Dar es Salaam, London, and Saint Petersburg, November-December 2001:
If Everything Went Smoothly, Nobody Would Read My Reports
Updated January 31, 2002

October 31: The Great Pumpkin Flies Me to London Washington, DC, USA

In response to the recent attacks, airport security is tight, but the folks at British Airways still have a sense of humor (or "humour," as they say), and many of them are performing their duties in Halloween costumes. The agent who checks me in is dressed as a giant pumpkin, and she's so distracted by the weight of my bags that she forgets to ask me the usual security questions. I remind her, she thanks me, and then she interrogates me about the contents of my luggage.

Yes, I have a lot of luggage. So does my partner Paul, who has preceded me to Africa and is currently in Malawi (he reports a promising start there, but I'll learn the details when we rendezvous in Dar es Salaam). I have two big suitcases, but one of them is dedicated to computer equipment. The other only has room for my tropical attire; Paul has taken my Russian Winter wardrobe with him, and I'll send the clothing I don't need back with him to Washington when we leave Africa (I persuaded him months ago to buy a large wheeled suitcase specifically for this purpose). Even with Paul carrying my heavy clothes, both my checked bags and my carry-on are over the limit. With a quick configuration of my single large carry-on into two medium-sized carry-ons and a little pumpkin persuasion, I manage to get checked in without any extra baggage charges.

The guard at the security checkpoint asks me to take EVERYTHING (capitals his) out of my pockets, put it in a tray, and send it through the X-ray machine. He also states that all computers must be taken out of their cases and X-rayed separately. I have two ThinkPads in my carry-ons (one to be delivered to a friend in London) which I unpack and lay gently on the X-ray machine belt. They glide through undamaged, and everyone else picking up their Toshibas and Dells glares at me jealously as I return the two ThinkPads to their cases.

I relax until boarding time, and then settle into my exit-row seat. The catering service has failed to load my low-purine meal. I have to explain to two flight attendants what a low-purine meal is, and they listen with utter fascination. I'm finding out that most people who work for the airlines have never heard of such a meal, and that they are intrigued to learn that they offer it. My flight is uneventful and sleepless, so I arrive at Heathrow ready to check into the Hilton and sleep until my next flight.

November 1: The M. C. Escher School of Airport Design London, England

It's a long walk from my arrival gate to the Heathrow Hilton. Someone has put up signs along the way to let people know they're on the right footpath: "You are six minutes away from the Hilton," "You are four minutes away from the Hilton," etc. I walk at a fairly brisk pace, yet I can hardly keep up with them; the fellow who posted them must have been on roller skates. There's even a sign to tell you that you're at the Hilton, but this is an extended form of "at" which requires one to walk outside and part-way around the building before actually encountering the Hilton entrance.

As usual, I haven't gotten any sleep on the plane, so although I'm inclined to comment, I'm much too tired to discuss the non-Euclidian geometry of the pedestrian path between the gate and the hotel. I check in and fall asleep in a few minutes.

In the evening I meet Margaret and deliver her ThinkPad and some wireless networking equipment. We have plenty to talk about, so much like the last time we met at an airport restaurant, I just barely make the boarding call for my flight to Africa. Even after reducing my carry-on weight by the amount I handed to Margaret, I'm still two kilos over the official limit. To forestall any problems, I've retained "accepted" tag that I got in Washington, and flashing it at the gate agent exempts me from any further weight questions. I take my seat in World Traveller Plus, an improved version of coach class with more legroom than regular World Traveller, and prepare for the long flight to Dar es Salaam.

November 2: All by Myself Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

There's no special meal on this leg of my journey, and I surmise that the fault lies in the way my ticket was handled. To get a good price, I bought a ticket from a consolidator, and my meal request never made it onto his reservation record. It's a problem stemming from the complexities of discount airfare retailing that I can easily avoid in the future.

The plane stops in Nairobi, and most of the passengers get off. I'm the only one left in the World Traveller Plus cabin. Extra security procedures are in effect here, and officials come aboard to count passengers. The count doesn't match their expectations, so they do it again and again until they're satisfied that everyone on the plane belongs there, and then they finally let us take off for Dar es Salaam.

On the short flight from Nairobi to Dar, a flight attendant brings me a tray and asks, "would you like a snack?" It's hesitant dread time again. I peer down my nose at THE THING ON THE TRAY and say nothing. The flight attendant breaks the awkward silence with the comforting words, "I'm sorry, that isn't very appetizing, is it? I'll take it away."

Upon landing in Dar, I'm quickly through passport control and customs. The New Africa hotel bus is waiting for me and takes me downtown. At the hotel I find that Paul has been delayed in Malawi: he's been bumped from an overbooked flight, and he's not sure yet when he'll arrive. I attend to some small tasks before lack of sleep (and the after-effects of seeing THE THING ON THE TRAY) compel me to go to bed early. One of the tasks is the beginning of the process to move the new WILMA website from a server in Boston, MA, to one in Hampton Roads, VA. If I'm successful, net surfers shouldn't be able to see any difference, but we at WILMA should get much better service. In theory, the process should proceed smoothly without regard to my location; I'll let you know if the theory proves true.

November 3: Asleep at the Keyboard

My plans to sleep late this morning are foiled by the Mobitel Kilimanjaro Rally. A brass band and roaring car engines rouse me at around 6:00am. The starting point for the rally is right in front of the hotel, and since I'm on the third floor, that means it's about 30 feet from my window (closed but remarkably transparent to sound). Sorry - Paul has my camera, so I can't post any pictures. I get up, eat breakfast while watching the cars start at about 5-minute intervals, then get to work.

I send e-mail to some local colleagues letting them know I'm here and that Paul is delayed, transfer the contents of the new WILMA website from one host to another, and then settle down to computer work in my hotel room. The work continues late into the evening, when jet lag and sleep deficit defeat me once again. I turn in early, only to be awakened shortly by a call from Paul. He's just arrived and checked into the hotel. He has a good story about his trip, but I'm tired, so he'll wait until morning to tell me all about it.

November 4: The Route of the Migratory WILMA Bird

Paul has a strange tale indeed to tell about his trip. His route took him from Lilongwe to Nairobi, then to Mombasa, then to Zanzibar, and finally to Dar es Salaam, all in one day. I'll wait while you look that up in your atlas. Along the way he changed planes three times and airlines once, and he repeatedly had to make inquiries about his luggage and wait for airport personnel to dig it out of obscure locations and deliver it to the proper planes. At one point while he was waiting in the sweltering equatorial heat for his missing bags to show up, a friendly Australian bloke even advised him to give up all hope of ever seeing his belongings again - "it's happened to me twice, mate!" Since one of his suitcases is full of my clothes, I am amazed and relieved to find that everything eventually arrived intact. For all I know, someone may very well have opened my case, found it full of gloves, corduroy pants, flannel shirts, and other cold-weather attire, and simply decided that there must be better loot somewhere else.

Besides the travel story, Paul has encouraging news to report about his initial contacts in Lilongwe. It looks like we may soon have some projects rolling there. But there's little time for details: he's scheduled to leave in the early afternoon for western Tanzania, and my primary task is to give him a crash course in using the two cameras he's carrying. I also have to give him the notebooks, pens, and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers I've been carrying in my suitcases, all of which are useful for gathering information in remote regions.

I give Paul the short course on my camera. Mainly it's a matter of pushing the button labelled PUSH and sliding the tab labelled SLIDE in the direction indicated by the arrow. Then we tackle the movie camera he's borrowed, and with the help of the manual we figure out how to use it. I make sure all the camera batteries are charged and that he has plenty of blank discs and tapes. Soon our colleagues Stan and Nancy show up, and the three of them leave for the airport, making their way around the various equipment and decorations for the rally, which ends later today.

In the evening I dine at the hotel's Thai restaurant. Peter comes by as I'm midway through my main course. He's already eaten, but he has a glass of juice and we talk while I finish. Afterward we go to my room where I give him his new ThinkPad and digital camera. Both are better than the models I use and cost less than what I paid more than a year ago. He's happy with them and is eager to put them to use, so after I give him a short demonstration he's on his way. I continue to work on my considerable pile of computer tasks - some left over from before this trip began - and then turn in for the night.

November 5: As Seen on TV

I wake up and, as usual, turn on the television. The last inning of the last game of the World Series is on, and while I ordinarily don't pay much attention to baseball, I always enjoy a close contest. I find myself rooting for the New York Yankees, mainly because I think Mayor Giuliani ought to have something to celebrate after all he's been through, but the Arizona Diamondbacks prevail.

After breakfast I finish an important project and walk to the internet café to put it online. On my way back to the hotel I see a disturbing sight: a tall - perhaps 10-story - building under construction is on fire only a few blocks from where I'm standing. The concrete and steel floors are complete, but most of the walls have not yet been installed, and flames are visible on one of the middle floors. People on the roof - I assume the construction crew - cannot possibly descend through the flames to ground level. Plenty of emergency personnel are surrounding the site, and further observation reveals that some drums of flammable liquid are burning rather than the building itself. Before I turn away, I get the impression that the situation is under control.

Peter comes by, and I help him configure his new computer. He brings his old one as well, and it looks like it's been receiving hard use. I'm glad he's upgrading to a particularly rugged model, and I advise him that the old one should be relegated to a desk job.

There's no report of a disaster in downtown Dar on the evening news, and I see that the building that was on fire earlier today is still standing and seems to be undamaged, so I assume that no serious injuries or deaths resulted.

November 6: Meet 'n' Eat

I spend my morning on various internet tasks, then Peter comes by in the afternoon to drive me and some new equipment over to the TALENT office. There I introduce myself to Rehema, with whom I've been corresponding online for months on TALENT business, and she helps me get started on my task. While I set up the equipment, Peter, who apparently has been working nonstop since my previous visit to Dar, gets a much-needed nap. Installation goes smoothly up to the last step, when I try to add the relevant drivers to the computer. The CD-ROM drive malfunctions, making enough noise to wake Peter. Other than the connection to the computer, all functions pass their diagnostics, which is a good thing because I am not taking this stuff back to Washington for warranty service! Rehema says she'll see about getting the drive repaired so I can complete my testing before I leave town.

Peter takes me over to his new office and gives me the grand tour. It's much bigger than his old office, which means that it's big enough for both of us to step inside at once, but not so big that I don't whack my head on the low doorway. He shows me pictures of an award ceremony that was held recently: the First Lady of Tanzania gave some certificates to people and organizations that have contributed to the fight against AIDS. She had one for Paul, but since he hadn't arrived yet, she gave to Peter to pass along to him. It will look nice on his office wall, but I wish I could have gotten a picture of him receiving it from the First Lady.

Peter "invites" me to attend a meeting of his colleagues and volunteers. Oh, yeah, like I know my way back to the hotel from wherever I am. The meeting starts well enough, but the participants quickly switch from English to Swahili, and I spend the next couple of hours trying to look interested, then sympathetic, and finally - helped by my creaky plastic chair - concerned. We close the meeting with a big pile of barbecued chicken, and then Peter takes me to dinner.

We go to the City Garden restaurant, a short walk from my hotel, where we're joined by Charles, who had participated in the meeting, and his fiancée Grace. We give Charles some serious ribbing about setting a date, then move on to a lively discussion about computers (Peter and Grace compare portables - no need to tell you who wins the IBM vs. Dell matchup), travel, and other topics. Muhammad, the restaurant's owner, pays us a visit to see how we enjoyed our meal, and he offers his condolences for the recent attacks in the US. He then engages in a heated argument with Charles over the causes of Africa's continuing AIDS epidemic (I get the impression that they know each other). Their positions are, to put it mildly, intractable, and Peter, Grace, and I stay out of the way while they trade salvos. They end on, well, nonviolent, if not cordial, terms, and Peter takes me back to the hotel.

November 7: Nothing to Write Home About

I like the musical Cats; I don't like the show's dreary song "Memory." I like to listen to most musical instruments; I don't enjoy the panpipes at all. This morning the speakers in the restaurant are playing an extended version of "Memory" on the panpipes. It is a day of trivial aggravations.

Every day on my way to the internet café, I am approached by what seems to be hundreds of taxi drivers asking me if I'd like a ride. I politely decline, as always. Some have recognized the bold N on my sneakers and now call out from across the street, "hey, New Balance, you want a taxi?" Others try, "hey, boss," or "brother." One even goes as far as, "father, you want taxi?" I glare at him to let him know that - despite the gray beard - I am not that much older than the driver, but my inky-black sunglasses block the message.

At the café I find that my new web host in Virginia wants me to phone to confirm my service order. If I could phone, I wouldn't have ordered over the internet, and I send them mail saying so. In the afternoon I return to the café and find another message from them asking if I could fax my confirmation instead. I send them a reply indicating that, unlike fax machines in other parts of the world, the ones in Dar es Salaam use phone lines. The Zen of e-commerce eludes this company, but I think they can handle my order once I can convince them to execute it.

