Saturday, February 07, 2004


Did a little riding and work at the bike school yesterday. I feel good today. Going to play a little football today.
But I got to talking about Pinsk and things last night and I remembered how it felt to be here the first time I came here. I also got to thinking about where else I would like to be if I weren't here.
I know I have said this before, but I feel rather good being here. I completely understand the socio-economic problems of Belarus. And the politics of my being here. But what I am referring to is simply what it feels like to me. No more and no less.
I think I had it in my mind to use the play and my being here in the first place as a means of doing some social good. I wanted to let people know what was happening in the hopes of prehaps raising the standard of living a little. And then, when Poland decided that they wished to prove that they indeed had the right to attack people on the street and then lie about what they did and use the whole thing as an excuse to steal money, I guess I thought I could even use that as a means of raising some consciousness. Why not?
I guess I am still doing this.
Anyway, I want to talk about this a little more in the next few days, but for today’s blather I want to publish one of the chapters I edited from the book Being Had. This anecdote was originally used as the epilogue with what is now the concluding chapter of the book acting as the introduction. The story was from just after the completion of the first edit of the book. I had to take a train to Lithuania to deal with getting a new visa. While on the train, some kid accidentally pushed my bike out of the train and onto the tracks. I had to get off and walk back a few kilometers to get it. Kind of screwed up the whole day.
This selection from the book is about the train ride back from Vilnius, a few days later.
And also, I apologize for not answering mail for the last two days. The fault of this is the computers with which I must work here at the internet. They have been very, very slow lately. I found it took more than 20 minutes just to upload the daily blog and had no chance to even open any of the 20 or so letters that were in the mail. I got to a lot of them today and if the computer lets me, I will send out all of what has been requested.
And for those of you who care about such things, Belarus won a Davis Cup match against Russia yesterday that was one of the strongest tennis matches I have ever seen. Marat Safin only had his serve broken twice by Max Mirnyi but that second one came in the eighth extra game of the fifth set. Mirnyi won the match 7-6(3), 7-6(5), 1-6, 4-6, 11-9 just after midnight after a little more than four hours of play.

Let me know what you think of all of this.

