I brought work along with me this trip. Ivo is here for three months to work in the archives, and I wanted to be sure that I would not distract him. Thus I brought along 3 translation projects to busy myself. While Ivo goes to the archives, I go to the library.
I got my library card the first Monday I was here. Ivo and I ran errands, registering my visa and whatnot. Then we went to the National (or Lenin) Library. I filled out a form with my name (it was there that Ivo and I discovered that our last name had been transliterated differently on our separate visas), took a number, took a photo, paid my 100 rubles (3.50 CHF) and got my very own card – good for 5 years. This is not my first library card, mind you. But it is my first library card with my name written in Cyrillic characters. Moreover it’s the first library card that has felt as vital as it does. You see, beside this card, my entry to the library feels flimsy and precarious. I mumble pleasantries and adhere to a very precise script and cannot answer any spontaneous questions from any attendant in the building, as I have no idea what they are saying. Luckily, I have an ally there.
That first day at the library, Ivo happened to speak to me while we were checking our coats. It’s been our intention to only speak Swiss-German while here. (Ivo has encountered a few people with stories of Americans being made to fill a role for some disgruntled Russians and being made the target of some verbal or physical abuse.) Therefore, we stick to the only slightly less offensive (because of it’s relation to German) native language of my adopted land.
Because of our Helvetic exchange, the coat check attendant asked where we were from. As he waited for our response, he grabbed an album and wallet from beneath the counter. We said that we were from Switzerland; he flipped through his coin album and found that he had no entries from Switzerland. Ivo asked if I had a few francs and I gave him a 5-er, a 2 Franc piece and a few Rappen coins. He was delighted and Ivo later said that he was now “Nashi” – meaning “ours,” meaning that he’d know us if he met us again. Ivo then took me through the rest of the entrance procedure (I show my bag and promise that I have no paper or newspaper on me; I say “Na Notebookem” so that I get a slip of paper with permission for my laptop) and then we head inside.
The next time I was in the library it was on my own. I went to the other coat check – a big mistake. I didn’t find the Nashi we’d met, but instead a severe woman. I was so nervous that I only mumbled a hello as I began to strip of my woolen layers and put my supplies in order. She snapped “good day!” I think that she hadn’t heard my hello and then I was so nervous that any additional thing that she said to me met with a dumb nodding of my head. I was so embarrassed. I got the rest of the procedure right and quickly made my way to the stairs. En route I saw the fellow whom I’d given the coins and he smiled and nodded.
My third trip to the library, I returned to the original coat check. No Nashi this time either but as I was being helped our fella came over smiling and shook my hand. I smiled at him and reached into my pocket to grab a one-franc piece I’d found that morning. He seemed pleased and said something while moving his hand as if to say that he’d collected a whole row now. His colleague seemed a bit suspicious, but he explained, “She’s Swiss and gave me Swiss money for my collection.” (Or so I gather. I definitely heard “Swiss” and “collection”)
I continued on through the rest of the process and found my place 2 floors up to set to work. I filled out my exit form (the one that specifies Notebookem) right then, as I’d had problems with the line for my card number each time I exited before.
3 hours later, I’d prepared myself to leave and was heading for the stairs. Ivo and I had a lunch date and I wanted to leave early to navigate the Metro alone for the first time. Once I was in the main hall where the rows and rows of card catalog drawers are, an announcement was made. I don’t know what they were saying, but many people paused to listen. For the first time in 3 visits, people began to chat to one another once the announcement was over. (In the library, the silence is akin to that in the street, in the metro and anywhere else where there is a large collection of strangers. All of these places also contain a number of people who will answer their awful ringtone and yell down their phone. In libraries and archives, this includes the polite shout of “CAN’T TALK NOW! I’M IN THE ARCHIVE/LIBRARY! - - -I SAY I CAN’T TALK NOW IT’S THE ARCHIVE/LIBRARY!!!” But idle chatter is non-existent.)
I continued on to the bathroom, as the general reaction to the announcement seemed to be a carrying on as usual. Meanwhile a new, short, regular announcement began. It was sort of similar to that announcement that one hears at an airport “Attention: all unattended baggage will be confiscated.” I began to wonder, “What do people who don’t understand English think when they hear this and see people milling about ignoring it?” En route to the lavatory, I saw the aforementioned Nashi. He nodded but said nothing about “go back! There’s a fire/monster/bomb!” so I carried on as normal. By the time I returned to the main hall it was full of people evacuating. An older woman stood at the stair shouting information up to everybody but me. I snuck through the booth where you give up your slip of paper, because all the other patrons needed to find a pen and fill theirs out. I then headed toward the coat check, but the line lead from the counter to the exit doors. As this registered, good ol’ Nashi waved me over to him. I was allowed to come to the counter and as I gave him my coat check tag, he gave me a piece of candy and winked. He quickly got my coat and bag, just as a woman next to me said the words “live news.” (Still no idea to what she was referring.) I tottered off to the exit and got myself dressed in the vestibule. Before the building, the patrons paced to keep warm in the cold sunshine.
Next day I checked the Internet. Apparently, someone had called in a fire, but none was found. “This happens all the time,” said an employee there.