I'm on the road this week, visiting the incredible, vast, and sometimes confusing city of St. Petersburg. This place is and has a little bit of everything, and I'm busy exploring it, squeezing every milliliter I can from each of my five days in town. Because of that, this week's blog is short, but have no fear: there'll be a mid-week sequel once I get back to Novosibirsk. Part of the reason for that is that I realized yesterday that for all the different sorts of writing I've engaged in, I've never written a full-blown travel log. I want to do that for St. Petersburg--tell the story of the trip from beginning to end--and I'll do that once I return to my flat and have a moment to digest what I've seen, heard, felt, and tasted.
In the meantime, there's some sad news. I have to take a moment here to offer an elegy for a trusted long-time travel companion that passed on yesterday. My white, in-ear Sennheiser headphones finally gave up on life, somewhere along Moscovskaya Ulitsa. Don't laugh: this is serious business. See, I obtained that particular set of headphones during the first week of my trip to Ireland in 2010. First of all, I want to point out that I went seven years without losing something as small as a pair of headphones. That impresses me deeply, and bodes well for my potential future success and happiness. I cannot say the same thing--at all--about any pair of sunglasses that I've owned, ever. That trip to Ireland, a travel grant through the Southern Illinois University Department of Irish and Irish Immigration Studies, was my first trip abroad. After discovering on the flight over how cumbersome and generally irritating were the over-ear models that I'd brought from home, I picked up the Sennies from the discount bin at an Irish electronics store. Over the next seven years, they would travel the globe with me, an always present companion. Music, podcasts, videos, lousy airplane movies, Skype conversations to loved ones back home: they were my number one tool.
Those headphones made it to Prague five times and Paris Twice, Dublin countless times, and Moscow half a dozen. They've been through Ukraine and Sarajevo. They were on my head when Trans-Dniestrian separatists tried unsuccessfully to hijack the marshrutka bus I was taking through Moldova, and they were on again a bus driver tried unsuccessfully to drop me off on a deserted roadside at the Romanian border--at three in the morning.
I hiked with them back and forth between my rented room and the city center of Galway Ireland, the first place where I lived overseas, and I used them to listen to music while I feverishly wrote in my apartment at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, where I finished two books that will be published later this year. And I used them to avoid whatever madness was happening around me in the often wild-west-felling public transit systems of Russia. I wore them while walking on the frozen Baltic Sea in Sweden, and they were in my bag when I drove on the autobahn.
I plugged them into my iPad and listened to happy songs, trying not to cry as I waited for my plane last November after seeing my new fiancee off to her own flight in an opposite direction, portending six more months apart before we would have the chance to start our lives together in earnest. And it's just that anticipation, so close now--just a few weeks--that makes the loss of an otherwise silly object like headphones particularly poignant this week. See, after almost a decade of traveling the world largely alone--a pursuit in which a pair of good headphones is an unquestioned best friend--St. Petersburg is the last major city I'll visit as a solo traveller. After our July wedding, I'll have a permanent travel companion, and less use for all the things headphones can accomplish. That little strand of always-tangled cord and the plastic nubs I jammed into my ears so many thousands of times reached the end of their function and their importance at the same time. Fare thee well, sweet Sennheisers. You did good work, and you'll be remembers. Also, you'll be replaced with more Sennheisers, because a pair of headphones that lasts seven years is just an amazing, amazing thing.
By the middle of next week, I'll have a full rundown of St. Petersburg, including observations on the ways in which tourists make fools of themselves, the problems of visiting a city that travel writers have done their best to turn into a cliche, the glory of Russian opera, and overcoming public transit that goes no place travelers want to get, and everyplace they don't.
Until then, be comforted by the official Fulbright Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the United States Department of State or the Fulbright Program.