November 8: A Menu Ahead of its Time

Today is filled with more computer work. I go back to the TALENT office to see if the CD-ROM drive has been fixed or replaced. The technician didn't have a proper replacement, so he's put in a model that won't work with Windows but can be used in DOS mode. To install software from a CD, one must boot the machine in DOS, load the CD-ROM driver, copy the contents of the CD-ROM onto the hard drive, reboot in Windows and then use the copied files. Since the correct model is due to be installed in a couple of days, I decide not to do any more work on the machine today.

In the evening I go to the new Holiday Inn for dinner. The prices are reasonable, and the menu posted outside lists many inviting dishes. I take a seat; at 7:30, I'm the only customer, but while I dine a few others appear. My first surprise is that the menu posted outside is not the menu used inside - "tonight we have a special menu, sir!"

The "special menu" has plenty of interesting items, although it lacks the lobster and shrimp ravioli in saffron cream sauce that would have been my first choice on the regular menu. I begin by ordering a Caesar salad; "I'm sorry sir, but the lettuce has not yet arrived." Bah, the regular menu had several other appetizers that I would have preferred, but the special menu does not. I skip the appetizer and proceed directly to a main course of chicken. It's well prepared, if a bit bland, and since I skipped the appetizer I find myself in the mood for dessert. One word catches my eye; it's something I've not seen before on menus in Africa: milkshakes! I order one; "I'm sorry sir, but the milkshake machine has not yet arrived."

The Holiday Inn is brand new, and such problems are typical during a restaurant's shakedown period, so I plan to come back and give them another shot. The price is certainly reasonable: my main course costs about $7. At the other hotel restaurants in Dar it would probably have cost at least twice as much. If there's one thing the Holiday Inn could do to further distinguish itself from its competition, it would be to serve genuine mineral water. In Dar es Salaam restaurants, whenever I order mineral water I get chemically purified "drinking water" instead, heavy on the chlorine and ozone. In Nairobi, Kampala, and Zanzibar, I get water from a real mineral spring, or at least that's what the label says, and the taste makes the claim plausible. I pick up a bottle of real mineral water and some local cashews (cheap, tasty, need more salt) from the supermarket on the way back to the hotel and have a snack with my evening dose of CNN.

November 9: From Eggs Benedict to Beef Stroganoff

In the morning I take a seat in a part of the restaurant where I generally don't sit. The waiter approaches me and asks if I want my "usual" special dish. I have no special dish - breakfast is served buffet style, and I generally scoop some eggs and bacon onto my plate. Obviously, I have upset the balance of the universe today with my seat selection; only absurdity can restore the natural order (or natural chaos, depending on how you view the world).

When I hesitate to answer, he reminds me of my customary breakfast fare: fried eggs on toast, topped with melted cheese. That's as close as I'm likely to get to one of my favorite dishes, Eggs Benedict, so I tell him yes, I'll have the "usual." He writes the order and takes it to the kitchen, then returns in a minute with my morning coffee. I refuse it politely. The waiter asks, "you're switching to tea today?"

I reply - and I can say this with a straight face because it is the absolute truth - "I always have tea." He brings me some tea and spends the rest of the morning with a bemused expression on his face.

Later I continue to work out my billing problem with my new web hosting company. In lieu of a phone call or fax, they'll accept a scanned image of their paper form if I send it by e-mail. When I print out the form, I see the instructions demand that I also send a scan of my credit card (both sides) and passport. I fill out the form, got to the TALENT office, and run it through their scanner, but my passport and credit card won't fit through the machine. What's more, I'm wary of sending such images over the internet to anyone. The CD-ROM drive still hasn't been replaced, so I spend a little time talking with Rehema about TALENT matters and then return to the hotel to work on my computer.

In the evening Peter and Kenneth, a consultant who's working with TAYOA on AIDS awareness and prevention projects, take me back to the City Garden for dinner. The evening turns into a flexible feast as Peter's brother, Richard from DIT, and several others join us during various stages of the meal. Some of us are finishing just as others are starting, but the conversation ebbs and flows so that those who are eating the least are talking the most at any given time. Several people follow my lead and order the Beef Stroganoff, which is tasty and filling if not entirely authentic, and it gives me an opening to tell them about my upcoming trip to Russia. My description of the weather makes them shiver and convinces them - if any convincing were needed - that mzungus are just plain crazy.

We manage to get through the evening without any rancorous arguments, and we part with Richard inviting me to go to Bagamoyo tomorrow, a town about 80km. north of Dar with a unique place in east African history. Paul still has my camera in western Tanzania, but Peter agrees to lend me his so I don't miss a good photo opportunity.

November 10: A Day in Paradise, or, One of Our Mzungus is Missing Bagamoyo, Tanzania

Richard picks me up at the hotel. He dressed in what would be called a Hawaiian shirt if we were in Hawaii, but if I called it a Tanzanian shirt you wouldn't know what I was talking about. It's ideal attire for a drive on a hot day (if one must drive at all). I only mention this because a few minutes later Richard makes a call on his cell phone and discovers that we need to stop at a company where he's been doing some consulting. He wants to look professional, so he stops by his house to change into a dress shirt and tie.

We pick up Kenneth, visit the company for all of five minutes, then continue north toward Bagamoyo. There's a wide highway that leads there from Dar es Salaam, but it isn't finished, and for much of the distance we're confined to the rugged dirt trails on either side of the construction. We cover the 80km in a little more than two hours.

The name Bagamoyo means "I left my heart there" in the local language. I joke with Richard that it's Africa's equivalent of San Francisco, but the true origin of the name is part of the miserable history of foreign plundering on this continent. It was given to this major center of the slave trade by the slaves themselves, whose last glimpse of Africa was the Bagamoyo dock.

We arrive at the oldest hospital in east Africa, still in operation after over 100 years. Richard has some business to conduct with the head of the hospital, and he knows I won't find it very entertaining to sit in on his discussion, so he suggests that he leave me in Paradise for an hour. We drive a short distance to the Paradise Beach Resort, where he drops me and drives away.

A waiter takes me to a table on the beach, offers me a seat in a plastic chair, and brings me a cold drink. When the chair breaks, I move to a sturdy wooden lounge chair, but it's not made for someone of my height. If I bend where it bends, my head extends way beyond the headrest. If I put my head on the headrest, I can't lie back comfortably. So I walk around, take a few pictures, and wait for Richard, who assured me that he would return in an hour.

Views of Paradise Beach Resort (click on images to enlarge)

Four hours later, Richard appears. Business took far longer than he had expected, and he blames the poor condition of the roads. I have no idea where he went, but we're both due back in Dar es Salaam, so we begin the drive back, stopping for a few minutes to take a couple of pictures.

the old German administrative center,
the Boma

I follow in the footsteps of Burton and Speke
(well, a footstep, anyway)

When we reach Dar, Richard has a surprise waiting for me. He takes me on a tour of the new house he's building. It's spacious and striking, even in its unfinished state. Richard designed it himself, and he's included built-in television and internet cables. No, he doesn't need a workshop full of power tools - he's gets enough of that working at DIT!

Richard and the construction foreman

Coconut trees shade the entrance

He takes me back to the hotel where I await Paul. Evening wears on, and there's no sign of him. Since he was headed for an area with no electricity, I can't expect any calls advising me of a delay. Eventually I eat dinner alone and call it a day.

November 11: At a Loss for Words Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

There's no word from Paul during the day. I spend my time on various computer tasks, and I take an hour to walk down to a local gift shop that I've patronized during previous trips. The selection of merchandise has deteriorated since my last visit, and I walk away empty-handed.

In the evening I sit in the hotel lobby and wait for Paul. I take this opportunity to try out a new gadget I brought from the USA for the Russian part of the trip: a talking electronic Russian-English dictionary. I've owned one for years and used it on previous trips to Russia, and while my Russian friends make fun of the tinny, indistinct sound it produces when it pronounces words, I still find the talking feature useful for identifying accented syllables. I traded in my old one for the latest top-of-the-line model only a day before my departure, so this is the first chance I've had to take it for a test-drive.

The old one was gray; this new one is gold, which is just going to make it more appealing to thieves, I suppose, but it has a solid feel and both push-button and touch-screen keyboards. It has over a million words, as opposed to the old model's 400,000, and I appreciate the improvement. Yes, yes, I know - I hadn't used up all the words in the old one, but the larger vocabulary remedies a minor irritation the old one inflicted on me from time to time: because of its alphabetic search and auto-typing functions, it had a tendency to display a vulgar Russian word whenever an "e" was typed as the first letter of a word. With more entries at the top of the "e" list, the new one displays an innocuous word.

I try out the various functions, and I'm eager to hear if the audio is improved. I type an English word, press TRANSLATE to display it in Russian, and press SPEAK. It pronounces the English word at the top of the screen instead of its Russian equivalent (and the voice is pretty much the same quality as before). I highlight the Russian word and try again, but it still pronounces the English version. I switch from English>Russian to Russian>English translations, type in a Russian word, and press SPEAK. There's no sound at all. I press TRANSLATE, which displays a whole screen full of words and expressions that can be considered English equivalents, then SPEAK: it pronounces the whole list of English words in a staccato monotone that must give other lobby occupants the impression that I'm trying to coax my weekly schedule out of a passive-aggressive Palm Pilot. Further examination of the translator's features and a review of the help files reveal the awful truth: I have a translator that only speaks one language. The display functions work equally well in both languages, and the audio function was never critical anyway, so it's still a useful gadget, but I can't believe that I traded in my perfectly good Russian-speaking model for this "improved" one.

There's still no sign of or word from Paul. When I grow tired of playing with my toy, I go up to the Thai restaurant and order dinner. Midway through my meal, Paul walks in, looking for me. In a voice loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear, I greet him: "Dr. Armington, I presume?" We get a few stares. He explains that he really wasn't delayed; he'd just given me (and the hotel) the wrong return date.

Paul has quite a story to tell about his trip. He orders dinner and tells me the highlights, and as usual the adventure is far from what we expected. In short, he had a great time, learned a lot, and has plenty of material to work with in promoting the Solar Village Institute. I tell him he has to write his own travel story and put it online; I have just barely enough time to record my own adventures. Feel free to send him e-mail (parmington@african-center.org) to encourage him to finish his travelog. I'll put a link to it on this page when it's ready.

November 12: The Epistle of Paul to the Ahakishakans

Paul and I catch up with each other's adventures over breakfast. Demand for his time has been building during his stay in western Tanzania, so Last Week Syndrome, the period in which all our colleagues try to get in meetings with us before we leave, threatens to begin in earnest, but Paul doesn't have a lot of time for talk. He wants to get a paper finished detailing plans for solar power in Ahakishaka, so he retires to his room with his ThinkPad while I attend to other matters.

I try out an internet café about 100 meters from the hotel. It's not as good as the one I usually use in a local beauty parlor - the connection is slower and works through an unreliable proxy server - but it's open until 10:00pm. Most of the other cafés close around 6. I need the evening hours to use British Airways' convenient online check-in service, and I check to ensure that Dar es Salaam airport is now included in that service. It is, so I make a note to come back here 24 hours before my flight (the earliest one can check in online) and lock in my preferred seat. Then I walk to the beauty parlor to take care of my other internet tasks.

By day's end Paul still has much to write, but he takes a break long enough to walk to the Holiday Inn with me for dinner. The restaurant is still working out its various glitches, but we're satisfied with our meal and feel confident that they'll operating smoothly by our next visit a few months from now.

November 13: That's OK, the Same Thing Happens at the Nobel Ceremonies All the Time

Paul continues to write the Ahakishaka master plan. I take care of internet matters: now that our colleagues know he's in Dar, there's plenty of correspondence for the both of us. The computers all display the date as Wednesday, November 14, and I don't question them, so when I read a message from DIT inviting us to a meeting on the 14th, I immediately respond with regrets that I didn't receive the invitation in time to attend. A minute later it occurs to me: where did the day go? A quick online visit to CNN.com tells me the correct date, and a few minutes later I send a correction. Later in the day I get another message from DIT politely inquiring about my health. I'm fine, thanks, just a little too trusting of the local technology.

In the evening Peter takes Paul and me to dinner at the City Garden. Also in attendance is the wife of Tanzania's ambassador to China. We have a lively conversation about development efforts in Africa and China, about life in both countries, and various other topics, and at the end of the meal she presents Paul with his certificate of appreciation for WILMA's support of the AIDS awareness and prevention effort. Well, actually, she gives him the certificate of appreciation for the Swiss Embassy - Peter brought the wrong one, and she didn't want Paul to walk away empty-handed. Peter promises to deliver the correct certificate to our hotel later in the week.

