My Work Here Is Done

Saint Petersburg Travel Blog

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   This is the first day I have any kind of time for an hour on the computer not related to my conference presentation.  I arrived late on May 15 because my flight from New York City was delayed for 4 hours on the tarmac because of some weather delay.  I missed my connection in Moscow, but it was changed without much fuss.  I am staying in Hotel Oktyabrskaya (named for the October revolution) which is mediocre.  I would not pay the $180 to stay, so I am glad the conference is taking care of the bill.  The location, however, is irreproachable - right on Uprising Square in the commercial center of the city.  On my first full day I walked across the street to Moscow Train Station to buy tickets for Jeff and I when we go to Moscow on May 29.

  I wrote out my request so there would be no confusion.  But the cashier wrote "Fwmalont" for my last name and "Ereiabaca" for Jeff's.  She did fix it at least.  The conference started in the afternoon with a lecture on using zebrafish as a model in drug development.  No more than 30 people attended any given lecture.  I suppose the delegates were out exploring the city instead.  I approve.

   The next few days I got a bus tour of the city, which I liked because the weather was so astonishingly good - 75 and sunny.  We had a 2 hour boat ride through the canals and the River Neva in less spectacular weather.  The director of the conference, Dr. Kalueff, a Russian-born scientist now working at Tulane, invited me for dinner.

  He wanted to know how it was I knew Russian and where I was going after the conference.  I am not a typical conference attendee.  I listened to all the lectures the first few days, and most of them were given by students and scientists from Eastern Europe.  There were a few from Italy, Sweden, and the USA.  I gave my lecture a few days after some quick editing and hard practice (I cannot speak coherently in front of a group unless I practice a dozen times).  I think I pulled my weight.  Anyway, I am pretty proud that I was given the opportunity to speak at symposium when at first I thought I was just going to be allowed a poster presentation.

  The conference dinner was at an especially kitschy and upscale restaurant called "To Your Health.

"  I skipped the cold herring, ate the borsch, pelmeny (meat dumplings), and cowberry pie.  No, I do not know what cowberries are, but they were very tart.  I got to speak with Dr. Klimenko, the diretor of the Ivan Pavlov Department of Physiology of the Institute of Experimental Medicine here in St. Petersburg.  He seemed to think one of his colleagues would be interested in hosting me as a Boren Fellow for a year.  Now I just need to, you know, apply.  Dr. Klimenko gace us tour of the laboratory where Ivan Pavlov performed his famous conditioning experiments on dogs.  We had the rare opportunity to see the objects left in his office when he died, which included a ceramic pencilholder shaped like a dog.  It seems scientists do not change.
 

  Today I woke up to buy S7 tickets to Yerevan, Armenia.  I am leaving tomorrow night and returning in time for Jeff's flight to St. Petersburg.  I met a Russian colleague (I get to use that word now!) at Peterhof - Peter the Great's Pleasure Palace on the Baltic about an hour outside the city.  There probably will not be a better day to visit this year.  Outside the palace that a later tsar built, are dozens of fountains in a large park along the shore.  Large, baroque and highly-detailed, they sparkle in the bright sunshine.  Reflecting Peter's sense of humor, there are timed fountains ready to surprise passers-by with a dousing.  I promised to send postcards to Viktor, my Russian colleage who works at an institute outside Moscow. 

  It has been among the best weeks I have ever spent in St. Petersburg.  I leave for Yerevan, Armenia tomorrow night!

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