Friday, September 30, 2011

Ridiculously Belated Road Trip Recap

Holy hell it's been some time. Some time since writing, of course, but also some time a stupidly long time since March. Just to get my writing mood going again I figured I'd finally get around to a recap of what went down during spring break. Mostly I need a break from translating a very rough chapter of the book I'm working on for my thesis. Might as well be somewhat constructive about it... The trip itself was something I personally definitely wanted to do this year, but I will say that it's something I won't be wanting to do again for a while now, at least not at the same harried driving pace. The United States is a very, very large country and it takes close to forever to cross a single state (with the exception of Indiana, bless its little heart). The overall experience was a positive one and I'm glad I did it; I'm also happy I got to see as much as we did. If anything, I can say and recommend to everyone to undertake a similar trip, even if in his or her own country. The States are so varied in topography, geography and climate (the temperature climbed almost 20ºF in one 15-minute portion of our trip through California) that even the boring parts (a.k.a. Nevada and northern Arizona and New Mexico) wind up being something to see and experience. Also, my list of favorite places now includes Colorado and California.
Now, just to be clear, the reason behind the March trip could be boiled down to two things: 1) an accessible car; 2) tacos.
In fact, if I remember correctly, the part of the conversation with my fellow graduate student and (then) future roommate, Emily, leading up to the decision went something like this:
Emily: Man I miss San Francisco. The tacos there are out of this world.
Kaija: I bet! ...Mmm. Tacos...
Emily: Tacos...
Kaija: *a few moments later* ...Wanna drive to California over spring break?
Emily: YES.
And the trip was born.

Friday, March 4
Emily and I head leave the state of New York Friday afternoon. We are excited, energized, in high spirits, and are driven by the prospect of the adventure ahead of us—but mostly by the thought of Californian tacos. Our plan is to reach San Francisco by Monday afternoon. We make it to Columbus, Ohio, in a little over 6h, where Emily is introduced to Caribou Coffee and I am introduced to a scratchy throat. We stay the night at my cousin's house just outside Columbus.

Saturday, March 5
We're on the road by 09.00 Saturday morning. It's raining, generally crappy weather wise, but we are still energetic and clock just over 13h in driving over the course of the day. The drive through the rest of Ohio is uneventful, as is the quite literal sprint across Indiana (probably my favorite state to drive through because it's over in under two hours and makes me feel as if I've accomplished something). Illinois and northern Missouri are an entirely different matter. This part of Missouri is at the tip of the Bible Belt and we see numerous road-side billboards advocating three main topics: Jesus, guns, and babies. We are unanimous in the opinion that this part of America is a scary place—we cannot drive through Missouri fast enough. The only plus is stopping to get gas and hearing some hardcore southern accents, as well as seeing a four-year-old boy in a stetson. The remainder of the drive includes a 45-minute stretch through the south-west corner of Iowa and a slightly confusing lead-in into the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. As a university city, Lincoln turns out to be not as boring as we'd expected it to be.

Sunday, March 6
Our plan to be on the road by 09.00 the next morning is shot when I wake up feeling like death. Even the thought of dragging myself out to the car makes me feel as if I'll pass out; my scratchy throat had happily incubated itself into a full-body, all-encompassing cold. An hour later I manage to get to the car and we hit the road again, but not before one last stop at a Caribou Coffee before we leave the Midwest. The state of Nebraska continues to surprise us. It's not as flat as it's made out to be and has plenty of rolling plains and eye-catching horizons. There's something inherently wholesome about it all. We drive through one area littered with ponds and reservoirs—and literally swarming with birds (which we later learned were pelicans). It would be frightening if it hadn't been so awe-inspiring. Before turning south to head toward Colorado we decide to take a 1.5h detour north to see Chimney Rock—something we and the majority of our friends recognize and know from the computer game "Oregon Trail." The rock itself is not that inspiring, but the historical information and displays in the tiny museum are. We then head back to the main highway, stop to climb a wall of cube-shaped hay bales, then cross into Colorado. The drive into Denver is anticlimactic, but relieving. After around 8h of trip time for the day we find or hotel and learn there may be a nasty blizzard hitting the city by daybreak Monday. We make alternate plans to extend our stay if necessary, citing the pending blizzard as a good reason to hit the slopes the next day and get some mileage out of our snowboards, which—obviously—we had packed along.

Monday, March 7
Monday morning opens to a grand total of ZERO SNOW ANYWHERE in the city of Denver. WTF, weather channel? Additionally, in a surprising turn of events, Emily wakes up feeling like death. Which is odd, as it's not like we'd been sitting in the same enclosed space together for the past three days. An hour later Emily feels up to sitting in the car, but we're still stuck in Denver until almost noon, as all of the roads leading out of the city in all directions are listed on the State Transportation website as iced-over and dangerous. To kill time we find a camera shop and then a coffee shop. A little after noon we finally leave Denver. The first ski resort recommended to us ended up being approximately no where freaking near where Google Maps told us it would be. Instead of boarding we spend an hour or so driving along a narrow, winding hill/mountain-side road. Instead of being annoyed we're amazed at the views, the fog, the forests. Western Colorado is a gobsmackingly beautiful place. An hour later we're at Arapahoe Basin and find a small, semi-secluded ski and board slope. We pay our tickets and get a grand total of 30 minutes to board—turns out all the slopes in Colorado close by 16.00. This is unlike Minnesota or New York, where places are open until at least 23.00, if not 00.00 on weekends. Nonetheless we are okay with being able to say we've boarded in Colorado. The rest of the roads through Colorado are clear and gorgeous; mountains on both sides, the river winding next to the road... We make it to Grand Junction just after dark and plan to stay there because of another potential blizzard on the way. We luck out and are able to stay with some of Emily's relatives for the night. Only 6h of driving today, but we're exhausted.

Tuesday, March 8
A good night's sleep in a real house and a good breakfast later we're ready to head out for Utah. But not before taking several minutes to admire the view from Emily's relatives house—they live by the Mesa, which looks incredibly inviting in the early morning light. But we have bigger fish to fry roads to travel tacos to eat. Utah turns out to be another mind-blowing state topographically and we stop at almost every sightseeing point along the road. In Provo, Utah, we stop and visit with a friend of Emily's, then trek on to Nevada. Which is supposed to be one of the most desolate and boring states to drive through. Ever. Luckily, our Nevada stretch takes place at night, and other than a sense of mystery (it's impossible to see anything off the side of the road and all you're aware of is intermittent inclines and declines) it really does kind of suck. The day's 11h drive ends in Winnemucca, a city that truly fits its name. Especially the "mucca" part of it. At the hotel, I point and laugh at the white pick-up truck I park across from because it's covered in a thick layer of sand and dust.

Wednesday, March 9
Wednesday morning Emily feels a bit sick again, but we want to get the hell out of Winnemucca ASAP and pack up to leave. In the parking lot I stop short—I don't see my car ANYWHERE. I am convinced it has been towed or stolen, until I realize the now greyish-brown car parked across from the dirty white pick-up is mine. I become convinced Nevada is nothing but dust, unfortunate city names, and CSI: Las Vegas. The rest of Nevada no one cares about, until we hit the California border. At the border crossing we declare and are allowed to keep our celery, then make a stop in Tahoe for some fresh air and to stretch our legs. Tahoe is a bit confusing, but very lovely. As are the 10-foot snow banks and face-sized pine cones. We check out a few ski and board shops, get some coffee, and take pictures of a Jeep from Germany and a basset hound in a knit sweater. A few hours later we hit the green part of California and the car rings with sounds not unlike a hyperactive choir of teen-girl angels. We make a quick stop at a rest area to jump up and down and squeal before meeting up with a friend of mine in Alameda for dinner. Afterward we make a quick stop to see San Francisco from the inland side of the bay, then arrive at the condo of more of Emily's relatives. 7h of driving later we're back in a real-house situation and finally at our destination, and only two days later than scheduled. False-alarm blizzards and rampant colds be damned—Taco Mecca, we have arrived.

Thursday, March 10
Thursday begins with dropping my car off at a dealership for its first 10,000 mile check-up (go big or go home). I'm amazed that the VW dealer there had no problems doing the free check-up, considering a) the car is plated in Minnesota and b) we drove from New York. The representative I talk to takes one look at my car through the window and writes "CAR WASH" in thick letters at the bottom of the receipt. Take that, Nevada! The rest of the day is fast-paced, with some light shopping (Emily used to live in San Francisco and wanted to stop at a few places, while I stood around a Crumpler shop practically drooling until I found the ideal messenger bag), meeting up for lunch (tacos) with another of Emily's friends, then a ferry trip to Sausalito, then missing the ferry and being stuck in Sausalito for around 2h, then booking it to Mission Street for a delicious (one of the most delicious, actually) snack (tacos), before Emily went off to spend time and have dinner (tacos) with family and I went to pick up the car before meeting up with some more of my friends in the city for dinner (tacos). I about die of stress from driving in downtown San Francisco, but still filter enough of my surroundings in to know it's a very colorful and exciting place.

Friday, March 11
Friday we wake up and, after breakfast (leftover tacos—duh), immediately have to decide what our course of action will be. We plan to meet up with my friends in Pismo Beach, but may have to rethink or reroute our course due to potential road closings on the coast. News of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan has just reached us, as has information that California's coast is threatened by tidal waves. We stop and have coffee with my cousin not long after leaving San Francisco, stop at a few wineries along the route to start stocking the trunk of the car, and by the time we are within an hour of Pismo my friends call and give the all-clear, saying there is little wave activity on the coast by them. We get to Pismo with enough time to catch a genuine California sunset, then head into Splash Cafe for the area's best clam chowder. We decide to continue on to Bakersfield that night to make up for the time we lost the past few days. The road to Bakersfield is—if possible—even sketchier than the road to Winnemucca, and all we know is we're driving through groves of something.

Saturday, March 12
Bakersfield is uninteresting city wise, but we drive around for a bit blasting a Hispanic mariachi radio station while we look for a post office, where the postal worker rudely reads Emily's postcards without trying to hide the fact (at least wait until your customers are gone, you creeper), then gets confused when he looks at my postcard (suck it, you fool) and sees something other than English or Spanish. The drive out of Bakersfield and east through California is also pretty cool. We find a fantastic fruit and nut depot and pile the car with bags of dried fruit, nuts, and fresh oranges. Crossing the border out of California is a sad moment, but one we quickly turn around by making a random stop in the Mojave to see if our boards work equally well on sand. Since we find gravelly hills sharp with rock and shrubbery, our boards do not, I repeat, do not work well. We drive on to Flagstaff, where we stay the night, missing the chance (and daylight) to make a detour to the Grand Canyon by a few hours. With the exception of a few interesting sandscapes, one of the only good things about Arizona is the fiery, hot-pink sunset, colors I have never before seen in nature. Around 8h of driving today.

Sunday, March 13
The rest of the drive through Arizona is uneventful and boring, and the drive through into New Mexico is like having your teeth pulled by someone who has no idea how to properly anesthetize patients or pull teeth, but is really, really enthusiastic about it nonetheless. We're drained from the knowledge that we've seen and left California, and all we have to look forward to now is the long drive home. Another element making the return trip shitty to the nth degree is Daylight Savings—not only do we lose an hour in general, but with each time zone we cross we lose another hour. Thus, when we roll into Albuquerque around what the clock on the dash says is 01.00 pre-Daylight savings California time, it's actually 03.00. And we cannot. Find. A single. Hotel. With vacancies. Anywhere. Turns out there's some high school division track competition (or something similar or entirely unrelated—high school sports are all the same to me since I graduated high school) and practically every hotel is booked solid for Sunday night. We finally luck out and find a hotel, then find out the only reason they have vacancies is because one of the local teams was disqualified (so sad for you—so when do you serve breakfast?). We are beyond tired and agitated from the horrible things Time itself is doing to us.

Monday, March 14
Seeing as we're in New Mexico, we decide it would only be logical to have tacos and like-foods for a late-ish breakfast. We are wrong. Even though we chose a family-looking restaurant that seems teeming with locals, the food kind of looks and tastes like it was removed from a small cardboard box and placed in a microwave for 2-3 minutes on "High." We make it out of New Mexico, through Amarillo in the nubbin of Texas, and into Oklahoma City by nightfall. We are greeted by incredibly hazy skies, the result of grass fires just outside the city. The drive through Oklahoma City proper is uneventful, and we find a hotel just on the other side and well away from any potential smoke or fire damage.

Tuesday, March 15
Tuesday we push through almost 11h of driving to get to Nashville, Tennessee, where we stay with another of Emily's friends for the night. We decide it's best not to dwell on Arkansas too much—we intended to drive through there as quickly and efficiently as possible, and we were successful in doing so.

