Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In Which We Find Our Room

We were met at the airport by a man carrying a sign that said "Habitat" in carefully stenciled letters. The flight arrived at 3:30 am, even though it was scheduled to arrive at 2:30, so the man had not only interrupted his sleep to meet us, but had probably also waited an hour and half for us to make it through customs and baggage claim (where my luggage did, in fact, arrive with everyone else's). Still his expression was calm and kind as he guided us to his car. He used what may be his only English sentence ("My name is Ruslan") before we got to the car, and so we drove into the city in near silence. He handed us a note which read: "You address: Sovietskaya Street, Building 101, apartment 56". It was too hard to communicate that we already had a hotel room reserved elsewhere, and so we allowed ourselves to be whisked away to a strange apartment.

We stopped along the way at an all-night supermarket, where our friend in one-word English sentences (Juice? Water? Yogurt?) helped us shop for provisions for the night and payed for our purchases waving his wallet full of local currency when we offered to pay with a credit card. Unfortunately for Paulina, I had reached the stage in my jet lag at which decision making had become impossible. All I knew that I wanted was water, and that was only because my thirst was pressing and immediate. With no help from me, she also secured us some bread and cheese.

The apartment is in a complex of buildings with a mural of "Lolita" painted seductively on the side. He took us into a back alley and into an open outside door which lead to one of those rickety and tiny European elevators - the kind you never expect to make it to your destination - and up to apartment 56. Apartment 56 is very Soviet Block. It's the kind of place youcouch can easily imagine coming home to after spending a day waiting in line for toilet paper. Paulina said, "Oh, this looks very Polish," and I agreed, having once spent a night in a Soviet-era Polish apartment in Krakow. The furniture could be from the 1960s or 1970s, used for decades and kept clean and tidy. Nothing is beautiful or extranious. No frivolity.

Still it felt good to be somewhere, and so we gratefully said goodbye to our friend, brushed our teeth, changed into pajamas and put ourselves to bed (or couch as the case may be) just as the first morning light started to appear on the horizon.

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