Sunday, August 14, 2005

1.7 cents a pound.

Saw some interesting things today. I was up at the farm dealing with the tomatoes and corn and such. Not a lot to do but a lot to carry back. I mentioned last time how much we are enamored with juicing and so every time we go up these days we include a trip around the grounds to gather any apples which have decided to drop from the trees. I do not know exactly how many I brought home. It was one large bag. And you know not all the apples were beautiful by any stretch. In fact, only about seven we of the varieties that you might actually want to chew on. I am not talking about the kind of apples but rather about the worm/bee/scab/stem rot content.

I don’t mean to put you off your ramen noodles or anything but it is the truth: God doesn’t deliver all of those perfect Red Delicious apples to you, the farmer does. And to do it, he must toss away or juice a huge percentage of his crop which is simply not attractive enough for Safeway to stock. You probably did know this though. Please don’t take offence.

We are the same. Sometimes the quality is such that we won’t deal with something but in a lot of cases we do allow for more imperfections. As a for instance, I prefer big old honking zucchinis rather than smaller cucumber sized tubes. I find no difference in taste and am thrilled to have kilos and kilos of zucchini’s to play with. Another thing is the greens from, sugar beets. I love ‘em as a salad green and as a cooking green like spinach or basil. Why not?

But one thing that you always think of doing is selling your stuff. It is a shame if you have to sell more than you want to or if you do not have enough, but other than that, everybody needs to do a little marketing. There are lots of ways to do this but up in the villages the most normal thing is to deal with the individual or state trucks when they come to buy or sell goods. Today was apple day.

I was finished and packed up and sitting at the bus stop when the truck showed up to collect apples. There were bags and bags of apples sitting under the tree next to the general store and folks had been patiently waiting the trucks arrival. Yevgheny was of course in the middle of things as usual. He had indeed bulked back up during this season, though he still had that Dean Martin thing going on.

Finally the truck rode in and parked under the tree. There were two people buying apples, a woman who was keeping he records and a young man who was smiling and greeting everybody, shaking hands and generally being sociable. The woman with Yevgheny’s help set up the scale and the young man started hauling over the first sacks of apples. Yevgheny stood up on the scale to check the weight.

I asked how much they were paying for apples today and one of my neighbors told me 80 rubles. 80 rubles a kilo? That’s right. I did the numbers in my head. Currently, as it has for the last year and a half the ruble has traded for 2150 to the dollar. This means that 80 rubles has a value equivalent to 3.72 cents. And, just to satisfy my American sensibilities, I redid the math to figure the cost per pound and got the number you see at the start of this article.

Now, I am sorry folks but this number offends me. It is simply not enough money. Now I know that these are grade z apples and that folks might have all they need, but I would have to think that the inherent natural value of the food stuff itself should be worth more than this. I mean, just the ability to drink a lot of fresh juice should b worth something. And if you don’t care about fresh juice, boil it, add a touch of sugar and keep it for January when maybe you will.

Don’t like that idea? Ok, add a little sugar (or don’t- I prefer not) a few grams of yeast and let t sit for a couple of week and you have terrific dry, fruity wine. And have to know that this would be interesting to my village. Hell, you know the 5000 rubles that Yevgheny got for his two sacks of crap apples went right, straight into the till of the general store for two bottles of really awful wine. What a waste! I figure that the bag I carries was about a third of a sack, after puling out the eating apples got turned into 3 liters of fresh juice. A bottle of wine is only half a litre which means the dollar value alone in wine from a full sack of apples comes out to 45,000 rubles right there. And this is not including all of the stuff you can make from the residual. And I am not even going to go into reducing the new alcohol further for brandy, vodka or spirit.

Now maybe if this was still the time of the Soviet Union and everybody was doing for everybody else and all were working for the common good and all, but this really isn’t the case any more. Ok, it is the case out in the villages because all of the pensioners are lifers in the old system. And I know what I said last time about them supporting Lukashenka because he allows for them to live the sort of life they have been living forever. But this is simply not enough money and neither was the 90 rubles they offered for potatoes. Masha, Yasha’s wife said about that that she would rather feed the potatoes to the pigs than sell for such little money. And she was right.

But the problem is that even though everybody made a joke about it today; sitting on the sacks, tossing them onto the truck with disdain, stacking the sacks together on the scale and basically abusing the fruit, you knew that they all needed the money, however small desperately. A dollar a sack. An they took the money and ran.

I was happy to get a seat on the bus. My knee was killing me as it has the last three or four times I have gone up there and I was grateful not to have to make the hour ride standing. All in all I think I was carrying about 70 pounds but I am not sure. Maybe a little less. Apples, some tomatoes a couple of ears of sweet corn, some new potatoes. And onions and garlic. And, al always I started to snooze.

But then an argument started up and the yelling woke me up. A couple of ticket ‘agents’ come on the bus on the way back to town and were checking everyone’s tickets. This is the way the keep things honest with spot inspections. It doesn’t happen every time, but it is pretty regular. And I am always pretty paranoid about it and have a habit of keeping my ticket in plain view just in case.

But when I realized that argument was from an inspector I froze because when I had fallen asleep, I inadvertently had dropped my ticket. Now these sacks were heavy and there was another passenger just in front of me so I had very little room to maneuver. Where was that ticket? It could not have fallen far. Did someone take it out of my fingers when I was sleeping? That would be bold. Maybe it was a joke. Or maybe corruption and the inspector herself… wait a minute, I found it. Cool. It had fallen into my bag and was right under an ear of corn.

But then I started to tune into the argument that had woken me, The inspector was trying to convince several people that she was within her rights to give a grandmother a fine and a ticket for being on the bus without a ticket. The argument was between the ticket taker and driver as well as several passengers, all of whom swore that the old lady had indeed bought a ticket, that it was a half price ticket that she was entitles to as a pensioner and that she musty have lost it. The inspector though was not having any of it especially as the old woman did not have her card that said that she was indeed over 55 years of age and entitled to the discount.

“Just look at her for God’s sake” Yelled the driver, “Any fool can see she is a pensioner.”

“The rules state that she must have a ticket and that she must have identification. Everyone knows the rules and they are very clear.”

“I paid my money and this lady here gave up her seat so I could sit down.”

“That’s true I did.” Said the good Samaritan. “And I specifically saw her pay the driver for a ticket as well.”

“But she doesn’t have a ticket. And if she doesn’t have a ticket she is in violation and has to pay a fine.”

“Motherfucker,” said the man in back of me “She is an old woman, what do you want from her?”

“It doesn’t matter how old she is, everyone musty pay for their own ticket.”

“She paid for the ticket, motherfucker, Leave her alone. Everyone agrees that she paid for the ticket.”

“It doesn’t matter who agrees or not. She has to have a ticket and she has to have proper identification.”

“I can’t afford to pay the fine. My pension is very small.”

“Leave the poor woman alone.”

“Motherfucker, how can you do this to her? She paid for the ticket, motherfucker.”

“I am sorry, I am calling it in.” said the ticket inspector and whipped out her cell phone and dialed her office and proceeded to do just that. The rules are the rules.

The old lady was mortified and so was everyone else on the bus. I looked at my ticket stub. I read the serial number and the time and date it was issued. It was just a small scrap of paper about the size of a large postage stamp. It had cost me 1280 rubles. This exactly works out to 59.53 cents American. I don’t know what the cell phone call had cost, but this inspector was willing to stand up to an entire busload of people who were trying to tell her that she really ought to let the old lady off on that less-then thirty cent crime she had committed. I mean, she needed the money, couldn’t she see that? The cost of the ticket was dear. Very, very dear.

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