Wednesday, March
In the morning we head into the outskirts of downtown Nashville to meet another friend of mine for breakfast at a sweet coffee shop, Fido. Then we hit the road again in time to call in on speaker phone to our Wednesday morning class, which we had intended to be back in time for. Oh well—at least we made the effort. The next 1.5h is spent discussing a book we'd just read with our fellow students back at the university. Except we are put on mute because of the feedback the phone was getting from the car, so we take liberties in going off on our own tangents and shouting at other drivers on the road. We stop in Kentucky at a few wineries and the Jim Beam distillery—where the air smells of sweet, sweet bourbon, and the view is pretty good, too. Though we'd initially planned on making the final stretch home in one day, we are too knackered from the trip as a whole and only make it the 7h to Columbus, where we again stay with my cousin.

Thursday, March
Feeling more slightly more rested, we take our time leaving Columbus, stopping at a Caribou Coffee downtown before driving back north. No other significant stops are made during the day—we just want to get the hell back to our homes already. Which we do.

The end. I also took somewhere around 1500 pictures I think. At least those are the ones I decided to keep.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stone Upon Stone

Oh looky-loo! In between not writing about the 2011 Road Trip and finishing up my first year of graduate school, I hacked out another book review. I'm really starting to enjoy Archipelago Press books, and while 2-2 may not seem like a telling result, it certainly means something to me!

This review was of Polish writer Wiesław Myśliwski's Stone Upon Stone, a fantastic book just under 550 pages long. Here's the beginning of the review:

" It doesn’t take that many pages to figure out that the narrator of Stone Upon Stone is a womanizing, egotistical douche bag. Through a hyperbolic and highly digressive retelling of his life (ironically centered on the construction of a tomb), main man Szymek Pietruszka makes it clear that he is known by all around him as the best drinker, fighter, singer, dancer, ladies’ man—all the men want to be him and all the women want to be with him, etc. etc. But what’s amazing is that as much as Szymek is the type of guy you’d want to elbow hard in the back of the neck “on accident,” you can’t help but feel for and even like him. In just under 600 pages of palpable rural Polish imagery and culture, author Wiesław Myśliwski shows how easy it is to take a man who has seemingly spent his life at the top of his game and break him down piece-by-piece until he has nothing left but himself and the land.

Wiesław Myśliwski (1932- ) is an award winning Polish novelist and playwright whose novels have largely not yet been translated into English (with the exception of Palace [1991, Peter Owen Ltd] and the forthcoming A Treatise on Shelling Beans [2013, Archipelago]). Stone Upon Stone (Polish original published in 1984) has been called Myśliwski’s “grand epic,” and not without reason. In addition to specializing in all things Polish countryside, Myśliwski is a master not only of invoking location, but also of creating characters. The voice of Szymek Pietruszka is so distinct and so unique that it’s almost unreal to think the English translation is, in fact, a translation. That’s not to say it’s been streamlined to fit what could be considered a more “American” ideal or standard for fiction—this book is undeniably European. It’s more like the book was originally written in English."

Click here to read the full review.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How it Feels

Since words have no place, this is an approximation of what it feels like to have completed and survived my first year of graduate school:

Wide open, expansive, free, overly pink like cotton candy and, yes, even a little fluffy.

I don't normally process or edit anything this...rosy, but it's what seemed the best at the moment. I could jump on a million trampolines for a million years, run a million miles, somersault down a million hills--fair enough, that sounds like a triathlon for people dressed in the latest trends in straight jackets--but it just feels pretty damn good. And I didn't screw up once!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Chukchi Bible

Oh hey! I wrote a book review for my internship class and the Three Percent blog a few weeks ago of The Chukchi Bible by Yuri Rytkheu. I really enjoyed the mixture of memoir and folk tale, as well as learning a bit more about the lifestyle of Arctic and nomadic tribes. So until my final course paper is written and before I finaly get to a recap of the March cross-country road trop, here's an excerpt of my review-oriented ramblings:

"A bird flies around, takes a few shits, the shit turns into land and, voilà, the world is created.

That may sound like a summary of a terrible animated short or a 1970s acid trip, but it’s simply my poorly hyper-abridged version of one of many truly beautiful Chukchi folk tales that mark the beginning of time and man in Yuri Rytkheu’s The Chukchi Bible. Here’s the real version:

A raven was flying over an expanse. From time to time he slowed his flight and scattered his droppings. Wherever solid matter fell, a land mass appeared; wherever liquid fell became rivers and lakes, puddles and rivulets. Sometimes First Bird’s excrements mingled together, and this created the tundra marshes. The hardest of the Raven’s droppings served as the building blocks for scree slopes, mountains, and craggy cliffs.