November 14: Oh, Really? Say Something in Swiss!

Paul continues to write the Ahakishaka master plan. He has about 80 pictures taken during his trip, so I spend my morning finishing a program to sort and display them conveniently. I use the same program to build a catalog of my Bagamoyo pictures: only a few were worthy of appearing on my website, but Richard wants copies of all of them for his own purposes.

Peter brings Paul's certificate of appreciation, which is correctly addressed to WILMA. I try to pass myself off as a representative of the Swiss embassy, but Peter is not fooled and takes away the other certificate.

In the afternoon we go to our meeting at DIT where we all report on our progress since our last visit. We settle some important technical issues regarding DIT's network and website, then agree on a course of action to be coordinated over the internet until our next visit to Tanzania.

In the evening, Paul continues to write. The Ahakishaka paper is turning into a major effort. He wants me to format it neatly once he's finished composing the text, but I'm beginning to suspect I won't have time. I've glanced at the unfinished document: it's far from finished and badly formatted. I take care of other computer work while I await a chance to, as Paul puts it, "work my magic."

November 15: Waiting for Godot to Check In

Paul continues to expand the Ahakishaka Manifesto. There was a time during this trip when Paul suggested that I write a one- or two-page summary of the finished document and circulate it among some of our Tanzanian colleagues for comment. That time was Monday afternoon, about 20 pages ago in Manifesto terms, and obviously I won't be writing any summary before we leave Africa. I'm beginning to wonder if he'll actually finish the draft before our flight to London tomorrow.

Paul accompanies me to the internet café in the beauty parlor, where all the computers still insist that today is Wednesday, November 14. I'm not fooled a second time. In addition to my usual tasks, I want to get Paul signed up to use the British Airways online check-in service. I guide him through the procedure, but we hit a roadblock when I discover that he never supplied British Airways with his e-mail address. Without an e-mail address already on file, they won't authorize him to use online check-in; instead, they'll mail the required code to his house. He resigns himself to checking in the old-fashioned way and heads off to a meeting; I get my work done, then return to the hotel to assist Paul with some document-merging. The draft is approaching completion!

When our flight is 24 hours away, I go to check in online at the evening-hours café. I buy a 30-minute ticket (the smallest they sell) since I only have one task to complete. Service is always slow here, but this evening it's really crawling. It takes me 20 minutes just to display the check-in page, where I type in my flight details and click to choose my seat. Another 5 minutes passes before I get a response: yes, Dar es Salaam airport is now included in the online check-in service, but this particular flight is not. I waste my remaining 5 minutes by clicking again to confirm that the response is valid and not just the result of a proxy server glitch. With less than 30 seconds left on my ticket, the response is verified, and I trudge back to the hotel.

Paul breaks for dinner with me at the Thai restaurant. He orders a Serengeti beer, but the waiter says they don't have it and seems utterly incredulous at Paul's claim that he's had it here before. Paul settles for a Castle beer, and I get a properly-made iced tea for the first time during this trip.

November 16: You May Be "Mr. David" in Dar es Salaam, But in Nairobi You're Just in the Way

After breakfast I go to the British Airways office at the Royal Palm (formerly the Sheraton) Hotel and check us in. I get the seat I wanted, and I get Paul a pretty good seat as well. Outside the hotel, there are tables piled high with local handicrafts. The shop I had visited earlier in the week, where I'd found nothing to buy, apparently just received a fresh shipment, and they now have so much new merchandise that it's overflowing onto the hotel's property. I purchase some fine items at reasonable prices and return to the New Africa Hotel, where I negotiate a 5:00pm checkout: we'll need our rooms late into the afternoon for last-minute work.

Paul finally gives me the Ahakishaka paper for cleanup. He also wants to know if I can help him select some pictures from his collection to include in the document. I take one look at my watch and tell him, "no way." We have an appointment at the TALENT office, I need to buy some presents, and then we have to catch a flight. He agrees to forego the pictures and leaves me to format the document properly.

The Ahakishaka document has various titles, subtitles, headers, subheaders, footnotes, tables, and lists. Every single word is formatted in TITLE style. If WILMA had any money, I'd charge extra to clean up this mess. It takes me hours just to get the document to the point where I can generate a table of contents. I save the result just in time for Paul and me to leave for our last meeting at the TALENT office. We're late, so even though it's only 5 blocks away, we take a taxi.

Tanzanian taxis are small, but I'm accustomed to squeezing into them. As usual, I'm wearing my sunglasses and carrying my indoor pair in my pocket. When we arrive at the office, my pocket is empty. I search the taxi, but my glasses are nowhere to be found. Time is short - we ask the driver to wait ten minutes to take us back to the hotel - so I go inside and work as best I can in my sunglasses. That turns out to be not very well at all (the focal length is all wrong for close-up work on computers), but I manage to get Paul's document and indexed pictures onto Stan's computer.

The taxi driver is waiting just as we asked, and he gets us through dense traffic back to the hotel. As we pull up, another driver approaches me and hands me my glasses. The had fallen onto the road as I was adjusting my seatbelt, something that a person my size must always do with the door open in a Tanzanian taxi. I thank him and go inside - it's check-out time, and I get my bags out of my room and turn them over to the bellman. He stacks them with other bags destined for the afternoon bus to the airport while I take care of the bill for our rooms.

Soon the bus is ready, and Paul and I board along with a full load of other passengers. As departure time arrives, a bellman enters the bus and asks one of the passengers to step back into the hotel. I'm ready to go to the airport, and I wait impatiently for him to return so we can be on our way. He returns after a few minutes, but the bus does not move even though it's a few minutes past departure time.

The bellman appears again and asks for "Mr. David." I signal him and identify myself as David Laughton. The bellman looks confused and asks again for "Mr. David." Nobody else makes a move, and it's common for Africans to refer to me this way, so I get his attention again and acknowledge that I am Mr. David. He asks me to step back into the hotel. I accompany him, secure in the knowledge that if the bus tries to leave without me, Paul will feign a medical emergency to delay it.

The cashier only charged me for one hotel room. Aw, shucks, I thought I was just getting a frequent-stay discount. She hands me a credit-card slip for the second room, and I sign it, thinking that I'll be back on the bus in a minute. No, she has to wait for authorization by phone. At first the number is busy, and then when she finally gets through, she's put on hold while the office decides whether to allow the charge or not. I don't know much about the details of the process, but I can understand their skepticism when a single customer incurs two large charges from the same vendor in the space of a few minutes. Eventually, the transaction is approved, and I rejoin the bus, which immediately departs for the airport.

At the airport we realize that the agent who checked us in earlier today only checked us to London. That's my final destination today, but Paul is connecting to Washington. The agent at the airport cannot extend Paul's check-in; he'll have to take care of that in London. With a six-hour layover, he should have no problem getting that done.

We board, we take our comfortable seats (mine rather more comfortable than Paul's), and take off for a 90-minute stop in Nairobi. There the plane takes on the bulk of its London-bound passengers, including one who has a claim on my seat. To compound my irritation, I've just begun enjoying a rare nap on the plane as we wait in Nairobi, and the attendant must wake me to tell that British Airways has issued duplicate boarding passes. My competitor is part of a family with small children; I agree to move rather than make the airline try to seat the entire family somewhere else.

I am evicted from World Traveller Plus and sentenced to standard World Traveller. I get a seat with no legroom. I ask for legroom, but the flight attendant assures me that this cramped space is all that's available. I am unhappy, but the passenger in front of me is even unhappier. She wants to recline her seat, but two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time no matter how hard she pushes. She asks me if I will recline my seat, which, according to her non-Euclidean calculations, will move my knees back and allow her space to recline her seat. This lady knows nothing of physics: if I lean back, my knees will project farther forward, and since there is no space for my knees now, it is physically impossible for me to recline without putting my legs in the overhead compartment.

I explain the situation nicely. The lady is still unhappy. She complains to the flight attendant, who miraculously discovers a bulkhead seat - unavailable only five minutes ago - that gives me some room for my knees. It' still cramped, a middle seat between two people who toss and turn and elbow me in their sleep, so I spend a lot of time standing in the rear and explaining that no, I'm not in the queue for the restroom, I'm just more comfortable standing.

November 17: Buying Time, Part I London, England

We arrive a bit ahead of schedule in London, before 6:00am. Paul's seat is forward of mine, and he's already left the plane by the time I make my way to the door. I expect to meet him at the first open space past the narrow jetway - we usually walk to passport control together - but he's nowhere to be seen. I continue to passport control, then to the baggage claim; since he was unable to check in all the way to Washington, I suspect that he may show up to claim his bags and then re-check them. However, after my bags and those of all the other passengers have arrived on the carousel, I still haven't seen him. I have a lot of time on my hands: 6:00am is generally way too early to check into a hotel, so I wait just a bit longer, but it's soon apparent that he's taken the route for transit passengers, will keep him completely separated from those staying in the UK, so I make my way to the hotel transport desk.

I buy a ticket for the bus and wait. The hotel doesn't guarantee my room will be available until noon, but if London is as empty as the BBC has been reporting, there should be no objection to my checking in early. Sure enough, I arrive a little after 7:00, and I'm immediately escorted to my room. I've had no sleep since I caught a few winks in Nairobi, so it's only a few minutes more before I'm asleep, renewing my stamina for a weekend of shopping.

In the afternoon I awaken and begin to execute my plan. I have a long list of items to buy, some of them presents for friends in Russia, some of them items for myself that I simply couldn't carry from Washington because my suitcases were so full of equipment that's now in Africa. Not only do I have a list, but I've noted from memory the locations of the shops where I can buy each item and the route to take so I can use my travel time most efficiently. All works well until I get to the first shop. My favorite London department store, Selfridges & Co., has changed its selection of merchandise in a key department, and I suddenly find myself adding shops to my list that considerably lengthen my route through the city. Yes, I could substitute another brand, but I'm picky, and no, I'm not going to tell you what the first item is, because the person it's for may be reading this. Most of the rest of the list works according to plan, so I wind up at the end of the shopping day only one item behind schedule.

November 18: Buying Time, Part II

I don't think I've ever shopped in London on a Sunday before. If I had, I would have remembered that most stores open their doors in the morning but are prohibited by law from actually selling things before noon. I use the "preview time" to locate the items I need, then start buying precisely at 12:00. So does everyone else: while I have my day well planned, I encounter an unexpectedly long delay at every cash register, and I only manage to make my last purchase at 5:55pm. The stores close at 6:00. In the evening I go to a friend's house to collect an item she has special-ordered for me, then head back to the hotel to pack, eat, and sleep.

November 19: What You See is What You Get St. Petersburg, Russia

I chose the Thistle Victoria Hotel because it's convenient to Victoria railway station: the hotel is on top of the station, so all I have to do is go downstairs to the British Airways city check-in desk, turn over my bags, collect my boarding pass, walk over to track 13, and board the Gatwick Express train. Everything proceeds as planned, and in 30 minutes I'm at the airport in plenty of time for my morning flight.

British Airways has a low-purine meal for me, but it's a big disappointment: overcooked chicken in bland "gravy." While the special meals are generally better than standard meals in economy class, I'm flying business class to Russia. I think I would have been better off with the standard business-class meal, but I'll keep my low-purine meal reservation and see what happens on the return trip. On a three-hour flight, I really don't care if I eat at all, so it's a good opportunity to experiment.

At St. Petersburg's Pulkhovo airport I collect my luggage - there aren't very many passengers or bags this time of year - and breeze through customs. Fyodor, my driver from the Svetlana agency, is there to meet me. We stuff my large bags into his small car (almost all cars are small to me), climb in, and head downtown. I notice a lot of new businesses and renovated buildings, and the roads are much improved since the last time I was here: three years ago, the ride from the airport was an arduous, jarring trek over potholes and ruts, but today it's smooth and fast.

Fyodor and I chat a bit in Russian. I don't have much to say, but what I do say I can remember how to say in Russian. It's good to have this small victory; I was afraid I'd forgotten just about all the conversational Russian I'd ever learned. We find the right building, locate my apartment, and the current residents let us in. The current residents? Petersburg, we have a problem. Fyodor makes a phone call, and the agency explains that the people in the apartment should have left hours ago. I'm invited to go down to the Svetlana office for some tea while they correct the situation. I never turn down tea.

At the office, Olga K. asks me how I liked the apartment (I have to use initials; I know several Olgas, and I expect that more than one will appear in my reports). I respond that I haven't had a chance to see it yet, so I'll have to let her know tomorrow. We have some tea and talk a while - we've known each other for years. After a respectable amount of time has passed, I return to the apartment on foot. Along the way, I stop at one of my usual grocery stores and pick up some basic supplies. This trek is another small victory for me, as I find that I remember the city well enough to locate both the store and the apartment on the first try. I'd never set foot near the apartment building before, and at night with a temperature of about 20°F and wind about 20 knots, getting lost even briefly would definitely have been a defeat.

Up to this point, today's experience seems more like coming home than traveling to an exotic, faraway location. I open the door to my apartment, step in, and realize that I'm not at home any more. I was mistaken when I told Olga K. that I hadn't seen the apartment yet: I've already seen all there is to see, a roughly 4x5 meter room with a tiny cubicle around the toilet and a shower stall in the kitchen area. The bed is a small sofa-bed which is already open for me.

It's immediately apparent that I can't spend 4 weeks here. There's no table, so I can't serve dinner to guests, and there isn't much seating space. Most importantly, I can't even close the cubicle when I'm using the toilet, so there's no way I could invite company. These are definitely not the accommodations I booked through Svetlana, which has always given me excellent service before. Since the agency is closed for the day, I'll make the best of things here for the night, but tomorrow I register my complaint.

November 20: It Fits Me Like a Glove; If Only It Fit Me Like an Apartment

I awaken with sore joints: the small, hard bed has kept me tossing and turning all night and given me a few bruises. Squeezing in and out of the shower stall proves to be another adventure. The refrigerator is just big enough to hold the two kilograms of Scottish smoked salmon I brought from London, and the miniature stove is just big enough to prepare breakfast for one (maybe two if they want the same thing).

After breakfast I visit the Svetlana agency. Olga K. is out taking care of another urgent matter, so I wait a while. One of the computers has a problem, so I take a look and have it fixed in a few minutes. Olga K. phones in and lets me know that she won't be back for another hour, so I go off to do some shopping. When I return, I tell her about the tiny apartment. She is appalled and agrees that this is not what we had agreed upon. She will contact the real estate company that supplies the apartments and let me know what can be done.

In the evening I walk to the PeterLink office and sign up for a local internet dial-up account. I give myself bonus points for conducting the entire transaction in Russian, although when the technician hears my American accent, he insists on repeating the dialing instructions in English.

November 21: The Party Line

I'm learning to live in my miniature quarters. Today I spend a lot of my time catching up on work and updating my travel reports, so I don't need a lot of room. The dial-up account works perfectly, and I make use of it to read news and send e-mail.

Olga K. sends me an update: she can move me immediately to a reasonably proportioned apartment that's a bit of a walk from the nearest metro station. However, if I'm willing to wait a few days, she can move me to a "super-style" apartment that's next to a station. She makes the latter sound very inviting, so I agree to make do with my present situation until Saturday.

In the evening, there's a knock on my door. Ordinarily, Russians do not open their apartment doors for strangers, and neither do I, but tonight I'm curious. Through the peephole I can see a little old lady waiting impatiently for me to answer. I figure I can handle her if she gets violent, so I open the door.

She stands no more than 5 feet tall and is old enough to have personally known Tsar Nicholas. Nicholas I, that is. She stares up at me with mouth agape as if I were the Creature from the Black Lagoon. She speaks rapidly, obviously complaining about something, but I don't understand. I let her know that I'm an American and ask her to speak slowly. She complies, explaining that she is my next-door neighbor and that our two apartments share a single phone line which I've kept tied up all day with my computer. I apologize profusely and let her know that I won't do it again, and she seems satisfied. Curiously, she continues to stare up at me until I've closed and bolted the door.

November 22: The Mark of a Good Cook (or at Least a Tall One)

There's a mirror next to the refrigerator, and as I get some milk I catch sight of myself and immediately realize why my neighbor was staring at me so oddly last night. I've banged my head against a few low surfaces over the past couple of days, and one of them must be rather sharp: there's a big dried bloodstain on my forehead. For all I know, it may have been bright and fresh yesterday when I opened the door, and my neighbor must have thought she interrupted a fight. Who knows - I may be able to persuade her that it was some weird American pre-Thanksgiving ritual. It doesn't take me long to find the red stains on the range hood that identify it as the source of my injury. It also doesn't take me long to gash my head again: it's nearly impossible for me to cook without contacting the hood's sharp steel edge.

Starting today I begin cooking with my hat on to avoid further injury. The phone interrupts me often. Thus far it's been one call for me and about 20 for other people who have stayed in the apartment previously. I'm looking forward to moving into my new apartment tomorrow and getting away from all the little annoyances here.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, but in Russia it's just Thursday. A few restaurants that cater to foreigners are advertising holiday dinners with traditional American menus, but I'm content to don my hat and prepare my own meal. The people I expressly came to see in St. Petersburg are either at home with the flu or busy at work, so I amuse myself with Russian television and walking around the city during the few daylight hours. I'll take some pictures soon, but for now I'm just observing all the changes since my last visit.

November 23: Music to Pack Your Suitcase By

There's not much to report today: I haven't even unpacked yet since there's no space in the apartment for my clothes or for me to set up my computer and related equipment. I visit the Svetlana office, but they're still not ready to tell me what time I'll be moving tomorrow.

In the evening, a rock band starts practicing in my neighbor's apartment. Well, at least I assume it's a rock band. I suppose it could be synchronized garbage disposals. The frequent starts and stops indicate that it's practice rather than performance, and it's so loud that I can't hear my own television, not that there's much to watch.

Thus far the television has provided me with some practice in comprehending spoken Russian, but throughout the evening the noise from the adjacent apartment interferes with even this activity. Before going to bed I tidy up my little space, wash the dish (did I mention that the apartment is sparsely equipped as well as tiny?), and pack the few personal items I've used back in my suitcase in anticipation of an early departure from Liliput on the Neva.

November 24: And the Band Played On

I send e-mail. I call. I wait. All day I sit by the phone in hopes that the agency will tell me the new apartment is ready. I watch a lot of television. Among the more memorable sights are the Simpsons, poorly dubbed in Russian, and the performing hippopotamus from the St. Petersburg Circus. Eventually it becomes obvious that I've wasted another entire day. The rock band next door starts up around 8:00pm, at which point I go out to the grocery store and buy another day's supplies. When I return, I figure that the neighbor who had complained about my use of the phone couldn't possibly be using hers with the band cranking out decibels as if they were rubles, so I take the opportunity to get in a couple hours of internet time. The band is still going strong at 2:00am, at which time I go to bed. I've slept through worse.

November 25: The Gauntlet

Today I do some serious exploring. In particular, I want to find some good sources for Christmas presents. I start with the big department store near my apartment, and while I find some interesting items, the one thing I'd been looking for - playing cards - is not available here. I bought some here for my brother's family three years ago, and he lost them shortly after I handed them to him. I promised to get him replacements when I returned to Russia, so I continue looking for them in other shops and kiosks.

My wandering takes me to the cluster of kiosks in the prime tourist-traffic zone that I usually avoid. The vendors here know how to hustle, and it's difficult even for me to escape without buying something. It's also a place that's difficult to escape without having your pocket picked, but there's nothing in my pockets: anyone who wants to take my money will have to establish more than a casual relationship. Almost immediately one of the vendors seems to have such intentions: he cries out, "Hello, you big American man!" The others start closing in on me like sharks encircling a wounded tuna.

Most of what they offer is typical tourist souvenirs, so I walk by the kiosks quickly. All I want is a couple decks of cards, and since everything on sale is on display, it's easier for me to just look than ask. I know these folks: they're nothing if not resourceful. If I say I want playing cards, they'll physically restrain me until they can print some. They all address me in English, and I think they're annoyed that I respond only in Russian and that I'm walking too fast to actually buy anything. The merchandise is the usual mix of dolls, chess sets, Soviet-era pins, fur hats, and lacquered boxes, so I breeze through the crowd (composed of far more vendors than shoppers this time of year) and am on my way before anyone even has a chance to discover that my pockets are empty.

I walk to the grocery store, buy one more day's supply of food (still hoping that tomorrow I'll move my new apartment and can stock up properly), and make myself some dinner. The band is making intermittent noises again, but they seem to be running out of energy. By 10:00pm they fall silent.

November 26: Signs of Life

My mood had been getting worse, mainly due to fitful sleep in such an uncomfortable bed, but I'm maintaining my cool. The Svetlana agency continues to work on improving my accommodations. The apartment they'd picked out for me has been occupied by someone else who was expected to leave two days ago. However, it's such a nice place that he's decided to stay. As long as he pays his rent, it seems that Svetlana's is unable to make him vacate the premises, so it will take some more time for them to find me somewhere else to stay.

I do some more shopping in the less-touristy parts of town and find the playing cards I'd been looking for yesterday. I also find an inviting new Italian restaurant, Fellini. Named for the film director, it has an inviting menu of specialties named after famous actors. Some of the associations between names and foods are a bit far-fetched, but there are plenty of items on the menu to please my tomato-resistant palate. I put it on my list of places to try.

Anna S. calls and tells me that she's feeling better but has been ordered by her doctor to stay inside for a few more days. She also tells me that Olga B. has not only been busy at work but has been taking final exams for her theatre course. The last exam is today, so she should have time to contact me soon.

Minutes after I hang up with Anna, Olga calls. I still have difficulty communicating in Russian over the phone. In person I can often fill in the gaps by observing body language, but over the phone - especially the noisy line in my apartment (why should the phone be adequate when nothing else is?) - it's a struggle. We manage to make a date at Fellini for tomorrow night.

November 27: SPINE-CHILLING DOUBLE FEATURE!   The Little Flat of Horrors   and   Night of the Black Noodles

In the wee hours of the morning (and at this latitude there are a lot more wee hours than there are back in Washington), I give up on the sofa-bed and roll onto the floor. It's far more comfortable: there are no beams digging into my ribcage, and I actually have room to stretch out my legs. I get the best rest I've had in a week, but I'm still generally sleep-deprived.

I wake up late and get some breakfast. There's no particular reason for me to go anywhere; if the agency should call and tell me a new apartment is ready, I want to be ready to move. I leave everything in my suitcases as long as possible, hoping that I can just take them and go, but as the afternoon wears on, it becomes obvious that I will be staying here at least one more night.

Since I'm going to a nice restaurant this evening, I finally need to unpack my bags and get out my suits, ties, and dress shirts. Everything is packed tightly to make efficient use of space, so when I take one item out, everything must come out. I hang up the two suits in the closet - they more than fill it, so I can't close the door, but I don't really need to. There's hardly room on the furniture for the shirts and ties. The sofa-bed becomes storage space for everything else I pull out of my bags.

I turn on the water in the shower stall. There's no hot water, only a loud sucking sound. Since I have plenty of time, I decide to do something else for a while and see if the hot water returns.

I bought a present for Olga while I was in London, a bottle of eau de parfum. "Initial" by Boucheron, if you must know. Yes, it's a strange name, but it smells nice, and I like the bottle. I also got the matching purse-size bottle. Both bottles come in handsome dark blue gift boxes, but I always like to wrap presents, so I also bought some wrapping paper and ribbon. I sit down to wrap them and notice something odd: the larger box bears the "Initial" logo and silhouette of the bottle that I remember, but the smaller box doesn't. I peek inside and discover that Boucheron's cologne for men also comes in a handsome dark blue gift box. I wrap the larger bottle and toss the smaller one back into my suitcase; I have no idea what I'll do with it.

Miraculously, the hot water returns after less than an hour. I climb into the tiny stall and begin to shower. The phone rings. Lest I miss an important call from the agency, I rush out of the shower, trip, and simultaneously bash my head once again on the range hood, cut my foot on the edge of the shower stall, and knock my glasses on the floor. I grope around the kitchen floor and find my glasses, then make my way to the phone just as my caller is about to hang up. I get the receiver just in time to verify that it's another wrong number.

My foot and head are bleeding, so I need my first-aid kit. I turn on the light, which is a six-bulb chandelier. It explodes. No, really: one of the sockets literally explodes, projecting its bulb intact like a guided missile onto the bed. No, the bulb does not start a fire: that is the job of the flaming fragments of socket that rain down on the sofa-bed. I smother the glowing bits of plastic before they can start a real blaze. I bandage my foot, clean up the blood on the floor, and finish my shower, at which point my scalp seems to have stopped bleeding spontaneously.

I take a break at 5:20 in the afternoon to watch television. Olga has her own weekly television show, and this is my first chance to see it. It begins at 5:25 and runs 20 minutes (only we decadent Americans are enslaved to half-hours). "Planet Petersburg" is a fast-moving series of short features on local events, places, and people. Today's episode profiles a local artist, skateboarders on the Admiralty steps (is nothing sacred?), the challenges of bridge maintenance during the Russian winter, the local football team, and more. It all goes by much too fast for me to make much sense of the dialog and narration, but I enjoy seeing it anyway, and I remember enough detail that I feel confident I can discuss it over dinner.

The Svetlana agency calls. They've located an apartment that meets my needs, and they can move me there tomorrow. I have a lot of repacking to do in order to be able to move, so I tell them I'll start in the morning and should be ready to go by the time the agency opens at 11:00am.

Finally, it's time for me to walk to Fellini. I get there a bit early; Olga B. gets there a bit late. We take our seats in the brightly lit dining room; a film crew could shoot in here, and in addition to the floodlights, there are lit candles everywhere. The menus are printed on film cans; the text is divided into little wedges like pizza slices, so one slice contains all the soups, another all the salads, etc. It's hard to read in any language. Most of the items are named for famous actors, but there are a few exceptions: I start with "Sibelius' salmon soup." Perhaps there's some connection between Federico Fellini and Jean Sibelius, but I'm not aware of it. In any case, the soup is excellent, and I get a generous serving.

Olga gets an even more generous serving of shrimp salad: jumbo shrimp - plenty of them - and a big pile of salad greens. It would be two meals for most people, and Olga leaves about half the greens to make sure she'll have room for her main course. She has the Klaus Kinski platter of sausages, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and cranberries, and I have the Charlie Chaplin bowl of black and white pasta with seafood and cream sauce. I tell Olga that the black pasta is colored with squid ink. I have to tell her this about three times before she believes me. Honestly, I can't make up anything that strange.

Over dinner we have a lively all-Russian conversation. So many people here want to practice their English with me that I need this time with a non-English speaker so I can finally practice my Russian. We communicate rather well, and I greatly enjoy discussing her program. I even imitate the cocky arm-motion that she uses to introduce the show (you see it on American television when guys celebrate by yelling, "yes!"), and I make fun of her microphone. It has the biggest foam-ball cover - in dayglow orange, no less - of any microphone I've ever seen, and in various scenes it looks like she's threatening her subjects with a giant poison mushroom or offering them a new, mildly radioactive flavor of cotton candy. She tells me that her engineer assembled and painted it as the show's signature prop; potential subjects see it coming and immediately know that Planet Petersburg has come to interview them. She doesn't have any tapes she can give me; she doesn't have the rights to simply hand them out, and because the show is new, the station has not yet made tapes available commercially, nor have they made any commitment to do so. I'll ask Anna S. next time I see her if she'll tape a few episodes for me.

Olga's show has a tight weekly production schedule, so I won't have a lot of opportunities to see her. She has a free morning tomorrow, and she invites me to tour the Russian Museum with her. She knows it's my favorite in town (I'm more interested in the Russian art there than the assorted exhibits of the Hermitage), and it has changed its exhibits considerably since my last visit. Alas, I must decline: I'm moving tomorrow! I'll see her again on Sunday, when Anna has invited us to dinner. Olga's show is broadcast Sunday evenings, so this will be an excellent opportunity for me to ask about taping them.

November 28: Heat Wave

It's a warm day - the temperature gets all the way up to 1 degree above freezing. I get up, get washed, and have a quick breakfast. There's no telling when I'll be moving to the new apartment, so I want to be ready to go at any moment. I'm just about finished repacking when I get a phone call from the agency: my driver, Fyodor, is waiting outside my security door. I let him in and ask him to sit and watch television for a few minutes while I collect my last few things. There's a so-bad-it's-hilarious science fiction movie playing, and I have to pause and laugh at it a couple of times. Soon I'm ready to go; we load my suitcases and a couple of shopping bags into Fyodor's little car, and we head off to the Svetlana office.

When we arrive, I meet the owner of my new apartment, Nelli. She's waiting for the agency manager to arrive to work out the details of their brokering her apartment to me. She's already been there an hour, and the manager has been expected "any minute now" since before she arrived. Olga K. suggests that Nelli, Fyodor, and I simply go to the apartment, and they can figure out the contract later. I'm far too sleep-deprived to argue, and Nelli has wasted enough time here, so we leave the office, rearrange my baggage in the car so that Nelli has a place to sit, and take off.

We drive to a part of town I haven't seen before. It's just across the Neva from the east end of Nevsky Prospect (depending upon your geographic preference, think of Nevsky as the Champs-Elysée, Pennsylvania Avenue, or Piccadilly of St. Petersburg); across the bridge, it's called Zanevsky Prospect (being "za Nevsky" is like being "off Broadway"). My building is only a few steps from the Neva, and although it's not really in the center of town, it's in an area sufficiently frequented by tourists that it has a couple of big Western-style restaurants and stores should need them.

My apartment is on the 5th floor. There is no elevator. My baggage is considerable. Fyodor and I each take one big case and one small one. Nelli, a diminutive former ballerina, insists on carrying a few things. I hand her my duffle bag with a few clothes; when she reaches out again, I hand her a light bag of groceries. She still wants more, so I give her the next lightest item, another grocery bag. This one has cartons of milk and bottles of water in it. Now she looks like she has enough to carry.

We trudge up the steps, pausing a couple of times to set down our loads. Eventually we make it to the top, and Fyodor takes his leave. Nelli shows me around the apartment; it has everything I need, including a big bed and a bathtub. Yes, it's another sofa-bed, but it's roughly American queen-size and has a quality mattress. As I mentioned before, it's a warm day, and the apartment building is overheated in typical Russian style (individual apartments do not have their own thermostats). We open a window and feel much more comfortable.

Nelli demonstrates how to use the washing machine, then shows me to the kitchen where she makes me tea and gets me a snack. I unpack my 2kg of Scottish smoked salmon and fortunately find sufficient room in the freezer for it. Nelli advises me that the refrigerator/freezer is "not strong," but it should take care of my salmon and other perishables. Her English is good, which is a big help when it comes to explaining the intricacies of the equipment, but I'm beginning to feel confident with my language skills and squeeze in an occasional question or answer in Russian. She offers to come help with the laundry and dishwashing from time to time, but I tell her I can manage all by myself. Such a declaration from a man amazes her.

After making sure that I can operate the door lock - she insists that I demonstrate both closing and opening - she departs, and I finally can relax and start to feel "at home" in St. Petersburg. I go to a local grocery store and buy a few more essentials, then return and put them in the freezer. Nelli was right: it is not strong. It is also not freezing. My salmon is already partly thawed, and the unseasonably warm weather precludes my simply putting it outside (with the nearby Gulf of Finland as a huge heatsink, the air temperature won't change more than a degree or two from noon to midnight). Frozen it would have kept for months; thawed it will keep two weeks at most, although I don't want to push the envelope. I'll have to serve it all very soon.

I call Anna S. in the evening to give her my new phone number. She's feeling much better and is looking forward to seeing me on Sunday. I ask if she'd like me to bring some salmon. Nobody has ever refused my offer of salmon, and Anna keeps the streak intact, so I already know that part of it will be put to good use. After a couple of days getting accustomed to my new kitchen, I should be ready to prepare dinner for some guests and use the rest of it. I give Olga a call and tell her my new number as well, but, as expected, she's very busy at work, so she can't say any more than "I'll call you later."

November 29: Up With the Sun

I sleep till dawn. That's pretty late here, where the sun doesn't put in an appearance until sometime after 9:00. I really needed the rest, and I feel completely refreshed. That's a good thing, because I have a lot of work to do. Constraints on my internet time at the other apartment prevented me from completing some important assignments, so I spend much of the day working on websites and documents for WILMA and our African clients. I also work on ways to get my travel stories translated into Russian so that Olga can read them. There are several online services available; if one of them proves to be useful, I'll add a link to it on my homepage.

November 30: Achtung!

Today is laundry day. Yes, I know, you read this report expecting to hear about the opera, ballet, and other tourist-type stuff. But laundry is a far more challenging adventure.

The washing machine is a Siemens, and all the instructions are in German. I figure that I ought to be able to pick out a familiar-looking phrase, but laundry German doesn't include the few words that I know, like sauerkraut, blitzkrieg, and gesundheit. After I spin a few dials and push a few buttons, I remember that my landlady told me to always keep the machine unplugged when it is not in use. Sure enough, it's unplugged, and once I supply power I'm able to get the laundry started by turning the dial to bratwurst and pressing angst.

Like other European washers I've used, the Siemens requires little water but lots of time compared to faster and wetter American machines. Since I have some time on my hands, I get on the internet and try out some of the online Russian translation programs. Even with my poor proficiency in the language, I can see that most of them are awful. I pick the best one and send Anna e-mail asking her to take a look. She sends a reply that the webpage won't display properly on her machine, so we agree that I will copy the data into a Word document and send it to her. I take some time to pick out some interesting passages for it to process, including the rules to the game in my August travel report and a letter I sent to my insurance company. The results don't look terrible, so I ship them to Anna in anticipation that she'll give me her evaluation at dinner tomorrow.

The laundry is still not done, so I walk down to the big western-style supermarket to do some shopping. It's Russian-owned, and it combines the efficiency of self-service and checkout lines with the low prices typical of the older stores. I spend a few minutes looking over the selection of crustaceans (good seafood is always available so close to the Gulf of Finland). One of the employees comes over and starts to describe the day's catch to me (this never happened in the USSR), and in particular she recommends the salmon. Oh yes, just what I need, more salmon. I tell her that I'm more interested in the prawns, but she really wants me to take some salmon. With a moment's thought I'm able to summon the right Russian vocabulary and tell her that I already have two kilograms of salmon in my refrigerator - far more than the average St. Petersburger - and she lets me continue considering the prawns.

When I get back home, I find that the washer has finished its cycle, and I go to unload it. It's low - everything in this apartment is low to me - so I lean with one hand on the cast-iron tub and open the washer door with the other hand. Oh, that's why she told me to keep it unplugged. I get a solid jolt of 240V. When I let go (I forget whether I released the tub or the door) I unplug the machine and finish hanging the laundry over the tub to dry. Indoor atmospheres tend to be quite dry here, so the clothes are ready to fold in no time.

December 1: Fog and Icebergs

I'm getting accustomed to my neighborhood, and I'm beginning to feel my old ease with life in St. Petersburg coming back. There are little glitches, of course. In particular, the pedestrian underpass that I use frequently has a hot air vent whose output is not only warm but inexplicably humid; therefore, my glasses completely fog over as soon as I step inside. I've become quite a familiar fixture to the locals, standing in the same corner every day cleaning my glasses.

Today I shop at a good old Soviet-style store, the kind where you ask for what you want at one counter, pay for it at another, and pick it up at a third, or at least try - often there's an error and you have to visit all three again before you get the item you want, then you get to start the whole process again with the next item. For most Americans, the process gets old about halfway through the first purchase. I do it today partly for the practice (you never know when capitalism will fail) and partly because this little shop has one nice-looking grapefruit that I want. Bonus points to me for actually getting the right grapefruit!

Later in the day I visit Vasilyevsky Island, the residential area where I stayed three years ago. It's on the west side of town, right on the Gulf of Finland. I'm surprised to see that the big foreign-owned Ajax store has been replaced by a Russian store. This is a good thing, I think, because it means that the Russians are getting the hang of operating these efficient enterprises. Oh no, some of Paul's endless ruminations on economic theory are beginning to sink in! It also means that I can't get a head of iceberg lettuce. Russians have no use for anything with such little nutritional value (it has about the same vitamin content as water), so I can only get it in foreign-owned stores. A prawn salad I made with iceberg lettuce was a big hit the last time I was here, so I plan to keep looking for it so I can serve it again.

December 2: You Say It Your Way, I'll Say It Mine

It's so nice to have a comfortable bed, something I never thought much about until this trip. I stay up late, but that's because I want to: I'm making good progress on some computer projects, and with the little bit of sunlight we get here, the availability of 24-hour stores (albeit the one nearest me has lost the "2" from its lighted sign and is now a 4-hour store), and the fact that everybody I know here is either sick or working all day long, it really doesn't matter what schedule I keep. After I turn in, probably around 3 or 4 in the morning, I sleep in till well past noon. Tonight I'll have dinner at 5:00 (almost all hours are "night" this time of year) at Anna S.'s house with Anna's mother, Tamara, and Olga B., so all I plan to do is get a little more computer work done and listen to the radio. I prefer Radio Retro, which plays only Russian music, because it's good language practice for me, although they occasionally waste 30 minutes on silly sets of songs whose lyrics are dum-de-dum-de-dum, la-la-la-la-la, and my favorite, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba.

My landlady calls and says she wants to "do the windows." I have no idea what this means, but I won't stop her from doing it. She arrives about 2:00, and it turns out that she's concerned that I may be cold in the apartment and plans to install additional weatherstripping around the windows. I tell her that I'm very comfortable, and after I spend an hour convincing her of this over tea, she's relieved - it's a big job. She's a nice lady; she even takes out my trash when she leaves.

I leave the apartment at 3:45 to make sure I don't arrive late for dinner. Olga plans to meet me at 5 at the Ozerki metro station (far northern part of town) and then walk with me to Anna's apartment. The metro here is easy to navigate, but you never know when a delay will occur. None occurs today, so I arrive before 4:30. I use part of my spare time riding up the escalator to ground level; the Ozerki station is deep. If I ever arrive here and find the escalator isn't running, I'm turning around and going back home. I take a position near the top of the escalator to be sure I won't miss Olga and wait.

The balance of the universe dictates that for every minute one person shows up early for an appointment, somewhere another must turn up equally late. I have a big, heavy bag of presents with me, and it's beginning to leave a permanent mark on my hand. Sure enough, Olga shows up at 5:30, and we hurry off to Anna's. We stop to buy a bottle of Russian wine along the way. It costs about $2. Somewhere in the world somebody is serving Romanée-Conti tonight.

We arrive at Anna's apartment. Tamara greets us at the door, which comes up to about my nose. That's the door, not Tamara. Anna greets us once the door is closed; she's still feeling a bit under the weather as she recovers from a bad case of flu, but she has the energy to enjoy an evening with us. I give her a package of smoked salmon and leave the rest of the contents of the bag for later.

The balance of the universe does not seem to apply here as Tamara invites us into the kitchen just as Anna is inviting us into the dining room. We more-or-less get seated in one, then the other, then reseated again at the table, then on the couch. Olga and I look at a big picture book of Leningrad while Anna and Tamara finish dinner preparations.

When dinner begins, it becomes obvious that this is not a night for me to practice my Russian; it is a night for Anna and Tamara to practice their English. Anna is quite fluent, Tamara less so. The conversation eventually settles into a cross-pattern: Anna and I converse in English north-south, and Tamara and Olga converse in Russian east-west.

Anna asks me to pour the wine. I pour the wine. It's not bad. No, really. We have a delicious meal of pirogies, ham, potato salad, and a few other dishes. Anna serves some of the salmon, and everyone enjoys it - the Scottish version is rarely, if ever, available in local stores, and it's far superior to most other types.

When I pour the second serving of wine, I empty the bottle, making sure that I let the last drop fall into my own glass, then set the bottle down on the table. This is taboo in Russia: it's bad luck to set an empty bottle on the table, so Anna immediately puts it on the floor. When she explains the custom, I reply that I had been concentrating too intently on an American taboo, which is to pour the last drop from a bottle of wine into a woman's glass. According to superstition, a woman who gets the last drop will be the last to be married (or never get married). The ladies have never heard of this, and they explain that Russians have quite a different tradition: a woman who gets the last drop from a bottle of wine gets to make a wish! I apologize for denying them this little bonus, but secretly I'm happy that I didn't know about it - how could I choose who would get the wish? Anna relates another Russian superstition: a woman who sits at the corner of a dining table will never get married. This must explain why the dining tables in her apartment and in mine are round.

After dinner, I open up the big bag. I give Anna the videos she wanted and a few that I picked out for her myself (Groundhog Day, Pleasantville, and Apollo 13, if you must know) and a calendar of American landscapes that she had particularly requested. I also give each of them a woven basket or tray from Dar es Salaam and a souvenir WILMA pen. You don't see many of either in St. Petersburg, and the ladies seem to like them.

Anna and Olga have great fun with the online translations that I generated yesterday. Anna has printed them out, and Olga entertains her by reading them aloud. One of the best is the section from my November 24 report about the performing hippopotamus: in the Russian version, he's doing calisthenics. The text generally sounds idiotic, worse than if a first-year student had translated it, although some of the simpler rules from my August contest come through in reasonable shape.

I ask Anna if she'll tape Olga's show for me, which will be broadcast later tonight. She agrees, but only if I'll set up the VCR. We go check out the equipment, and it turns out that she's missing a cable to connect the VCR to the TV. I can jury-rig a recording configuration, but then she won't be able to watch TV until I come back and put everything back the way it was. We decide that this is not a good idea, and I tell her that my landlady will let me user her VCR, so I'll record the repeat broadcast in two days.

As I leave, I give myself a good whack on the head as I go through the low doorway. On the way back to the metro, Olga suggests that we can try touring the Russian museum this coming Wednesday, which is about the only time she has free this week, although she isn't even certain about that. I tell her yes. It's about time I started doing some real tourist stuff.

December 3: I'll Trade You One Knife for 62 Kilometers of Tape

I spend much of the day catching up on computer work and testing the limits of my Russian kitchen. There's not one useful kitchen knife, but I should be able to get one locally, and I think I can whip up one of my never-fail recipes if I can find the right ingredients. I go to the big grocery store and find that it does not have the right ingredients in the herb and spice rack, but it can satisfy most of my other requirements. After half an hour with my electronic translator figuring out what's available, I decide to try some chicken breasts with a novel combination of seasonings. Unlike the small Russian shops, this one sells chicken parts ready for cooking, so I don't need to consider the only knife on display ($24).

On the way out I stop by the videotape kiosk and ask for a three-hour Sony tape. The clerk gets me the right brand but tries to sell me a more expensive 4-hour tape. She seems quite surprised when I correct her and insist on the three-hour version. I don't know if her reaction was to my correcting her in Russian or trying to save a couple of rubles, both unusual actions for an American here, but I only need one hour at most, so why waste six cents on tape I don't need?

Back at the apartment, I prepare the chicken and pop it in the oven. I turn the oven on. I smell gas. Hmmm… is this one of those old ovens that you have to light with a match? I turn the dial to OFF, check to make sure the washing machine is unplugged, and see if I can light the oven. It's a rather modern-looking model, which makes me suspect that I am not supposed to be sticking a match in here, and I don't seem to be getting any response anyway except more gas odors. After airing out the kitchen, something of an adventure now that the outside temperature has returned to a seasonable 20ºF, I give the oven a closer inspection: it doesn't look as if it's ever been used as an oven. It was crammed full of assorted cookware when I arrived, and I come to the conclusion that storage is its only function. I cook the chicken on the stovetop, which with the odd combination of spices results in a dish that I'm glad I didn't serve to company. It's beginning to look less and less likely that I'll be having guests anyway, so I'm not terribly concerned.

December 4: Or As Yogi Berra Said, "Nobody Goes There Because It's So Crowded"

I decide that I've waited long enough for someone to have time to go with me, so I decide to buy some theatre tickets just for myself. There's a large ticket office near my apartment, so I head there after finishing some work. I arrive just in time for them to close for their lunch, which is 3-4pm. Rather than go back home, I take the hour to walk around the streets and get in some Christmas shopping. There's not much that interests me in the local shops - they're dedicated to necessities, not to tourists' needs - but I find a couple of interesting items.

When the ticket office reopens, I go in and look over the schedule of events. It's impressive, and I note several performances I want to attend. I go to the window and ask for a ticket for ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre. The cashier rolls her eyes and gives me look that pretty much says it all: no way, Sergei. If I wanted Mariinsky tickets for this month, I should have booked them during my previous trip here. She gives me the same story - with a little less intensity - as I inquire about several other musical events. Finally, I get to the last item I want: a recital by a German organist playing French music at Shostakovich Hall. Somehow this doesn't seem quite right, but I find the program particularly appealing, and I don't want to walk out of here empty-handed.

Well, it seems I found the least popular musical event in all of St. Petersburg this month: the cashier has exactly one ticket left. I've gotten the this-is-the-last-ticket story at box offices in other cities (it seems that every ticket is the last ticket at some agencies in London), but her act is convincing. She points to the ticket, taped to the window just above her, and she asks me if I really want it. To paraphrase Woody Allen, why would I want to see something that wasn't good enough to sell out? I tell her I do and pay her the 35 rubles ($1.15). I tuck my ticket securely in my pocket and head home.

Olga B.'s television show will be repeated this evening, so I set up my landlady's VCR and tune it into the proper station. The apartment does not have proper cables, so I have to send the RF signal into the VCR and send the PCM signal from the VCR to the TV so I can monitor the broadcast. For those of you who don't know what that means, don't worry - I do this all the time, and it works just fine.

The picture is sharp, the sound less so. In fact, as showtime approaches, the sound deteriorates into the familiar between-channels static. I have to reroute the cables to determine that no, it's not the station that's broadcasting noise, it's the VCR's audio section that's gone haywire. There's no way I can fix this, and besides, I've had my quota of electrons for this trip, so I watch the show without taping it.

Last week's show was a repeat of an older broadcast; tonight's is new, and I can see the difference. The cameraman tilts, pans, and zooms the picture incessantly, and much of the program is shot from peculiar angles. By the end, I find the effect so annoying that I can't even remember tonight's subjects.

December 5: Three's Company

Anna S. calls asking if I'd like to go out for some entertainment on Saturday. I'm way behind on my Russian entertainment quota, so I say yes. Anna's not quite sure what we'll be doing - it all depends on what's available, and I already know how tough it is to find anything. If she can't get tickets to a performance she finds appealing, we may head down to the local jazz club. She has a friend visiting from out-of-town, so she'll get three tickets if she can. We've no idea what's become of Olga B.; I assume she's so busy at work that she can't even talk to either Anna or me on the phone. I divide the rest of the day between work and practicing my Russian at the local stores.

December 6: If This is the Wrong Number, Then Why Did You Answer the Phone?

At 2:00 in the morning I get a phone call. All of the following dialogue was in Russian, but I'll translate for you. Explanatory notes are in brackets.
[The phone rings.]
Losha? [Losha is the familiar form of a common masculine name.]
No, you have the wrong number. [This is true.]
No, you have the wrong number.
[I hang up.]

The caller is obviously drunk - very drunk. One does not sober up from such deep inebriation quickly. By 2:30am, this particular drunk had made no progress whatsoever.
[The phone rings.]
No, you have the wrong number. [My faith in this declaration is undiminished.]
[I hang up.]

The call is repeated at irregular intervals over the next few hours. Sometimes I answer the phone (it's in my bedroom), sometimes I let it ring. It rings on average 20 times per unanswered call. I did not come to Russia to be annoyed like this; I could have stayed home and been annoyed by professionals. At 7:00 I try a different tactic.
[The phone rings.]
Losha? [Losha is my least favorite Russian word.]
Yes, this is Losha.
[He is silent for a few seconds.]
Dmitri? [Dmitri is the name I was assigned in my first Russian class.]
[He hangs up.]

I sleep undisturbed until I get up and make some breakfast. Nothing else that happens today is particularly interesting.

December 7: Push Hard, Play Fast, Leave Quick

I work late, I sleep late. At 10:00 I'm awakened by a phone call. It's Anna S. confirming that she got three tickets to the ballet Le Corsaire at the Mussorgsky Theatre. I'm impressed. We agree to meet at the theatre at 6:30; the performance begins at 7:00. I go back to bed.

At 10:30 I'm awakened by a phone call. It's my landlady, who's concerned that I'm not getting enough culture out of my visit. She asks if I'd like to see the folklore show at the Music Hall theatre on Sunday. I say yes - it's something I hadn't even considered, but I like all things Russian, and this ticket is free.

My day is filled mostly with work until it's time to leave for the concert. I dress well - this is Shostakovich Hall, after all - and take the metro. I still remember my way around town, and my destination is squarely in the center of the tourist zone, so I find it easily and arrive with plenty of time to spare. I mill with the crowd; I think most Americans would be surprised how vigorously Russians mill in the various waiting areas of the theatres and concert halls, but it's not really their fault: it's a matter of design. The cloakrooms, toilets, and cafes tend to be placed in narrow cul-de-sacs, so that outgoing traffic pushes directly against incoming traffic. Since everyone has a coat to check, and a goodly percentage of the audience will use the toilets and/or cafes, there are traffic jams everywhere, and the only way to ensure that you'll get where you're going is to PUSH.

Russians don't stand in line the way we Americans do. Actually, few people around the world do. In Europe they have an expression, "put two Americans together and they'll form a line." It comes right after "what do you call a person who only speaks one language? An American!" in their make-fun-of-the-Yanks manual. Yeah, that and two euros will get you a dollar.

But the Russians stand really close to each other in a line. We Americans like to stand with a little distance between each person in line, but the Russians touch. I often find myself in a line with someone leaning against me here, and it's never anybody that I'd want to lean against. When it first happened, I assumed that someone was trying to pick my pocket, and who knows - maybe everybody I collide with is trying to pick my pocket - but I'm slowly getting used to the close contact.

The recital begins. Johannes Skudrick is the performer, not an organist I'd heard before, and he plays a lot of my favorites. Before each piece, a lady in black appears from behind a curtain and announces the title and composer. Other than a prelude and fugue by Bach to open the program, it's a lineup of romantics including Liszt, Gigout, Lemmens, and for the finale, three works by Widor. I thoroughly enjoy the playing; the organ is a Krieger-Kloss from Germany, not a spectacular instrument as organs go, but well-matched to the building, and Skudrick does the music justice.

He plays for about an hour, then there's a short intermission, and then the second half begins. The lady in black continues to announce the pieces and composers, and when she finally announces the first work by Widor, a young man walks out and joins Skudrick at the organ. Playing Widor is like dueling - you really must bring your second, and it helps to make out your last will and testament before you begin.

Skudrick begins with the intermezzo from the Sixth Symphony. Widor is the Harley-Davidson of organ music; you don't play him for any particular purpose just as you don't ride a Harley because you need to get somewhere. In either case, you do it because you can. Widor wrote complex pieces to show off his performing ability, and anybody who thinks he can keep up is welcome to try. Skudrick keeps up, although at one point he hits the wrong toe-stud and switches entirely to flute-stops. I am aghast. He kicks the right stud, restarts from the top of the page (he doesn't cheat - I like that), and plays it on the proper stops. Nobody else notices.

The next piece is a slow movement from the Ninth Symphony, but I'm waiting for The Big One: the Toccata in F major from the Fifth Symphony. Although Widor lived many years before the discovery of P. D. Q. Bach by Professor Peter Schikele, his Toccata is the ultimate application of P. D. Q.'s guiding principle: loud is good, fast is better, loud and fast is best. Skudrick switches on the afterburners and pushes the envelope of the Krieger-Kloss while the young man keeps him on course by turning the pages. I'm impressed, but the rest of the audience is not as enthusiastic. The applause dies down quickly, and there's no encore. I'm not sure what one could possibly play as an encore to the Widor Toccata in F major anyway.

December 8: Gary Cooper Didn't Dance Either

Anna S. calls me in the morning with a surprise: she was able to contact Olga, who will be joining us for the ballet and dinner tonight. I note that she has not purchased enough tickets, but Anna tells me to relax; there are always people outside the theatre selling extra tickets. She tells me to meet her outside the theatre at 6:30 and assures me that she will take care of the tickets.

I arrive at the theatre at 6:30. Olga is there, but Anna and Andrei are not. As agreed, we wait outside for them; the cold night air doesn't bother me at all, but Olga shivers a bit. There are plenty of opportunists who ask me for a handout, and one insists on sketching me even though I make it plain that I am not paying for the effort, but there's no sign of anyone selling tickets.

At 6:50 Anna and Andrei arrive, and they search the area for someone with a spare ticket. In the nick of time they find someone inside the theatre who sells them one ticket. We check our coats, fighting our way through the traffic jam as usual, and then take our seats. Anna, Andrei, and I are in a prime location in the orchestra; Olga's seat is in the third balcony on the side. We wave, the lights dim, and the performance begins.

As silly 19th-century ballets go, Le Corsaire is among the silliest. A shipwrecked crew finds itself on a beach occupied by the female members of a touring company of Swan Lake, or maybe Giselle. The girls are captured by Turks or Arabs, sold to some other group whose economy has a gold surplus but a ballerina deficit (even Paul could not explain ballet economics), taken away on a ship, and then rescued by the sailors whose ship was destroyed in Scene I. All goes according to plan, with the sailors walking onto the enemy ship in mid-ocean and dancing until the girls are freed. Some teenagers in the third balcony find all this amusing (no, really), and their quips and laughter punctuate the music until Olga gives them a brutal scolding.

After the ballet, we take one look at the maelstrom of humanity surging around the coat-check area, and we decide to wait. Twenty minutes later, we see a safe passage, work our way to the front, get our coats, and escape. Outside the theatre we start walking toward Nevsky Prospect without deciding where we're heading. I always object to walking in any particular direction without knowing where I'm going, so I try to slow our group to a stop until we decide on a restaurant. I suggest we eat at the one in front of whose door we finally come to a standstill - Rossi, a fine Italian place, but Andrei and Olga hold out for something with live music. Anna knows such a place not far away, although not in the direction we'd been walking, so we make a turn and head to an American-West-themed restaurant/bar.

The restaurant changed its name since Anna was last here, so we walk right by it, but we only go about 100 feet before Anna realizes the change and leads us back in. Beyond the weatherproof entry door are some saloon-style swinging doors, and I am the only one of our group who knows how to walk through them. I show everyone how it's done (grab both sides, swing them open briskly, and stride through, ready to draw your six-guns should any varmint get in your way), but they're far too distracted by the prospect of music and dancing to pay much attention. I'll have to get Anna a copy of High Noon for future reference. We get a table some distance from the well-amplified band and order dinner.

Andrei and Anna get up to dance. I offer to try to dance with Olga, but she's too polite to call my bluff. Still, when the band switches to a slower number, Anna comes back and drags us onto the crowded dance floor. She doesn't drag us quickly enough, though: by the time we get there, the band has revved up to top speed in response to shouts from the dancers, and I am left by the bar as Anna and Olga dive into the crowd. Andrei maintains a dance-like posture and rhythm on the periphery, but standing within a few feet of the thundering speakers, all I can do is hang onto the bar for balance.

Back at the table, we engage in a conversation in which I try as long as possible to speak only Russian, although I frequently rely on Anna to translate when the topic gets too technical. I'm left alone with Olga when Anna and Andrei go dancing, and alone with Andrei when Anna and Olga go to the ladies' room (some things transcend all language and cultural barriers), and during these times I really put my Russian to the test. Andrei and I have a pretty good conversation, and Olga and I manage to establish that her career consumes nearly every waking minute of her life, but she thinks she can see me on the coming Monday evening and the following Sunday. Other than that, she'll be spending all her time on Planet Petersburg.

Anna does a marvelous job of switching between English and Russian when required, and it's required whenever I use any unusual vocabulary. In particular, I can only explain (because I'm asked) in English the vaccinations I had to get before going to Zanzibar. When Anna relays this information to Olga and Andrei, I can see the fascination with the exotic locale fade from their faces. Later on, we're all amused when I tell a story in Russian and Anna instinctively translates it into English for Olga.

When we leave the restaurant, it's nearly 2:00am. I give Anna a blank tape so she can record Olga's show for me (Andrei is an engineer and assures me that he can hook up the VCR properly). Anna and Andrei head off in a car, Olga takes a taxi home, but my apartment is just at the end of Nevsky Prospect, so I decide to walk. Along the way a couple of the professional ladies call out to me in English, "Where are you from? Where are you going? Come talk to us!" I respond to their questions without breaking stride, and I answer only in Russian, which seems to annoy them. I walk the length of Nevsky Prospect and then cross Alexander Nevsky Bridge, about 1Km in length, across the frozen Neva, where I get to witness up close some of the challenges of winter bridge maintenance in Russia. Just on the other side of the bridge is my apartment building, and I'm quickly inside and asleep.

December 9: Playing the Horses

In between tasks for WILMA, I decide to design and deploy some new Yule treats in Genesis, which is a completely separate environment from what its players and wizards alike call "real life" (RL), but in pursuit of our stated sole goal of having fun, we allow some RL celebrations to overlap our fantasy life. Yule season begins in about a week (at least in my domain), so I'll have to hurry to get anything significant designed and tested, but I want to preserve my reputation for completing a new Yule project every year. I spend much of the day working on it, breaking occasionally to give Olga a call about seeing her tomorrow (there's never any answer). No, I won't tell you any of the project details. If you don't play Genesis, it won't make any sense to you anyway, and if you do, I've told you too much already.

My landlady, Nelly, comes by in the evening to take me to the Music Hall. She tells me that our tickets are courtesy of one of the performers, a famous singer and her long-time friend, and she suggests that we take a small gift when we go meet her backstage. I have just the thing: mocha coffee from Zanzibar, not something she's likely to receive from any of her other admirers. We take the subway, picking up a tastefully wrapped rose as well, and arrive at the theatre with plenty of time to spare. Our host has picked ideal seats, directly in the center and - to use airline terminology - in an exit row, so I have plenty of legroom.

The show is a vaudeville-style production: many short acts of singing, dancing, juggling, and comedy. It's aimed at the tourist market rather than the cultural elite, but it's good entertainment. Particularly memorable are a song-and-dance segment devoted to porcelain, full of dancing teapots, cups, and saucers, the best juggler I've ever seen (among other things, he juggles while ascending and descending an unsupported ladder on which he balances in the middle of the stage), and an "at the races" segment where about twenty young ladies dressed as horses dance around the stage. Racehorses don't wear much more than shoes and an identifying number; neither do these dancers.

Our host appears in the second act. She's well known to the audience and receives a warm round of applause when she appears. At the end of the song, which I've not heard before but is easy to understand, the audience applauds long enough to persuade her to take a few extra bows (the only performer this evening who gets such a response), which gives Nelly time to reach the front of the theatre and give her the rose. The rest of the evening is more-or-less denouement, although I keep hoping that the racehorses will come back.

After the final curtain Nelly and I run backstage to meet with her friend. She's been here many times and knows the way, but it's all terra incognita to me, and I can hardly negotiate the obstacle course of equipment and performers that we encounter on our trek through various narrow corridors and stairways. Eventually we get to the right room, and our singer is there in full, silvery shimmering costume to greet us. Nelly introduces me, and I tell her in Russian than I work in Africa and I brought her coffee from Zanzibar. If nothing else, this line is original, and she rewards me by insisting that I partake in a shot of vodka. She pours me a double. How do you say "what the heck" in Russian? I give her a hearty "na zdorovie" and down it, as my host in Moscow described it a few years ago, "like a professional." She's a busy lady, so Nelly and I must depart a minute later, and we take the subway back to the apartment, where she collects a couple of items and then leaves me to my Genesis work.

December 10: And There's Not Even a Redial Button

Today is one of the few days that Olga said she could see me, so my primary goal is to contact her and set a time and place. I call frequently during the day, and when I'm not dialing I'm working on my ThinkPad developing the Genesis Yule goodies, so by evening my fingers are rather tired. I never get an answer at her home or work numbers, so at about 9:00pm I give up and go to the grocery store to stock up for the week.

December 11: Panning the Cameraman

Olga's show that was broadcast on Sunday is being repeated at 5:30 today, and I hope that Anna will be able to tape it for me, although I'm beginning to wonder why it ever seemed so important. I get some Christmas shopping done today, and I return to the apartment building at about 4:00.

The building is a big square with a courtyard in the middle. At 4 on a December afternoon, St. Petersburg is dark, and the courtyard is not lit, although some light does reflect from the building itself. In the courtyard are two children's slides. I can imagine the Soviet-era process that resulted in this inventory: the apartment manager wrote to Central Planning to complain that all the children had to play on was a single slide in the middle of a dark courtyard, and some bureaucrat stamped the paper: NEEDS MORE SLIDES. A man stands in the dark watching his son, barely visible in deep shadows, play on the slides. The man nods in a friendly way as I walk past with my packages, and the child, having quite a good time on the equipment, hardly notices me.

Once inside, I watch Olga's show. I really begin to wonder if this tape is worth the space it will take in my suitcase: today's main topic is an exhibition of erotic photography, and there's no attempt to minimize what's shown onscreen, so the one episode I'm likely to bring back to the US will be at least R-rated. Olga's cameraman clearly does not have her best interests in mind; he continues to pan and zoom the camera frantically and contrives to shoot her from the least flattering angles possible. Olga has never asked my opinion of the show, and at this point I'm glad I'm not obliged to speak my mind.

December 12: I'll be Converting it to NTSC Anyway

Anna S. calls me to let me know that she has recorded Olga B.'s show, although she's concerned about the quality of the tape. When I establish that she's talking about sharpness and color rather than content, I reassure her that whatever she managed to record will be fine. We agree to meet at Rossi on Saturday for one last dinner before I leave; I invite her mother to join us, but Anna suspects she won't be able to make it since she plans to go home to Pushkin by then. Most of the rest of the day is spent on WILMA and Genesis work.

December 13: Why Buying Porcelain is Not a WInter Olympic Event

I do some more shopping today. I go to a big store on Nevsky Prospect and pick out some Lomonosov porcelain and ask to have it sent home. The saleslady tells me that this is not the season for sending porcelain to the US. When I inquire, she explains that in the winter, when the port is frozen, she can only send packages by air, and the shipping cost will exceed the price of the porcelain. If I come back in the summer, she can send my purchases by ship at a reasonable price. I understand, and I agree to come back in warmer weather, but this unexpected glitch suddenly prevents me from picking up several Christmas gifts and one wedding gift. I buy a few small items that I can - with some trepidation - pack in my suitcase.

I stop by the Svetlana agency, not far from the porcelain shop, and deliver some chocolates to the staff. They're little chocolate wreaths that I picked up in London, a novelty that's rarely seen in Russia, although chocolate figures of Dedushka Moroz (Grandfather Frost, the Russian version of Santa Claus) are quite popular. Olga K. and I talk a while about my prospects for another visit to St. Petersburg in 2002, and she asks me to drop by if I can tomorrow to confirm my departure time.

Getting my porcelain back to the apartment via the subway turns out to be quite a challenge; I enter the station at the height of afternoon rush hour, and my bag of porcelain is under constant threat from the crush of commuters until I emerge a half hour later. I spend my evening inspecting the pieces and wrapping them in freshly-laundered clothes in preparation for the perilous journey back to the US.

December 14: Vengeance is Mine

As we agreed yesterday, I stop by the Svetlana agency to confirm my departure time on Monday. There I discover the horror that I have inflicted on the ladies who work there. Olga K. has actually tried to eat the chocolate wreaths! Well, actually, that's what they're for, but they're coated with hard nonpareils which have dislodged some of her dental work. She has an impending appointment with her dentist, and she's really not in much mood for conversation, so I only stay a few minutes and then resume my Christmas shopping. That'll teach you to give me a tiny apartment when I paid for a big one.

As if the porcelain I'd already purchased were not enough of a challenge, I go back and buy some glassware to take to the US. I shop at a leisurely pace so as to avoid the afternoon rush, and getting back to the apartment via the subway is quick and easy.

December 15: Nobody's English is That Good

I wrap Christmas presents for Olga B., Anna S. and Anna's mother with paper and ribbon I purchased in London. Much of the middle of the day is taken up by WILMA and Genesis work, mostly Genesis: my design for some simple Yule treats has evolved into a serious multi-tiered project, and I'm struggling to get the code written and tested in time for deployment no later than December 20th, although if possible I'd like to try for the 17th. I work steadily on it, running well over the 30-hours-per-month limit on my dial-up account, but an e-mail to the PeterLink office buys me more time.

In the evening I meet Anna at Rossi. Last week's restaurant had good food, but we both appreciate the quiet here on the first floor of the Hotel Europe. We talk about WILMA and the plan that Paul is working on to expand our method of socioeconomic development into parts of the world other than Africa, and Anna is intrigued by its potential application in Russia as well as an opportunity to be involved in it. I explain that this is all just an idea for now, but one that may become reality if, and this is always the problem, we can find some funding for it. I promise to send her the document that explains the approach, warning her that its dense, abstract prose will tax even her excellent English skills.

A string ensemble starts playing some traditional Italian and Christmas tunes, and the Anna and I both remark on the high quality of the playing, which is an unexpected treat. I give her the presents I wrapped for her and her mother, and I also give her Olga B.'s present since I do not expect to see her before I leave St. Petersburg. She gives me a lovely - and large - calendar of St. Petersburg scenes, and I think it will just barely fit in my biggest suitcase. We stop to shop for Christmas cards on the way to the subway, then part. When I get to my apartment, I immediately check to see if the calendar will fit in my suitcase. The answer is yes, with about a centimeter to spare in each direction.

December 16: I Bought It, So It Must Fit

The day is spent figuring out my great packing puzzle. Finding places for the porcelain and the glassware and the calendar that can only fit in the center of my largest suitcase requires hours of trial and error, but I finally manage to get everything securely packed, with a few small items becoming last-minute presents for Nelly. I'm still behind schedule on my Genesis project, so I work on it through the evening and past midnight.

December 17: Back Through the Language Barrier London, England

There's no way I can deploy my new Genesis code today, so I resign myself to losing some time to travel and pack my computer. Nelly comes over, and we spend some time talking about my stay in St. Petersburg and my plans to return. She promises to keep in touch. Fyodor arrives exactly - and I mean just as the second hand touches the 12 - at 3:00 as Olga K. had promised, and we're quickly down the five flights of stairs with my heavy baggage and off to the airport. We don't talk much; he has to concentrate on his driving, and I'm a bit sad to be leaving, so we cruise through the city in near silence.

There aren't many people at the airport, so I quickly fill out my exit papers and go to customs, where Fyodor leaves me. The customs officer asks a few questions about the contents of my bag, but this is just a formality, and he sends me on to passport control. The passport officer looks me over and asks a question that I don't understand. I ask her in Russian to repeat it; she looks at me with a somewhat bemused expression, then asks again, exactly as she did the first time, in perfect English, "what is your destination?" Ah, yes, I have to get used to speaking English again. London is London in Russian or English, so my answer satisfies her, and she waves me through with no further delay. I spend a little time looking at the airport gift shop, which offers the same wares that can be bought on Nevsky Prospect but at 4 or 5 times the price, then relax in the business class lounge until it's time to board my flight.

The flight is uneventful, as is my passage through customs and passport control. I get a ticket for the Gatwick Express train into town, then catch a taxi from Victoria station to my hotel, the Holiday Inn Garden Court, just a short walk from Oxford Street and the other main shopping areas of London. Ordinarily I wheel my own suitcases, but they're particularly heavy this evening, the hotel has a flight of steps leading to the front door, so I go inside and ask for a porter. "Sorry, both our porters called in sick this evening." Oh, well, they'd probably just break my porcelain anyway. I go back out to the taxi and lug my own cases up the stairs, check in, and find my room.

The room is a pleasant surprise. Unlike in other modestly-priced townhouse hotels in London, this one has big rooms, big bathtubs, big beds, and plenty of space to unpack my suitcases. I inspect all my belongings and find that nothing has broken, so I go out to dinner and then turn in early in anticipation of a long day of Christmas shopping.

December 18: EasyAlmostEverything

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn is nothing fancy, but it's filling and sets me up well for a full day of shopping. My first stop is the nearby Selfridges & Co., where I stop by the perfume counter to give the ladies there a withering glare. However, in the spirit of the season and in view of the diminished impact of their mistake, I give them a cheery wave and move on to other departments. Since I have little spare room in my suitcases, I'm mostly interested in some unusual candies and other stocking-stuffer items, and Selfridges and other nearby stores have a good selection.

I e-mail some local friends and colleagues, taking advantage of the EasyEverything internet café's excellent rates: 24 hours of unlimited use for five pounds, or three days for ten. Their computers are in good condition, their connection is fast, and there's one only two blocks from my hotel. Margaret responds that she's terribly busy, so she's not sure that she can shut down her computer for the time necessary for me to install her network equipment. Miguel and I agree to have dinner on Thursday at a nearby Italian restaurant. It's behind a big department store and never seems to be crowded, so it will be a good place to sit down and talk business over pasta and seafood.

If only EasyEverything made it easy for me to use my own disks. Alas, there's an extra charge for them to scan and copy each disk. For sending e-mail and surfing the net, this is not a problem, but I still need to make some changes to my Genesis project, and these must be made on my own ThinkPad and then transferred. I adopt a ritual of working on my ThinkPad in my hotel room, using the hotel's expensive internet connection for one minute or less to upload the revisions, then walking to EasyEverything to log into Genesis and do my testing. I make notes on paper about what still needs to be changed, then return to the hotel and repeat the cycle. Finishing the project takes a dozen trips.

I finally deploy the new code close to midnight. I remain logged into the game for a while just to make sure that no bugs appear, but everything seems to be going smoothly. Fatigue finally takes its toll, and I return to the hotel and go to sleep.

December 19: An' a 'Appy Christmas t' You Too, Guv'na!

After breakfast I go straight to EasyEverything and log into Genesis. I see a couple of minor problems with my new code and fix them quickly. I send e-mail to PeterLink canceling my Russian internet account, check my stocks and the news, and basically catch up on all my usual internet sites. An hour later I'm roaming through London at bit at loose ends; I'd planned to spend the day installing Margaret's network, and I don't have much more shopping to do, so I spend much of the day walking around enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas in London. Oxford, Regent, Carnaby, and other major shopping streets are elaborately decorated, and seasonal music permeates the stores, restaurants, and churches. I stop to listen to a few recitals and concerts during the day, then log back into Genesis in the evening to make sure that all is going smoothly. It is, so I have dinner, then return to the hotel for what has become for me a rare treat, a couple of hours of television in English, before I turn in for the night.

December 20: I'll Have the Chicken Lamborghini, Please

Margaret confirms that she's too busy for me to install her network, so we trade Christmas wishes and agree to try again on my next visit to London. I do a little more shopping, but not much buying: mostly I enjoy being in the midst of the holiday bustle without having any pressing need to acquire merchandise. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, nobody buys anything at Hamley's (world's largest toy store) because the lines at the registers are so long. But it's fun to go look at the toys, and at the kids looking at the toys, without being obliged to stand in those lines. In the evening Miguel and I meet at the Italian restaurant. It's packed. Every local office has reserved a table for a festive dinner, and the proprietor rolls his eyes when he hears me say - with an American tourist's accent - why, no, I don't have a reservation. Nontheless he finds room for us, and Miguel and I sit down in a section of the restaurant that, from the looks of it, nobody had planned to use today. A waiter hurriedly brings place settings, menus, and a candle (hey, we're just friends!) to our bare table, and we place our order. A couple is soon seated nearby, lacking both reservations and Christmas cheer. They argue rather viciously, with the woman at one point throwing her drink at the man. She manages to splash me in the process but is so fixated on her companion that she doesn't notice. I'm dressed casually, and I not splashed much, so I ignore her as well as she ignores me. Eventually they settle down and eat their dinner. Miguel and I talk shop through much of the evening, which means Genesis, WILMA, The Goon Show, and the Firesign Theatre (the four are linked forever in ways that defy description). I also teach him my favorite Swahili word, "poa!" It's pronounced "PO-ah" and means "cool," as in "that's a cool titanium case on your IBM ThinkPad T23." OK, OK, in non-nerd terms it means "cool" as in "that's a cool Lamborghini." We have enough "cool" things to talk about to occasionally practice saying "poa!" throughout dinner.

December 21: Getting There Alive is Half the Fun

London is easy to leave. As someone who travels a lot, I have come to appreciate the city's many efficient ways to make connections. A taxi whisks me to Paddington station, where British Air takes charge of my suitcases. They're searched, but they're searched quickly, and the contents are put neatly back in place, so all I have to do is open and close them. The ticket agent phones to inquire about an exit-row seat for me even before I ask. She informs me that "we hold them for tall passengers." She finds one for me by a window, prints my ticket, and in another two minutes I'm on a train to Heathrow.

My wait at the airport and the flight are uneventful. The landing is eventful. I know the approach to Washington's Dulles airport well. No, I'm not a pilot [pause while people who know me well recover from laughing at the idea], but I've been in a window seat on a plane landing there to know what the terrain should look like at any given point in the descent. Today's terrain looks all wrong. I begin to wonder if Dulles has a new runway that we're approaching. Strong crosswinds buffet the plane as we near the ground, and I still see no signs of the airport and surrounding buildings by the time we've descended to only a few hundred feet. For the first time in many flights, I'm concerned.

Just when it looks to me as if we're at treetop level, the engines abruptly power up to full thrust, and the plane roars skyward as if just taking off. Finally, as we make a broad turn, I see the airport below us, and I realize that if I can see it now, it couldn't have been directly below us when we were at treetop level. The captain comes onto the public address system and explains that another plane had not yet cleared the runway, so we're going to circle once to give it time to take off. I am skeptical.

We reenter the approach path and descend again, this time much more smoothly. This time I can see the familiar landmarks pass my window. We land, and as we taxi to the terminal, the first officer comes on the public address system and explains that we weren't really lined up properly on the first approach, so we went around a second time just to get it perfect. Perfect is good enough, I always say!

The airport is full of holiday travelers, but most of them are leaving rather than arriving. I go down to the baggage area and wait for my baggage next to the carousel indicated by my flight number. One case arrives, one does not. I wait until my flight number disappears from the screen. With my lone case in tow, I trudge over to the baggage claim desk. There's my other case waiting for me! An agent explains that this case had (a) come down the wrong chute (British Air has major alignment problems today) and (b) lost its tags, so she didn't know whom to page. I have visions of my enormous suitcase beings stuffed in an already overfilled compartment, losing both its airline routing tag and my British Airways Executive Club tag in the process, and pressing against some cable that's crucial to the landing approach system. I do not share these visions with the agent. I wish her a merry Christmas and head to the bus stop.

Pedestrian traffic at the bus stop is hectic, but again, it's composed mostly of people on departing flights. I wait for a full busload of people to disembark and claim their luggage, then three other passengers and I climb aboard for the ride to the Metro station. We get there in record time: afternoon traffic is full of cars headed way from the city (toward the airport), and only a few traveling in the opposite direction. A crowd waiting for the bus hardly waits for the four of us to exit before piling on, but I leave the pushing and shoving behind as I board the train and begin the last leg of my journey home. Much of Washington has already closed on this last Friday before Christmas, and there aren't many other passengers on the train. I'm home quickly after a short walk from the Metro station, looking forward to a meal from my own kitchen and a long sleep in my own bed.

The End