Belarus: September 22, 2003
I was finally on the sleeper train from Minsk to Pinsk. I had spent the weekend at a youth hostel in Vilnius waiting to get my new visa. The work of getting the visa itself was accomplished that morning in exactly eight minutes and had cost $50 less than I thought. I wish I would have known about that before. But the weekend was a waste and I had drunk too much beer at the hostel and wasn’t feeling well at all. The bus ride and the waiting didn’t help either and I had a headache.
My plan was to read the Hemingway and try to get some sleep, but instead I got into a conversation with the girl who sat across from me. I was speaking in Russian and the girl at first thought that she wouldn’t be able to understand. I don’t speak particularly correctly, I never did study this language in school, but after a minute she found that she could understand me quite well and I was glad.
She asked me where I was going and I told her I was going home. She thought that this was odd, all things considered and so I explained a bit about my situation and why I was living in Pinsk. I told her about Tatyana and Egor. Egor had played in the Pinsk chess tournament over the weekend and had beaten last year’s champion but then lost a second game to another child. The loss might cost him first place by the end of the tournament and I told her I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to be there. I told her about the fight over not having enough living space and that Tatyana had finally found a nice two-bedroom apartment for us. She asked if I was rich. I laughed and told her that I wasn’t. I told her I had had a problem in Poland with a cop, that had cost me all of my money and that to this day, the Polish courts had yet to tell me anything about the case.
“I don’t think much of Poland.” She said.
“I don’t either.” I agreed.
I asked her about herself and she said that she was a librarian in Minsk and was going home for a few days to see her mom. I asked her what she thought about Hemingway and she said that she liked him quite a bit and that her favorite was The Old Man and the Sea. I told her I had just written a book myself. She asked me what it was about and I told her it was about lies and corruption and poverty. She said it sounded sad and I thought about that for a minute.
“Could I tell you an anecdote? I asked. She said yes. I have told this joke several times here but it never gets a laugh. In English the joke is very funny. I don’t understand the problem. Do mind if I try? She said I should.
“Ok- Three construction workers stop to eat lunch on the 20th story of a new building. One is an American, one is a Belarusian and the third is Polish. The American opens his lunch box and screams “Hamburgers again?! Everyday I have to eat hamburgers, every day the same. I tell you guys: If I see a hamburger again tomorrow, I’m going over the edge!”
Belarus opens his box and screams “Cabbage potatoes and pig fat! I can’t believe how many times I have to eat cabbage, potatoes and pig fat. If I have to eat this one more time, I am going to end it, too.”
Poland opens his box and cries “Kourva! Sausage and bread! Every day kielbasa and bread. If I see the same tomorrow, I am also going to jump”.
“The next day at lunch all three opened their lunch boxes: Hamburgers; cabbage, potatoes and pig fat; sausage and bread- and all three leapt to their death. At the funeral the American wife was hysterical. «Why, why did he do it? I would have given him anything he wanted for lunch; all he had to do was ask!’ The Belarusian wife was also in tears. «It was normal. I thought he liked it. He always wanted to be normal. Why didn’t he say he wanted something different?’ But the polish wife was just standing there, not crying at all and the others asked her why she was so calm. “I don’t know,” she said “He always made his own lunch.” The girl laughed.
“My Russian is terrible, yes?”
“Normal.” She said and smiled. She told me she was going to be getting off at about 3:00am and that she wasn’t planning on sleeping. I thought that a little foolish and took my alarm clock out of my bag and set the timer for three and got her a couple of blankets. She lay back on one blanket and covered herself with the other. We were quiet for a minute and I saw her looking at me. I asked her to tell me more about her work but she said she liked listening more than she liked talking and that she decided she liked my Russian. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just started talking.
“Do you know that the most beautiful place I ever saw was the town that my grandmother came from? I think it’s really something for an American to go back to where they were from originally. I am from here, you know? I mean, my grandmother was from here. And the first time I saw this place well, I mean, I know it is not the prettiest place. I think things were supposed to be useful and practical in the old days. Pretty is not a good word to describe it.” She laughed.
“But there was a time when Pinsk was to my eyes the most beautiful place in the whole world. It was like a dream you know, the way you guys used to live together. You were both rich and poor at the same time. But you learned how to live so well, so well. She told me she understood and that she remembered. She asked if she could close her eyes and listen, and I said I didn’t mind.
"I really don’t know how you guys do it. $60 a month is insanity. It’s impossible. I think about the problem all the time, but I really don’t know what there is to do about it.
"Tatyana sometimes says that I did everything for the boy but I don’t think that this is true. I don’t know how many times somebody asked me why I didn’t just pay the cop what he wanted, but I never did. This was about a lot more than money; this was about my name and my reputation and to me that was worth a lot more.
I have heard from some Americans that the Soviet Union was a cancer, but having stood there and seen the good aspects of life, I no longer think that this is true. I’m not advocating fascism but I do think that there are great merits to agreeing to live together. I think a world of six billion people really ought to consider this. And if you want you tell me that I am naive or that I simply refuse to face the way it really is, I would say that I was too fat and old to ride New York, but I did it and I did it well. I didn’t have enough Russian to live in Belarus or to write a Russian language play, but I did. They told me the Polish system was too corrupt and that there was no way of winning with the police. But if anyone reads the book (or this blog) I just wrote: I did. Who is to say what is or is not possible?
I bet I sleep a hell of a lot better than Zaremba does. If he would have told the truth at the station or to the police before then, I would have let him go, if for no other reason than the demonstration of honesty. If he would have done that, I think he would have remembered the guy who told him he could not arbitrarily run down bikers and to me, that would have been enough. But he didn't, and so the job of explaining that it is wrong to cause pain in other people's lives, regardless if one feels they are beyond the possibility of reprisal, is wrong. I think this is a good lesson for all of us to learn. I think it just simply feels better to tell the truth. I think this is all I wanted to say.
She was asleep. I lay back on my own blanket and stared at the roof of the train. “Vsyo budet xorosho” I said to myself. They like to say this here. They say it a lot. It means everything will be Ok. Vsyo budet xorosho. I don't know if anybody ever believes this, but they do say it a lot. Maybe that's the point. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the train. Tatyana said she would be waiting at the station with the keys to our new place. It's always good to go home.