There’s just something amazing about folk tales. I grew up with them as bedtime stories and have had a soft spot for them ever since, even preferring them to all things Disney. See, I find fairy tales lack that realistic nitty-gritty and hometown hero charm only a culture-specific folk tale can evoke. “Folk tales” focus on specific aspects of a culture, its values and history, whereas “fairy tales” are mostly about dwarves, princes hooking up with princesses, and evil queens getting tossed into canyons. While both forms of story telling are meant to entertain, folk tales are better in regard to educating and reminding us where we come from. And The Chukchi Bible has no shortage of heroes, culture, reality and that delicious nitty-gritty that makes stories like this all the more tangible."

The rest of the review can be found here. So far I'm 2/2 on reading and liking works published by Archipelago Books. I've got a couple more from them to start and hope I'll find them just as enjoyable.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sexism and Cars

All over the place with thoughts on this one. I'm bad at organizing thoughts when I'm frustrated...

This post isn't necessarily road trip related, but the subject matter came up and has been on my mind now for a week and is still bothering me. And it's at least car related, so let's just pretend it's a well-planned segue into the road trip experience.

I think it's a generally known fact that the majority of Latvia is still stuck in a sexist, chauvinistic mind-set. When I say "the majority", I'm still leaving room for those who do not think this way – I've been very lucky in that I've worked and socialized in circles and occupational fields that do not glorify the apparent incapability of women to do much of anything beyond cook and have neat handwriting (yet even in those circles there are exceptions to the liberal/Western "We can do it!" way of thinking, and surprisingly mostly due to actions and choice of the women themselves). Sexism is wide-spread and goes widely unchallenged in Latvia, and in many forms. I'm only going to point out a few. Hah.

This sexism starts with little things like replacing a light bulb, carrying a box or uncorking a bottle.

I get that there is probably some greater cultural meaning and reasoning behind men being the ones to uncork a bottle of wine or Champagne at a party. And if there's a guy around to replace a light bulb or carry a box in my place, then of course he's more than welcome to take care of that for me because that makes a) one less opportunity for me to electrocute myself and b) one less heavy-ass box for me to carry.

I'm not saying I'm against chivalrous acts such as holding doors or carrying heavy items – quite the contrary. A guy I once dated and I were one day crossing a large, busy street, and as we stepped into the intersection he moved around to my right to place himself between me and the oncoming traffic. He did it simply, naturally, and without drawing attention to it. It was old-school chivalry at its best and probably one of the most romantic things ever done for me. But there is a point where excessive babying of women can mutate from chivalry into a kind of aggressive and forcibly sugar-coated repression.

The bigger ways in which sexism manifests is in such cases as buying lumber (my best friend was treated like she was on drugs when she went to a hardware store in Riga to buy wood to build a shelf), shifting furniture, and anything to do with cars. Especially anything to do with cars.

If it wasn't initially clear, this entire post has been a digression leading up to sexism in Latvia related to all things "car." Last week I translated a project that had to do with customer service stories submitted by the employees of a gas station chain in Latvia. One of the stories written by a male employee retold a situation in which a female customer had pulled up to refuel her car and would have left the station with a partially deflated tire had the employee not noticed it and informed her.

Now, that's all well and good, but what got to me was the scenario he laid out for the customer in the event he had not noticed and fixed the damaged tire. The text was something similar to "...and she would have ended up on the side of the road, a woman by herself with a flat tire..." While this statement is undoubtedly true, as in the woman probably would have ended up on the side of the road with a flat tire had the employee not noticed anything, the sentence placed a stereotypical emphasis on the fact that:

Client(Woman on her own) + Flat tire(On side of road) = DOOM

The fact that it is still widely assumed in Latvia that women will be rendered helpless without a man around to help pisses me off. What century are we living in?

Sure, it could be an established fact that most women don't know how to change a flat tire, but jumping to that conclusion is bogus and unfair. I myself am one of those exceptions. I and realize this is probably because I'm an only child, I'm female, and my parents like to torture me.

One summer day my father called me out to the driveway where he was standing looking at one of the front tires of his car.

Dad: I've got a flat.
Me: Bummer – how'd that happen?
Dad: No clue. But you're going to change it for me.

