The last time that I felt tear gas was near the American University in Cairo, when the protests started to escalate again. This time, however, I am standing in front of the Fidel Bar in St. Petersburg, where a local has obviously drunk more than enough. The doormen take harsh measures against those who cause unrest. Perhaps it is the only way to deal with those individuals in Russia, who do not know their limits. The gas is spreading very fast. Before shedding any tears, we quickly return into the bar. It was the beginning of my second stay in Russia, and my first night out in St. Petersburg. Inside the bar I meet an Italian named Benedetto. After ordering some drinks, we start analyzing the crowd that mostly consists of students.
It does not take long, until we also meet some eye-catching personalities. "Russian bear" is the first thing that comes into my mind as I look at the drunk, chubby and somewhere sensitive seeming Dimitri, who is being calmed down by his friend Victor, whenever Dimitri feels challenged by anyone in the room, and he feels challenged very easily. It is hard to believe that the homosexual Russian whom we meet later on is able to be in the same room like Dimitri, albeit it is true that among those individuals in Russia who find pleasure in physical confrontation, the usually defenseless homosexuals are a favored target group. Benedetto and I buy another drink, before joining some people in front of the entrance. One of the individuals that we meet turns out to be an older German, who moved to Russia many years ago to work as a male prostitute. Not much later, a girl proudly lets me know that she is like "Catherine the Great", the longest-ruling female leader of Russia. A revealing comment. "Catherine the Great had many lovers", I figure out, and she nods, smiling voluptuously, without feeling ashamed one bit.
It was certainly time for another drink. A rather suspicious man joins me. His friend, whose missing tooth and grim facial expression does not let him look like the most pleasant fellow, sits down right next to us. At some point of time they decide to show me some Russian rap music, which does not really impress me. Instead I am wondering what they are really up to. The two men remind me a little bit of the two Serbs in Belgrade who unsuccessfully tried to rob me. In order to do something about the tenseful atmosphere and to prevent any escalation, I suggest to the two men that I sing a song for them. It's not like I am a talented singer. But after spending some time in a Russian Karaoke Bar earlier that night, my confidence grew enormously. More importantly, however, my intention was to sing a song in their language. Once upon a time, a friend showed me a couple of Russian songs, and tonight I would pick some of my favorites. The two men look at me in anticipation, and I begin to sing: "Na Pole Tanku Grohotali". Euphorically they join my performance, screaming along the verses of the song, whose central theme is the Red Army's heroic battles during World War II. Subsequently, one of the two men hugs me in appreciation. Within seconds, a Westerner turned into their "Brati".
Back at the bar I am ready to order the next drink. Two Russian women scream at the waitress, accusing her of taking too long and apparently uttering insulting sentences. The waitress takes a deep breath and looks up, not because she is focusing on anything on the ceiling of the room, but to repress the tears that are about to roll out of her eyes. She rushes out of the bar to let out her emotions, while the other barkeepers continue to mix some cocktails. Nobody seems to have even noticed her. At some point of time she returns. "What do you want to drink?", she asks me without even looking at me. "Are you ok?", I ask back, and from that moment onwards her mood changes in an extreme and sudden way. She happily continues to serve drinks to the guests the rest of the night, as if nothing has ever happened. Later on she thanks me again, as if I did something big, when I actually only uttered three words. How amazingly easy it is, to make people smile here.
A couple of Russian students give me some interesting insights on their country and culture, until a girl appears who makes it difficult for me to concentrate on profound discussions. Is there anything that I can do to impress her? I have an idea. "Na Pole tanku Grohotali....". She is delighted to hear me sing Russian songs, but apparently she also focused on my technical singing skills. How could I have known that she studies in a music college? Actually I intended to make her heart melt, but I get totally caught off guard and start feeling like I am being put under a spell as she and her friend counter my charme offensive by using their beautiful and well trained voices, passionately singing one of the most famous songs in Russian history. Other locals join us to proudly sing along, making me feel like I was in the midst of a Russian musical. The first time that this song was performed was in Moscow in July, 1941, as an expression to bid farewell to Russian soldiers before they went to battle Nazi-Germany. Nearly half of all the victims of World War II were Russians. Thus every Russian family can personally relate to this song, and everybody among this young Russian crowd here in St Petersburg can relate to this song, a song that honors all the Russian soldiers who have fought and protected their country and their families in the greatest war in human history. A song about a simple girl whose name is 'Katyusha'.