I stumbled upon an English copy of Gulliver's Travels in "Dom Knigi" (The "House of Books") the other day. I couldn't help but relate to the following passage (which goes for pictures as well)...
"I hope, the gentle reader will excuse me for dwelling on these, and the like particulars, which however insignificant they may appear to the groveling vulgar minds, yet will certainly help a philosopher to enlarge his thoughts and imagination, and apply them to the benefit of publick as well as private life; which was my sole design in presenting this, and other accounts of my travels to the world; wherein, I have been chiefly studious of truth, without affecting any ornaments of learning, or of style. But, the whole scene of this voyage made so strong an impression on my mind, and is so deeply fixed in my memory, that in committing it to paper, I did not omit one material circumstance; however, upon a strict review, I blotted out several passages of less moment which were in my first copy, for fear of being censured as tedious and triffling, whereof travellers are often, perhaps not without justice, accused." - Jonathan Swift
...this is kind of a long-winded way of saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
Also, if any of you have seen the movie "L'Auberge Espanole" ("The Spanish Apartment"), I am definitely feeling like Xavier right now. If you haven't seen it, you should (though I must warn you, it's very French and may offend some of the older generation - but if you're heading abroad, it's a must).
I guess I should catch yall up on what I've been doing over the last few days. Sunday I had a bit of an adventure - I decided that I had reached maximum shagginess and it was time for a haircut. I asked one of my roommates where I should go (she's a model, so I figured she was the one to ask) and she gave me directions to this salon on Nevsky. The girl at the front desk spoke English - but the lady cutting my hair didn't speak a word. I basically told her to make it look good, and that's what she did. I may have paid a little too much for it, but I think the mission was a success. And I definitely feel a lot better than I did with all the hair sticking out every which way. The rest of the day (like my whole weekend) was very lazy - I just lounged around and watched futbol.
I had to get up early on Monday to go to the University. I ended up standing in line for four hours (a great Russian tradition, I hear), to talk to the lady who could fix my schedule. She wasn't in (apparently she also doesn't keep regular office hours, or at least doesn't follow the schedule she has taped to her door), but another lady told me to show up next Monday for my first individual language class. So I guess that's settled. I'm going to be in individual lessons for the next four weeks, then I'll switch to group lessons for another month after the others in the art program have gone home.
I also managed to get a new SIM card for my cell phone, so that I can freely communicate with the others in my program (since I live in a different dorm). And it only cost me 150 rubles! (That's like 6 dollars, by the way). I don't know how much it charges me to receive calls or how much it costs for people to call me from the US, but yall are welcome to try. I do know that Russian cell phones can't be called from Skype yet :-(. But I do check my Skype voicemail everyday, so anybody is welcome to leave me a little motivational message ;-).
Last night (thanks to the ease of having a cell phone again), I met up with the rest of the group and we went to a private banya (bathhouse). It wasn't the tradition "naked-old-ladies-beating-each-other-with-sticks" kind - it was this little place that Nastya found where you can reserve the whole place for a group. It only cost us 200 rubles each. Well worth the small price - it was so relaxing! Gleb, Drew, and I were the only two who did the full submersion in the cold water after the sauna. It was really cold, but felt really nice (especially getting out). And it was a nice little introduction to what awaited me back at the dorm...
I hesitate to mention this last thing, for fear that I might receive an onslaught of "I-told-you-so's". But when I got home from the banya, my roommates informed me that there would be no hot water for the next month. "Why?" I asked. Katya's reply - "Because Russia is a great country." Har har har. Apparently this is not unusual - for buildings to shut down the hot water in the summer to "fix the pipes for the winter." I guess it's better that I didn't know about this ahead of time - otherwise I would have been dreading this day. But I'll live - I guess I'll just be going to the banya a bit more often. And Katya told me a story that assures me it could be worse - apparently they recently had a year with NO WATER in Vladivostock (where she's from). Hmmm. Sounds delightful.
Anyway, I'm going to go run a few errands before going home and cooling off in my nice cold shower. I'm posting some pictures on flickr, so make sure you check it too.