And that was that. My father stood back and dictated what I was supposed to do to, from putting a rock or brick behind the back tires, to where to place the jack, to which order to loosen and tighten the nuts and bolts. Thus I learned how to change a flat tire. This "skill" came up once in a conversation with a friend's cousin, who was so skeptical and disbelieving of the possibility that a woman knew how to do so that he actually challenged me to go down to the street and change a tire on his car right then and there.

The sexism in Latvia goes beyond this still. Some insurance companies in Latvia have special "Lady Insurance" policies, which, while I suppose good in theory, are worded in such a disgustingly over-bearing and sexist way that it actually makes me wonder if each woman who signs up for said policy is also given a little lap dog wearing a pink sweater and a voucher for a manicure for her troubles.

I've even had a rental car company employee in Riga make openly snide remarks about women (in this case specifically me) driving. Another employee was going through the pre-rental check list with me when the employee in question walked by and said "Vai meitene vispar' prot braukt?" ("Does the girl even know how to drive?") What surprised me (in addition to being a douche to a client) was that he was probably my age and had this kind of mind-set. While I would have preferred to rear-end his car (or him) and then call out "I guess not!", I just replied "But of course."

I'm aware that much of this is based on how I was raised and where I was raised. My parents made it their job to make me solve problems (re: "torture") to outfit me the best they could to deal with what the world may throw my way. Anything they didn't teach me I had to figure out for myself. If a light bulb is burnt out and no one else is home, guess who gets to change it? Me. This box of books needs to be moved from point A to point B and no one else is around, guess who gets to move it places? Me. If I'm driving by myself and wind up with a flat tire, guess who gets to change it? Me. And while I would like to say that a line needs to be drawn – or even erased, depending on how you look at it – in regard to what is expected of women in Latvia, or Eastern Europe for that matter, I am also well aware that there are unfortunately women who take complete advantage of the fact that society is trained to expect them to be the weaker sex.

It's 2011 for Christ's sake – can't we let go of some of those preconceptions and expectations? Or at least stop pretending we have no bones in our bodies and all we care about are flowers and ponies (no offense or insult to ponies intended, because seriously, have you LOOKED at a pony lately? AWESOME.) Like, that desk lamp is honestly too much for you to carry? Honestly? You're not strong enough open that jar of pickles by yourself? Really? No, I mean REALLY? Then tell me, oh fellow independent woman of the 21st century, what is life like alone at home at the end of the day? Based on your theatrical lack of self-sufficiency I'd have to guess there are a lot of shattered glass jars and pickle juice covering your kitchen floor.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Road Tripping, Tripping Roads

I want to write about road trips/THE road trip. I really do.

Just give me a few minutes hours days to catch up to myself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Freaking Reflections

Freaking America.

Freaking winter break.

Freaking everyone else having either left or been left behind. So to speak.

I'm restless and have no idea what I want to do to combat that. Usually this is not the case. Well... at this exact moment I'd like to bust down the door of the people living above me and smash the gears out of the sewing machine being used with the object currently nearest me. Which is a hair tie or a cardigan. Needless to say it would be a very slow and awkward smashing.

Who sews at 02.30?

The holidays went better than I had expected (apologies to the family for my doubts), but the after parts were strange. It was odd driving my dad to the airport to see him off to Latvia. Usually it's me seeing him off back to the States. Same with my best friend. But I'm more okay with it than I was a week and a half ago.

Though New Year's Eve left me bitter. The experience of partying/visiting with friends and family at home in Riga and then rushing to the square by the Freedom Monument at 10 to 00.00 for the countdown is indescribable. Champagne bottles being passed around, emptied or kicked across asphalt. My middle-aged relative saying she hadn't taken a drink directly from a bottle since her college days, then stifling her laughter with a swig of bubbly. Mandarin oranges being shoved into your pockets by strangers. People dressed as chickens or call girls. It's like Halloween+Christmas+Easter+Independence Day. Then the fireworks. Oh, the fireworks. The fireworks well before midnight, shot off by Russians eager to get the party started. Then the city-sponsored fireworks. Then more Russian fireworks.

Then mulled wine, then sledding on plywood slabs by the Dom Church. Then throwing snow. Then chasing after some random golden retriever. I don't think I'm exaggerating or selling New Year's Eves to come short when I say the 2009-2010 exchange was the absolute tops. Man. I don't even want to try to beat it.