Sunday, May 22, 2005


I have been spending most of my time in town lately. This bureaucratic process I am in the middle of takes up a lot of my time. It is slow and it is expensive and not much fun. I mean it has its moments, such as when Tanya got a notary to actually do some work the other day. She was really great in there and I really have to add that to the list of things that need to be written about here. In fact, lately she has been really great lately in spite of, or perhaps because of our adversities. You gotta like that. But as I say, this will have to be for another time.

But yesterday I snuck up to the farm for a few hours. The reason for the trip was to transport a couple of new tools we have acquired. I took a sprayer with a three-meter extension up there so I can more easily spray the trees for bugs this year. Last year I had to build this rather huge a-frame ladder for working on the trees, and hauling it around was an arduous process. Last year it took two days to spray and my thinking is that this new tool will cut the time down to maybe two or three hours. I also brought up a kassa, I think that this is called a cycle, for cutting weeds and grass. Never had one of these either last year and so I was always bothering my neighbors to use theirs.

But the weather has been terrible as I have said for a month and so there wasn’t really much to do. I mean you can’t spray in the rain because you whatever you spray up there will be washed away. But it wasn’t really the right time anyway because the trees are still blossoming, a beautiful thing to look at by the way. The whole village really is awash in pink-white splashes amidst all of the new baby green.
But because it has been raining so much, there really isn’t much that can be done in the field and this is basically true for everybody. So you know everybody has been getting a little bored lately. You could see this getting off the bus looking at the line of folks camped out in front of the store waiting for bread. Now we get bread every other day in our village store and bread day always gets a line, but when there is nothing to do, everybody just sorts of stands around rather than crushing to be first in line. Yesterday, it looked like a babushka coral.

Now I knew I basically an only hour of work to do as well so I took my time getting down the road to my place, stopping first at the local store to get something to eat. And of course when I did I got drawn into conversation by George (Pronounced Ge-or-ge), one of the better talkers our village has. George has a deep honey voice that has a musical lilt to it when he goes off on a tangent, which he is pretty much always want to do. But I had forgotten that he has this rather gentlemanly habit of letting everyone else get to the bread first. Especially the woman. He always does this and so consequently I got caught and had to let the crown build up in front of me.

This turned out to be 90 minutes.But it was pleasant talking to everyone out in front of the store. The tools I had brought were good for some conversation. How much they cost, what the difference was from last year. I offered opinion as to why things were costing more. And a sign that was posted on the bulletin board got some tongues wagging. It said Zerlo kuploo, basically “I buy land” and gave two phone numbers. This is a very Russian way to do things but it is also pretty straight forward in what the subtext means. The tide is indeed turning. The villagers all got the message all right.

And then Yevgheni showed up. Now I have written a lot about Yevgheni and about he has always been a pain in my ass. I guess I never did finish that Yasha story but as I said he is in there too. Ah, I’ll probably just leave that for the book. But Yevgheni is all energy, especially around the store and there is a simple reason why: The alcohol comes from the store. And so Ghenna (A familiar way to say his name) was flying around, glad-handing, politicking and schmoozing the babas. Most of his conversation concerned how many rubles he owed to people (he owed everyone money) and whether or not they still liked him (they did.)

Ghenna’s got a interesting deal in the village. As I have mentioned, the population of the village is primarily made up of pensioners, and as Ghenna is only 45 or 46 or so, and has been up until now a healthy, able and knowable fellow, he is in rather great demand. My supposition is that these minor wine debts will turn out to be meaningless after he does whatever work that will be needed over the summer. Of course, that he is behind and has already drank money that he is yet to make, he is of course skating on thin ice. And this is true aparently for both his wallet and his health.

I hadn’t seen Ghenna in a while, at least not close-up anyway, but the first thing I noticed is that he seems to have shrunk quite a bit this winter. Last year he was rather shaped like a brick, with a big round muscular jaw, a barrel chest and fists about the size small hams. This spring though, chain smoking and drinking like a fish, he has sort of taken on sort of an early Dean Martin appearance. He is much thinner in general, and seems to have lost at least 20 pounds.

Now I know that he has had a hard time of it lately. His mom got all but wiped out by a stroke over the winter and so life with his dad seems to have gotten to him. He is still single and as far as I can tell is living without female companionship but for the baba’s he schmooses. And as far as that goes, the babas are turning a cold shoulder to me lately when I say bad things about him, so at least that seems to be working in his favor. But he has obviously been drinking and smoking way too much and the effect on his health is becoming quite noticeable. Maybe this summers work will snap him out of it, but I am not sure.

I finally bought my bread and cheese and wandered down the street to my place. I assembled the Kassa and cut my grass. And then I wandered around a bit checking how things are coming. The beans have all sprouted and my onions are looking great. The garlic is too for that matter. I am about a week from transplanting the cabbages and as I said, the trees were all blossoming well. This should be a great year for apples and plums and pears for us. Lots of apple sauce for Anya and juice and wine and jam for the reast of us. One of my little greenhouses had fallen in on one side from the weight of the water from the rain, so I fixed that and then I was basically done.

So I went inside and ate the bread and cheese with some tea and realized that it was already to go back. Short day. Last year this would have have been a three or four day stay, but I have things to do today and tomorrow and even Tuesday with this stamp deal, so I packed some wild mushrooms I had found growing under the grass that I had cut, locked the doors and headed back to the bus stop for the midday bus.
And of course when I got to the bus stop. Yevgheni was there too.

I had never thought of why Ghenna is always at the bus stop when the busses come. I mean, he never gets on the bus and nobody ever gets off the bus to visit him, so why was he always there? Well, now I think I understand that he is simply bored and miserable and looking for whatever company he can find. People sitting at the bus stop have a free moment and are available for work. Yevgeni’s presence turns the bus stop into a bar.

He tried to draw me in, and we traded barbs back and forth. At first i begged off and then when he wouldn’t let go I offered to sponser him to one final drink. “To the end” I said, How much would it cost to go all the way to the end? How much would it take?” He tool me seriously I think and offered something about drinking three liters being the amount of vodka a man could drink before dying. He also looked as though he might be considering the option. The babas had at first been laughing at our repartee but with this one or two gave me looks to tell me to lay off him. He has their sympathy as of the moment. He has theirs but not mine. We have lots of drunks now. Forgotten wrecks of men too broken by life and the bottle, or the life of the bottle to be considered still men. Such was the time here that nobody was forgotten and so there were fewer wastrels. But such times are going and have gone and have been gone and there is so much less for those who have crawled inside the glass for extended vacations.

And I thought about this as the bus bounced and grinder its way back to town. I wonder how long Yevgheni’s star will last. He seems to me to be already pressing against the envelope to me. But he is of this place, and has been so strong for so long. Of course he has lots of interest built up in his account. But like all severely depressed people, he is affecting a negative effort against his world. And I have to believe that the bill will someday have to come. Maybe it will come when he loses enough muscle and people no longer will look on him as being great. Certainly he can be a pain, so I imagine his dropping to a lower weight class might even invite a punches in the nose or two. A natural occurrence in the life of a street bum, no?

Such is the deal here in Belarus. There is a weight here. I remember feeling the difference while crossing borders. It is a tangible thing. It is in the air. And I am sure that they certainly feel this from me when I am in Lithuania. Probably why I attract as much attention there as I do. Probably they understand. And in Yevgheni yesterday, I can see the weight in him blossoming like a flower. Probably he had grown as strong as he did from the power of his life fighting to come up. He appears to have stopped fighting it.

Yes, such is the deal here in Belarus. And yes, the times they are a’changin…

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