It was 10pm Saturday night when I decided that I had enough. I spent whole month with no single holiday, with no single get away from Moscow. I had to do it just for a change. I threw cameras and tripod into my bag, run out of apartment to catch cab towards Leningradskij Railstation.
Line of people in front of ticket office was long enough to miss even the last train to St Petersburg. Soon I noticed uniformed guy signaling me that he is willing to help with my problems. After short talk he offered me bed in a conductor compartment for the cost of a first class ticket. I figured that while first class compartment is for two, the conductor compartment is for one. I agreed. Cash changed hands and I found myself in the best compartment of the most luxurious Russian train called Nikolaevskij Express.
I was waiting on the platform for the train departure when I noticed new passenger escorted by a driver and bunch of pretty divas approaching the car. He was gleaming and shining like a new laser disk.
Michael, he introduced himself in Russian. Anatol, I reciprocated. It’s worth mentioning, that there is no such name as Michael in Russian (only Mikhail) same as there is no such name as Anatol, only Anatolij.
Michael invited me to compartment which he reserved solely to himself. Can’t stand people snoring, he smiled. After couple of beers we traded our life stories. His was certainly more quaint then mine.
He left Russia 20 something years ago and settled down in New York from where he runs several high risk businesses on both sides of Atlantic. Besides running extreme businesses he is also enjoing extreme sports. He has been pro downhill skier, pro scuba diver, pro acrobate pilot and many more pros. He rejoices life in all its manifestations.
Why don’t you come flying with me tomorrow? It’s fun! Me?? Flying?Flying plane wasn’t on my list for tomorrow. I was planning to spend full solid shooting day in the most photogenic Russian city. C’mon! You will love it, smiled Michael. One thing he for sure did acquire in the States is his wide energetic smile. Well, I written down directions, and went sleep following old Russian saying that morning is wiser then night. I will sleep on it.
I spent morning shooting. Skies were gray, sun didn’t show up, and finally I decided that it’s better if I stop wasting my time and use the opportunity. I came to Gorskaya airfield around noon. Michael was already there and ready to fly.
Watching Michael flying was scary even from the surface. It was my first time to see acrobatic air show and it was impressive! For 30 minutes or so Michael’s plane was non-stop dancing in the air, diving in a free fall, making loops, screwdrivers, cobras and hell knows what. I was still standing on the solid ground and already felt dizzy.
Then after some other flights it was my turn. After I slid into the Yak-52 (Як-52) cabin onto second pilot seat, pilot’s assistant put me into a parachute and advised to watch out for the propellers when I jump from the cabin. Don’t worry, the parachute should open by itself, just pull this thread. Then pilot showed me two levers and one pedal and instructed that if I want to go up I should pull the lever and push the gas. What can be simpler? In two minutes I flew the plane!
Not quite. I am sitting in headphones behind the pilot who is the Champion of Europe in maneuvering and he is doing to me exactly what I just saw from the ground. Loop. Wing loop. Screwdriver. Through the lamp I see the land above me falling on my head. Barrel. Free fall. I am observing arrow on the stress indicator approaching 5G. Does it mean that I am under the power of 5 earth gravitations?! After each manuever the pilot is checking through the headphones whether I still alive and conscious, what was the name of last figure? “Bbbarrrel”, wheeze I back.
Then I am allowed to control the plane for minute or so. Left, right, up … oops. When I pull the handle the plane almost stopped hang for a moment and went down. Gas, dumn I forgot gas! It was enough. It took me 3-4 hours after we landed to completely recover. I spent in the air just about 20 minutes. On that Sunday afternoon the instructor spent in the air more then 3 hours.
We returned to the downtown just in time to catch last rays of the afternoon sun. All I could do is to get to position on the bridge over Griboedov Channel and shoot, shoot beautiful people of StPetersburg. As many other Moscovites I developed kind of inferiority complex towards StPetersburg. Yes, Moscow is the place where power and money concentrated, however StPetersburg is supposed to be the soul of the nation. Trying to get glimpse of the soul through faces of passersby…
Then after sun is down, to kill couple of hours before night train I stopped at the Red Club, conveniently located within walking distance from Moskovskij railstation. German group Rechenzentrum was playing that night. There I met Kathy, nice cosmopolitan British girl of mixed origin who lives and works in Switzerland and traveling East Europe. What a day!
If it’s not the perfect day then give your definition of the word perfect!