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A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective - Soviet Unions

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Monday, 4 March 2013 | Views [94] | Scholarship Entry

We had to turn on a few side streets, go down a discreet staircase next to an apartment complex, and press a button beside an unmarked black door. Three short rings later, we were greeted and quickly ushered inside by a man with a shiny bald head.
“It’s exclusive,” Dasha whispered to me as we traipsed down the stairs. “They don’t want to bother with just anybody.”
Dasha, Anastasia, and Nastia, native St. Petersburg women in their twenties, made the orders: pomegranate hookah, tea with milk, tea with lemon, and fruit beer.
We began with talk about the stinginess of Dasha’s recent ex. “A Russian woman should only have to pay for her candy and stockings,” Anastasia, draped in fur, informed me. As the newcomer, having just moved here from New York on a fellowship, I had Russian romance lessons to learn. Dasha had new prospects: an Italian diplomat and a Finnish entrepreneur. “We look for foreigners,” Dasha explained.
Soon the conversation turned to me. I mentioned a few disastrous dates I’d been on since arriving and then made the typical four-single-women-at-a-lounge conclusion: “Men are impossible.” Anastasia and Nastia murmured their agreement, blowing smoke rings.
“Except Jewish men,” Dasha interrupted. The three of us looked at her. She crossed and uncrossed her legs and signaled to the waitress for another drink. “The best men are Jewish.”
I turned to Dasha. “You’re Jewish?” I asked. She smiled, fiddling with the diamond cross around her neck. “Of course I am Jew,” she said. “Jewish men are stylish and important men. And they are the most generous. You must date Jewish men.” Anastasia and Nastia nodded seriously, as though Dasha were imparting the secret to successful dating.
I leaned back and took a deep drag off the pomegranate hookah. I was in St. Petersburg—a city that 100 years ago had forbidden Jews’ residency. The only exceptions had been Jews who openly converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, or Jewish merchants with connections. In rare cases, Jews who had served in the czar’s army for 25 years were permitted to live in the city.
Now, in a trendy lounge, a young Jewish Russian woman was flaunting her Jewishness and her trysts with Jewish men like it was a fabulous accessory, akin to her black fur coat.
Welcome to the new St. Petersburg.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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