She offered to show me more of the city on the next day; I was torn between suspicion and desire for companionship; companionship won out. At first she thought to go into a café near the theater, but it was an Irish-style pub, crowded and noisy with no place to sit. We walked in the rain towards the Renaissance Hotel – she lived on the same street and I would be staying there in a few days so I was curious to see it. Up on the sixth floor terrace we tried to watch the fireworks for the city’s anniversary in vain – a few peeked around St. Isaac’s dome and then the finale. We both ordered red wine though I was tired and did not want to drink; I picked up the tab. The conversation was pleasant enough and we made arrangements to see each other after the performance and walk around the city, perhaps to go for a meal.

She had been married twice, once in America where she had lived in Los Angeles several years. She asked about my personal life – I simply said I was unmarried and had no interest in marriage. In the United States I would have just told her I was gay. In the United States, though, she probably wouldn’t have even had to ask me. My gaydar didn’t work on Russians and hers didn’t work on Americans. The day before, there had been a riot in Moscow where gays and lesbians trying to put a wreath at a military monument and to commemorate the decriminalization of homosexuality had been assaulted by a mob and denounced by the mayor. I wasn’t in the mood to get into it.

After the performance the next afternoon I walked back to the Renaissance where we had arranged to meet, regretting the decision. When she was slightly late, I hoped she wouldn’t show, but alas. When she asked to put her hand in my jacket pocket with mine because it was cold I knew I had made a mistake. Congratulations, this was a date. Her hand remained there tenaciously though I made no move to take it.

After dragging me around St. Isaac’s Square, she took me to a café, again for red wine. Diplomatically, I developed a crippling case of jet lag, picked up the tab and fled back to my hotel, not coming out the rest of the night. Once again, the number 22 bus did not run on Nevsky Prospect because of a parade of military bands. The toothless conductor talked to me in Russian and I followed everyone off the bus. Two younger women took pity on me and explained what was happening in English; I made the half hour walk back to the hotel. On looking back at the story it’s quite funny; at the time I felt as if the only people I would meet in St. Petersburg were either hotel employees, petty criminals or mail order brides.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at June 3, 2006 2:38 AM

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