Maud posted it below, but I thought I’d reiterate. I’ve been to St. Petersburg twice for the Summer Literary Seminars. It’s a great program and deserves mentioning. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are nervous about going to Russia, but I say, go in spite of your fear. It’s an experience.
I saw all sorts of unusual things. I watched a man take a poop in the middle of a public park, just squatted right there beneath a tree. He was reading a magazine. The sun didn’t go down until 2am. I tried new cuisines. Here’s an amusing story:
One night after Ron Carlson gave a reading, a big group of us went to a popular Georgian restaurant. Georgian food is delicious (imagine a combination of Indian and Middle Eastern, very spicy). This particular restaurant was famous for its cheese bread, but on that night they’d run out. “You can’t eat Georgian food without cheese bread,” someone said. So I went down the street to another Georgian restaurant that was also supposed to have excellent cheese bread and ordered some from the two old women who greeted me at the door (I don’t remember how this worked because I’m certain they didn’t speak any English). They motioned for me to have a seat while I waited. These women were Georgians and they dressed differently from the Russians, wore bandanas tied around their heads and long patchwork skirts and had thick arms. From where I was sitting I had a clear view into the kitchen and I found myself staring in there sort of absently. At some point one of the old women went into the kitchen and sat on a barrel. I watched as she untied her black shoes and rolled down her long socks. Her feet were pale blue. A moment later the second old woman went back to the kitchen and began massaging the first woman’s feet. Then they switched. When they were finished giving their massages they brought out my order of cheese bread, piping hot. I brought it back to the restaurant where everyone was waiting and very excited. They said it was delicious.
And most importantly, on that same trip I met my girlfriend, Tara. So I give SLS my highest recommendation, and I didn’t even talk about the workshops or the faculty, which are both incredible. This year Mary Gaitskill will be there.