“It don’t matter if you drink by a pint or a shot…drinking is drinking” – Torreto, The Fast and the Furious (2001) – paraphrase
February 23rd is Defender of the Fatherland Day (Red Army Day in the Soviet Period.) The date commemorates the first mass draft into the Red Army 93 years ago (1918) on today’s date. Its secondary unofficial, though culturally widespread interpretation is Men’s Day – an opportunity for women to give small gifts to the men in their lives, a Father’s Day that doesn’t discriminate against bachelors. Commemorating Men’s Day today is rather appropriate considering all the manly things I’ve been doing in the past fortnight such as drinking and drinking. Parties and after-parties. VIP. Simferopol is not the most exciting or cultural city hence the constant complaints from the students I’ve met and utter disbelief when I say that I’ve grown somewhat fond of it. Apparently, there’s nothing to do, but that’s only true if you don’t know the right people. And, now I know the people. In an important watershed moment for my social life while abroad, I have surpassed the 50 mark on my friend count on VKontakte, the Russian language social network that looks and feels like Facebook with the addition of copyright-infringing music and video downloading features.
It took me a long time to build my social circle here. It proved to be a painstakingly slow process in the first few weeks, but I know a lot of people now and I’m back to doing baller things that match and hopefully surpass the awesomeness of Summer 2010: Korea, Vegas, and my month-long going away extravaganza back in the Fort. My game is global, but I still rep the 260. I’ve given local rappers airtime 5000 miles away, ’cause I do it like that.
My Simfer crew consists of a colleague known by the codename Vin Diesel and several other Americans teaching English and serving as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs); my vodka-lovin’ Crimean “bratan” Sergey and his curly-haired friend codenamed Curly Hair who works at the club most often frequented by students and has been kind enough to get us VIP access there though I haven’t been yet; a British ex-pat aid worker codenamed Quid who works for NGOs and UNDP and went 8 months here without meeting ex-pats until learning there were foreigners here through a chance meeting with Marina and a Google search that revealed this very blog; and students I’ve met in various ways with impressive party talents that include amongst other things: playing the piano, opera singing, and photography. They have joined my first and best friend in Simferopol, Marina, who officially became my sister on Facebook during my housewarming party.
Speaking of my housewarming, Friday before last I threw a baller American dorm-style party featuring Turkish delights, Sri Lankan tea, Ukrainian blue-and-yellow napkins, French baguettes, and cheddar cheese. And, tons of booze. Two of my pianist friends gave the old, dusty piano in my living room a moment in the limelight. By the way, yes, I have a piano in my living room. Next question. Party highlights include my preparation of French cuisine by cutting cheese in haphazard shapes and my friends’ attempt to bribe the woman downstairs with cake after her noise complaint. The afterparty moved to Sila Kelta, Simfer’s Irish pub where waiters wear Scottish kilts and the after-afterparty went down at Pizzeria Neapolis, a local chain where one can get vodka & pizza and toast with local tough guys at 3am.
With a successful housewarming Тяпница (Russian slang version of TGIF combining the words for drinking and Friday) in the books, we decided to do it again at Vin Diesel’s riverside property since he had returned to the city after several months. A bigger place required a bigger guest list, but it was more of the same in terms of the dorm-style party fun on display. I missed the after-party and the after-after-party. I passed out on Vin Diesel’s couch at some point. Chasing a shot of vodka with a shot of cognac amongst other things will do that you. I woke up the next day with a plate of potato chips in my hair.
“Throw a little paper out if it’ like that. Like that.” – Like that, Memphis Bleek (“534” album, 2005)
After grooming myself, I joined the local PCVs at their music-themed English-learning weekend camp where I hung out with students, and taught them some essential hip hop slang: hustlin’, baller, ice, game, and ridin’ on 22s. At the end of the day, I joined the PCVs, Vin Diesel, and my British friend whom I had met earlier in the day at Proletersko Pivo, a Communist-themed bar that sells decent beer (a rarity here) at prices rather unfriendly to the proletariat. The conversations ranged from the “special relationship” to the purpose of the Peace Corps mission with random, intermittent tangents to discuss some of my eccentric habits, interests, and hilarious experiences. Though I’ve possibly already done it earlier, this evening without a shadow of a doubt adds Ukraine to the list of countries where I’ve been the loud American. Toasting “to America’s ^%%$$#$#$#*^# foreign policy interests” in a Communist-themed bar passes the bar quite easily. We initially assumed that we were made to pay for extra beers. Concerned that we’ve been had as tourists, we paid the bill to the nearest kopek. Tip was already included. On further examination, we realized that considering the size of our crew, we probably did drink the listed thirty beers amongst ourselves. I had only two, believe it or not. The party continued at a PCV’s apartment and, for me, consisted of a solid trifecta: pizza, screwdrivers, and hookah.
I spent some of the next day at camp, though I had to leave early in order to admit Marina as a couch surfer into my apartment which is, of course, her old place. She picked up a nasty cough while interviewing people in the cold and spent the past two days ill and immobile in bed. We reasoned that it would be better for her to sit the illness out at my place in order to risk passing the germs to her host babushka. We ended this weekend with comfort food at a new cafe in the center where I took the opportunity to order a caviar crepe. I had never tried caviar and I didn’t like it once I did, but where and when else am I going to be offered $2.50 caviar?
Occurring intermittently around these parties were two mid-day champagne campaigns featuring Marina and I. Our newest innovation is to drink champagne out of used honey jars that we don’t throw away, because we’re of immigrant stock. Jars provide much larger storage in comparison to the inefficient design of traditional wine or champagne glass. Champagne is classy and sophisticated which is antithetical to our immigrant roots. Drinking champagne out of re-used honey jars, on the other hand, is much more immigrant friendly.
The newest addition to my social circle is a troupe of professional footballers from the ex-Yu countries playing for Tavriya. Two months ago, I tried contacting one of them through a fan website and that finally materialized this week. I met them at a bar in the center where peeps with the nicest cars in the city park them outside and go in. Hence, I haven’t been there before. They were kind enough to pick up the tab for my two beers and give me a ride home. Balkan hospitality. Enough said. This was a Monday night, so I had work the next day and they had training in the morning hence their penchant for juice and my self-imposed two-beer limit. Thus, a mild evening in comparison to the two that preceded it, but I was ecstatic for the opportunity to speak my mother tongue. I mean, seriously, who hangs out in oligarch hangouts with professional footballers on a Monday night? Hopefully, this becomes a Crimean Entourage where I’m VIP for knowing guys who are VIP, because they are good at kicking and dribbling soccer balls. Either way, it’s been a fortnight of baller thangs. My baller status is once-again certified and recognized. Crimea Love.
“I’m connected nationwide, but in the South I’m a king.” – King, T.I. (Hustle & Flow Soundtrack, 2005