Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 10: Hello again

I had a really hard time falling asleep after the adventures with the federales; woke up just in time for breakfast at the hotel.

Finding things to eat here is tricky, mostly because the alphabet means nothing to me. I can eyeball a word and get a sense of what it means - some of the letters are same or similar - for example 'restaurant' looks like PECTOPAH, I think. But combine a new alphabet with wacky typography and sometimes you're out of luck. Being on foot would make it easier, but I'm mostly in the car due to the weight of the camera.

On top of this there's the total gamble that you face every time you look at a menu... And the tiny proportion of murmanskers (?) that speak English: so far most of my conversations have been a mix of drawings, sound effects and mime.

So, scarfed down some ham and pickles and a coffee, and hit the road. Three main objectives to tackle before I can start shooting:

1) fixing the flat tyre so that the rental shop doesn't have to look at the underside of my car, which is a total mess at this point
2) paying the fine for the port incident at a SBERBANK.
3) taking proof of payment of the fine down to the port authorities so they can clear the case

First stop, then, a tyre shop that one of the hotel guys had recommended. On the way to the place I caught a view of the city framed with Ladas, garbage and council housing, dotted with old people moving with arthritic determination to take care of whatever urgent business old people have in Murmansk. I climbed up onto a flat roof near the highway to shoot it. As usual, every passing car slowed to rubberneck.

I arrived at the tyre place and for the first time since arriving in Russia I knew what to say, thanks to the totally useless iPhone travel lingo app that I had bought for $10, two hours before boarding my flight. How much will it cost to fix, I asked, pointing at the huge screw protruding from the rubber. Of course, I already knew that I wouldn't be able to parse the answer, so I just grinned like a moron until he got a calculator and tapped out '310'.

Seemed a little high; I had a tyre plugged in NYC for about six bucks just recently. But whatever, I figured it's tourist price, and I was in no position to debate. Weirdly, they added another 150 to mount the fixed tyre, but whatever.

Next up, SBERBANK! Paying the fine was another hilarious nightmare. My federal friend had made a document that I was to hand to a teller at the bank; she would transfer the cash I handed her to the correct government account, and give me a receipt that I could show the port people.

First problem: the details that Dimitry had given me didn't match anything in the system. It was basically one of two accounts, neither of which was an exact match.

Second problem: she didn't speak a word of English.

Once we had picked an account - basically an educated guess - she asked me how much I wanted to pay. Given that dimitry had told me a thousand rubles, I just pointed at the note I'd placed in front of her.

At this point her eyes kind of went wide, and I became very confused. I wasn't sure if that meant that it was a huge fine (I think 1000r is like 70 bucks?) or a very small fine; no amount of charades shed any light on this. But eventually, having infuriated a whole line of old people behind me, the job was done.

Two down, so I headed back to the port with the note that Dimitry had given me to present to the security guards. Five minutes later I was back on the street, wondering if this anonymous donation to possibly the wrong government account had any paper trail linking back to close my case.

A few blocks away I spot Dimitry, this time in military uniform; he spots me as I'm pulling up to a traffic light, waves enthusiastically. I pull over, wind down the window, and we chat for a bit. He asks what I'm doing. You know, the usual. He laughs. I point out some spots on a map and we talk about where I can and can't go, helpfully recommending plenty of tourist spots (or, Murmansk's closest equivalents) that I know straight away will not yield anything good. Ignoring most of his advice, I spend the rest of the day getting some better shots, bringing the total to 46 colour and 32 b&w. Retire once again to the hotel to watch some more news - somehow, I never seem to have time to watch the news when I'm at home - and get ready for an early start.

The sound of newfound invincibility, damp roads and liberal application of handbrake on corner entry in downtown Murmansk: LCD soundsystem, 'disco infiltrator' (Buy it on itunes)

No comments: