My host mother calls me a сладоежка – “sweet-eater”. The time when I can go for a walk somewhere in St. Petersburg and not stop by a store for a chocolate bar – or two – is now a rare event. The proliferation of Пятёрочка, 7Я, and Дикси throughout the city, not to mention the countless mom-and-pop stores, has worked as an enabler, encouraging my self-strengthening bad habit. The location of the Крупская chocolate factory in St. Petersburg, and the low prices of its products do not help either.
At the same time, I consider myself a bit of a penny-pincher, and make sure to count up every kopeck before I leave the house every day. And this runs quite counter to my quest for tasty treats. But this incompatibility has not revealed itself to be particularly worrisome. On the contrary, it has been somewhat beneficial. While wishing to enjoy the sights and sounds of the prettier parts of the city, I have also been led off of the beaten track on occasion, looking for a bar of Krupskaya Special Dark for full five rubles cheaper. In this way, I have been pleasantly exposed to what I would term the “real” St. Petersburg, off of Nevsky Prospect and away from the Neva. Sniffing out a produkti with a spread of chocolate products, I have been able to explore the back streets of Vasilievsky Island, a bit of the North Side, and by the dockyards. Usually quiet, these places and moments offer a reprieve from the big-city bustle, the crowds under the lights of ritzy store fronts and the lawless motorists of the anarchy of Russia’s streets.
This may be the best time of year for my sweet tooth to act up. The summer heat was deadly; despite the rain, the coolness of this weather, the pleasant blue-gray skies, and leafless trees create a quieter, calmer atmosphere, and this is keenly felt in the less-touristy parts of the city. It is important, however, to get out of the house before it gets too late. “Too late” means roughly 3:00 in the afternoon, when the evening’s dusky haze has already begun to settle, and only an hour remains before real darkness begins to set in. Having grown up in upstate New York, I feel prepared for the cold, and I have yet to experience anything here (though it is still quite early) that I cannot handle. The darkness, however, is something else. During the White Nights, I felt strange trying to sleep when the sun shone brightly at one o’clock in the morning. Now, at 4:30 pm, I feel like I should have some excuse for being out so late at night. My attitude has not worsened; I have not been affected by depression or the “seasonal affect disorder” or whatever it’s called. I prefer colder, darker weather anyway, but I know that such weather over a long period can be difficult.
The strongest indication so far, that I have been affected by the darkening days, is my choice of chocolate. I prefer darker, bitterer chocolate. During the summer and early fall, that was usually my choice, but now, I find my hand reaching for the milk chocolate options or something with some sort of filling, which I would normally avoid. I have yet to resort to white chocolate, but who knows what will happen by the time I leave on December 21, the shortest day of the year?
By: Paul Phelan
Term: Fall 2010