My album comes out in less than three weeks. I wrote a thing from my past self to my present self about being terrified. A little context from Wiki Travel Russia:
Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and often frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance, but it can be done in a few weeks if you are willing to spend a little extra. For citizens of EU-Schengen countries, this will cost €35 and take three days (or even the next day), instead of the usual 4-10 days. There is also a way to get a visa in just a few days, but for citizens of some countries, this will cost a couple hundred dollars.
Remember that time you were sitting on that train and you handed your passport to the cherubic Finnish border Guard and Cherubic Finnish Border Guard raised his eyebrows at you and said “you’re going to Russia…ALONE?” and you said “Yes, why? WHY? TELL ME!” and Cherubic Finnish Border Guard gave you a look like you’d just killed a kitten, shook his head and walked away. Remember that? Remember the quaking quaking quaking in your guts and how you wanted to puke and scream and cry all at the same time?
Remember how your Swedish friends begged you not to go to Russia because nobody goes to Russia and you were going to get kidnapped by the mafia and held for ransom and remember how you spent most of your time in Stockholm sitting in the internet cafe full of Swedish nerds playing Doom even though it was was the beginning of the internet and the internet was as slow as a bread line but you needed to figure how to get into Russia because it wasn’t easy you had to had to have an invitation and a visa and a lot of money and if you call the Russian embassy in Stockholm you better speak Russian or a least a little Swedish and you can only do that on Tuesdays from 2-4 and Fridays from 10-11. Do you remember all that time you spent before you left trying to figure it out you called the Russian embassy in Washington DC but it was like the cold war on the line with all the grunts and the barking and the disparaging tones and your time was tight because the buddy pass the super nice Delta employee you knew from the YMCA gave you was about to expire because you kept waiting for the right opportunity to present itself and waiting and then you just said fuck it, I’m getting on the plane.
Remember how the whole time you were in Stockholm pretty and clean Stockholm the city without grit you were with good friends eating fresh and delicious food you were thinking about Russia and how would you get in there YOU HAD TO DO IT and you were worried because you had even marched into your boss’ offices and told her you were going to be gone for a while and she said you can’t just march in here and say you’re going to be gone that long and you said I am going I hope I have a job when I get back. You didn’t even know where this Russia obsession started but it was probably with the nukes and the hiding under the desks and the USSR and the perestroika which was only like 10 years previous but most likely it started with Olga Korbut in 1976. And you could never be Olga Korbut but goddammit you could go to Russia.
So you decided to sail the high seas on a casino boat over to Helsinki, a city where every young woman looked like you with their short blond hair leather jacket tight pants a place where your guide book said there was a travel agency that would sell you a tourist visa to Russia in an hour the only place in the world you could get such a thing and you don’t know why you didn’t just call them to make sure and you wished you hadn’t spent all that time worrying and sitting in internet cafes because you didn’t trust going all the way to Finland to maybe not get into Russia. But hooray the book was right and the agent was so friendly besides that you met a nice American businessman who lives in St. Petersburg and has to come back to this agency every 6 months to get his visa renewed and he assured you that Russia is very safe and the mafia will only mess with you if you are a business person doing business, like him, and he gave you his card and told you that if you got into trouble you could call him. So you spent the night in a sanitized youth hostel and got up the next morning and went to the orderly Helsinki train station, and despite the quaking you took your clean comfortable seat by the window.
Remember how the scenery changed and maybe if this was a perfect metaphor the change would have been the opposite but things are never perfect and the outside of the train window changed from lush and beautiful and clean and as soon as Cherubic Finnish Border Guard got off the train things became dirty and poor and it looked like maybe a nuclear bomb had gone off. Remember how you felt bad because the decrepitness kinda turned you on and you didn’t realize it yet but you really like to find the beauty in struggle and how you feel so at home in places where people have to fight.
Remember how you stepped out of that train into a crush of a crowd and you’d never seen people so eager to get into a train station and you just wanted to stand and look at the bright blue sky and the leaves falling off the trees and and the strange letters on the signs and all those men who wanted to take you places in their taxis but for once because of the quaking you had arranged to have someone pick you up — someone you found on the internet so who knows she could have been in the mafia but she turned out to be a regular woman who had a job she had to go back to so her teenage daughter’s boyfriend drove you around St. Petersburg in a teeny rusted car while he explained in broken English that there are no rules to the road in Russia which he didn’t really need to tell you because, holy shit are we really gonna drive in the middle of the oncoming traffic, and when you saw the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood it was the most amazing thing you’d ever seen, sticking out like a technicolor lollipop among shoeboxes and he said “eh, that’s not much.”
Remember how you went immediately to the cafe your guide book said the expats hung out in and when they brought your food they also brought a shot glass of clear liquid and you were convinced it was poison because you know Russia is very dangerous and you only drank half of it because you didn’t want to get drunk and lose your mind besides that the poison even though the women in the fur coats and the perfectly fluffy hair and manicured nails were drinking the poison but they were probably mafia women and mafia women are immune to poison until they’re not.
And then you finally took a gulp of air and interrupted a couple with notebooks who were speaking the Queen’s English and you asked the woman is it safe here and she laughed and said oh my gosh yes, don’t worry, I was scared at first too, but I feel safer here than I do in London, I even walk around at all hours of the night, just be smart.
You knew you had to do it, so you went out and wandered Nevsky Prospekt alone and felt the cold air on your face and when a smiling woman approached you asking a friendly question in Russian, suddenly it was as if someone took the Kremlin off your back. So you mastered the strange letters and made new friends who were instant soul mates and ate blinis and kabobs from the street and guzzled Baltika and the vodka was no longer poisonous and you looked unsuccessfully for record stores and tourist information in English and you took 20 minute taxi rides for 4 dollars and and accidentally ate at Subway which you only realized when you recognized the yellow wallpaper but oh my god you were so hungry and you went to the countryside and the castle Peterhof on a Marshrut decorated with pompoms and fringe blasting crazy music and ate your weight in pickled carrots and you even tried to go to a ballet and you hitchhiked your way across the city with the Russian guy and went to a neon filled dance club with women in spandex dresses and men in polyester suits and gold chains and you stood overwhelmed in the Hermitage where the sun shone on the Picassos and despite the daunting hugeness and the grey clad school children darting about and the dirt and the piles of concrete in the corners and the peeling paint it was just so so so goddamn beautiful and even though you weren’t supposed to you touched the mosaics inside the technicolor lollipop church like you’d never touched anything before and gasped in awe at the colored spirals against the blue sky and you got that grand feeling of love in your gut like you might explode you though eh, that’s not much, MY ASS.
And so Melissa, if you could just remember how determined you were and how hard you worked and how fucking scary it was and how St. Petersburg became the best place you’d ever been and now you know there were so many more places yet to see and so much more greatness yet to come, I think that would help you a lot right now.