Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tossing shit at the dacha, cont.

This is just the daily blog. Click here to see an index for the rest of it.

Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag…

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

I played some guitar while I was lying in bed this morning. I was playing some Simon and Garfunkle. I don’t know why being in the village makes me think of them but I do. Maybe it is the pace and feel of the place. Or maybe it was because I played a lot last year while I was out there. But this morning I felt like it and grabbed the guitar and started riffing from Mrs. Robinson. And then I went and cut my nails because I was twanging the strings.

Meanwhile, back at the dacha story...

Andre showed up after a couple of hours and we sat and talked in my kitchen. I had forgotten to bring anything to eat and had not even drawn any water from the well so I had nothing to offer him.

Andre has a speech impediment and stutters a bit. His words come out staccato and haltingly. He also speaks in an odd variant of the local dialect so he is really hard to understand.

The official language in Belarus is still Russian but there is an accepted National language as well. The local dialect in my village though is not really Belarussian. The official version of the Belarussian Language probably could be called Minskoy, because Minsk is the region they got it from. I suppose they decided that the big city had to have the real thing. I don’t know how many dialects there really are though I have heard there are a lot. Belarussian in General is a cross between Polish, Ukrainian and Russian but my village is a lot closer to straight Polish. And this is easy to understand; the place was Poland until the end of World War II so all of the lifetime residents went to Polish School and their parents spoke Polish and so this is what I have to contend with.

So anyway I get to talking with Andre and much to my surprise he said he would be free to start bringing in shit today if I wanted. Great. This I had not expected but great lets go. I told him though that I had to be back in town this night and that I had to leave no later than 6:20 to catch the bus. We went back and forth about whether tomorrow would be better but after a moment he admitted that he had forgotten that there was no bus service Mondays or Wednesdays until much later in the summer. He probably was tired after working and wasn’t looking forward to more work but he was into it and wanted to get started. We had shaken hands and then he leaned forward and asked conspiratorially if I had “2 Rubles”. Now two rubles has almost no earthly value but understood that he was talking about 2000 rubles and I also understood that he was speaking about the cost of a bottle of wine.

The wine they like to drink is an incredibly horrible material. It is some kind of low-grade grape or apple cut with some extra sugar to raise the alcohol content slightly to about 15%. Two Flutes is one variety and I happily forget the others. I don’t want to come of as a prude, and I have sampled this crap but in general I try never to drink anything that makes me make a face. But they do drink here and this wine is cheap (about 1600 rubles a bottle, about 75 cents. Vodka costs about 5000, or and the irony is not wasted, close to a day’s wage for an average worker. I made a mental note to remember to bring something better the next time I came up.

But I didn’t want to slip him a buck for the work, regardless of local custom- about which I had long ago learned my lesson, and had on my mind a different deal. I do like Andre and was really happy that he had agreed to haul some shit for me. And I was also really happy when he had offered to do it for $10 less that would be the normal price. I don’t want to take advantage of people but this money is a big deal for me too. I was sure that Vassa would have been angry about Andre’s offering to haul the shit and do the plowing for only 50,000 and the last thing I wanted was more scandals. I hoped what I saw that morning was just that Vassa had simply passed the buck over to Andre: If Andre wanted to work for this money, that was his business. This would have been best all around.

I would do this work myself but there are several really good reasons that I don’t. One is that I don’t work for KalHos. If I did, they would let me have one of the horses for free to do my plowing. But because I don’t and also because I don’t have a plow or a cart of my own and everybody knows that I have never done it, they won’t give me the gear to break or the horse to hurt. And this makes sense to me. Maybe if I spend some time hanging around with them and learning they will let me this year but in any case, I don’t mind paying for this work because the money does go to the village and to friends... and for wine.

“Well, how about if I give you 50,000 instead of two.” I said to Andre. He looked surprized. I hoped I was not making a mistake. I really wanted to make sure that tis work was done and had offered to pay him over a month ago in a show of good faith. But at the time he wouldn’t take it because there was still too much snow. “Here, take it." I said "I am glad to give it to you. I am happy to be working with you.” He smiled again and took the money. Good. He said we could get started today and left.

Great. We’re working. So I put away my writing and found a shirt from last year and put it on. I hadn’t though there would be any real labor today but I found I was glad to be able to do something. I went out to the garage to find the small pitchfork where I had left it six months ago. We still have about 500 heads of garlic left hanging there. This what is remaining is our lowest grade. Our best was the size of a mid-sized tomato but these were small, about the size of a dollar coin. A lot of it had turned sort of an opaque yellow. Some were starting to sprout. But in general it was not good. I wasn’t surprised to see that a lot of it hadn’t survived the winter. But we had a lot and will have a lot more this year.

And so I puttered around a bit. I cleaned up near where I had chopped some wood in the snow and moved a pile of un-cut logs to a place less in the way. I found some stray thick wire I had forgotten about and cut it down into two-meter strips and bent them into arcs to be used for our temporary nurseries. And then I was bored again.

I looked at the strawberries but there were only a few new leaves. Most everything else was flat. They would be coming soon. I had left some cabbages on the field and we had had fresh once or twice during the winter, but I had been away too long and now they were all toast. As with everywhere in the village mice and gofers have been tunneling and so I smoothed down some of the piles with a rake. There is a lot to do but you need the right materials to do certain jobs and at the moment I was without.

It had been about two hours since I had parted with Andre. I had expected him in about 30 minutes and was starting to get a little nervous. So I locked up the house and started up our street. The work cleared my head a little and I felt good. Sasha, one of the small children said hello and asked about Egor. I told him that Egor would probably be there later in the week.

Near the end of the street I found a particular grandmother I liked quite a bit. She is very, very old, half deaf and needs now two sticks to help her walk. But she had traded eggs for garlic (seeds) last year and they were such tasty eggs that I started doing whatever I could for her to get some more. She told me about her new aches and pains and how little anyone cared about her and then, with great effort, pulled herself up and started to try and cross the street. Agonizing, was how this process looked to me. She was so slow. I asked if she needed help but she said she was fine. I was thinking she would need twenty minutes to cross the street. But she didn’t go to her own gate, but to the one next door. There was a man lying in front of it, sleeping. For a moment I didn’t recognize who it was. But then I did. Yevgany! Son-of-a bitch!

You can’t really tell the story of Yasha without talking about Yevgany also. He was as much a part of that business as Yasha was. Maybe more so. Intrigueist… scandalist… drunk… pain in the ass. When I started writing about Yasha, I had forgotten Yevgany’s part in the whole deal. I wanted to take one of babushka’s sticks and beat him with it. It looked like she wanted to do the same. And as alcoholism goes, I am sure that somewhere in his mind, this is what Yevgeny wanted as well.

More tomorrow…