I often wonder if I’ll ever see Ludmila again. It’s been over a year since I last saw her, at the end of my five weeks studying in St. Petersburg . I have one picture of her, a picture in which she spent 10 minutes in the bathroom getting all dolled up for only to not even smile at the flash. Ludmila doesn’t speak any English. That made living with her at the flat much more fun. I wonder if she even remembers me; I wasn’t all that memorable. But I could never forget Ludmila.
Ludmila made her own croutons. She’d cut up slices of bread into tiny cubes and leave them to dry on the microwave for a few days. On the morning I was leaving to go back to the states, I tried to take a picture of the croutons. Ludmila caught me before I could get my picture, got really embarrassed, scooped the croutons into a jar and hid them, and told me to take a picture of her flowers instead. She told me her flowers were very beautiful. I told her that I agree, they are beautiful and because they were beautiful I already had pictures of them. As beautiful as they were, the croutons were neater. Americans, too, grow beautiful flowers, but they do not make their own croutons.
Milk in a Jar
Ludmila kept a lot of things in jars: cheese, butter, fruit. Even the milk. The milk did not originally come in a jar. I know this because the amount of milk in the jar would always change. Ludmila never ran out of milk. I never saw where the milk actually came from but it always came to me in a jar. It never killed me either, so don’t worry about it anymore.
Russian Air Travel Sucks
One thing I did worry about was how the hell I was going to bring all my souvenirs back home. Medvedev, Putin, Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Brezhnev. My absolute most favorite souvenir from Russia is a matrushka doll that regurgitates the previous leaders of the country. I paid approximately 36 US dollars and it is worth every penny. It was not worth the 60 US dollars I paid for my second check-in luggage, a backpack, at the airport. It was definitely not worth it in London when United Airlines very nicely put the backpack in a giant plastic bag as to avoid the straps snagging to anything else. Kind of ruined the purpose of backpack, as I now have to carry around a bag with perfectly good straps in a clumsy plastic bag. Oh well.
I would be flying through five cities before I got home: St. Petersburg, London, Washington DC, St. Louis, Los Angeles, then, finally, Honolulu. It is the day before I am to leave, and this is the day Ludmila decides to figure out where I’m from. I told her on the first day I met her, but she now wants to know exact location. She calls me into the living room and pulls out an atlas, falling apart at the binding, pages worn, torn and missing, aged to a dirty brown. Ludmila finds a map of the United States and asks where my state is located. The atlas is so old that my state is not even a state yet. It’s not on the map. I tell her this and she thinks I don’t understand her question, so she asks me again. I tell her again that it’s not on the map and I begin to look through the pages to find a map that might possibly have my state on it. The only one is the world map; Hawai’i squished all the way to the left hand side. I point to it and tell her that, right there, is my home.
Ludmila’s eyes grow big. “So far,” she says. Ludmila takes the map and sits on the couch and spends in the next half an hour in awe of how far I’ve come. She asks me how far it is to this location and to that location, and I tell her. I ask her how old the atlas is. She tells me that it’s very old, that she used it when she was in school.
In Russian, there are separate words to say school at the university level and school at grade level. Ludmila said she used the atlas when she was still at grade level. I pegged Ludmila to be about 65 years old. That means I peg the atlas at about 55 years old. I peg 55 years ago at 1957, two years before statehood. That didn’t explain the fact that Alaska was on the map, but then again, it does. Alaska used to belong to Russia. Maybe they still care about their old territory. Maybe they can see former governor Sarah Palin too.
I managed to get Ludmila’s address before I departed for good. I intended to write to her in due time, to show her that my Russian language skills have improved. I still haven’t written, and I’m no longer sure if I can consider myself improved anymore. But even as my Russian deteriorates, my memories of Ludmila will not.