Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Lots of little stuff to think about today. No really great theme just a lot of little pictures and thoughts going through my mind.

Tatyana was at the farm yesterday and as it is the season, went collecting mushrooms in the forest. This is as much a part of the culture as anything. People here are in love with our wild mushrooms and take much pride in their mushroom hunting skills. And I agree that the local varieties can be delicious though frankly, to me it seems as though you have to squint to tell the difference between these wild mushrooms which require hours of searching and those generic, white champagne mushrooms they sell you at the market. But as this is what we have I agree to play along. Tanya’s face was beaming as she showed me ‘the king’, one particular mushroom which was perhaps a foot long from stem to crown. And I can tell by the aroma that they are slowly being cooked to perfection over in the kitchen at the moment I am writing these words.

Egor has got to go see the dentist again today. He is already on the road to the polyclinic on his bike to take a ticket to see the dentist this afternoon. You have got to be there by six if you want a number. He needs to get two fillings today. I am usually the guy who gets this detail riding with him to and from the procedure and I must say that Egor is generally pretty cool about it in his way. I mean, like all of us he is completely frightened by the dentist and that… pain, right, that particular, sadistic, unceasing dental pain. But he does get up and ride over without any real fight. And he does get into the chair and open his mouth. Every muscle in his body is tensed, and he prepares his cries and screams before the lady who too often is in his mouth touches him. But, you know, he doesn’t disappear or pick up weapons or anything. He does it. (In fact, he just got back from his two hour trip with his ticket. Zero hour: 16:30.)

That dentist is nice. She is always cool with me. She got, as a required course with her regular medical studies, a few semesters of English and she likes sprinkling our conversation with phrases and words for me. But in her room at the policlinic there are of course no frills. It is a large room with several chairs and the work, even drilling takes place right there next to another screaming kid. You should see the kids faces waiting out in the hall as they listen to the anguish from inside that room. But the work is free and takes place very quickly as compared to US private dentists. No musak, no carpeted floors; just a rather direct woman telling you to open your mouth, shooting in Novocain, drilling out your cavities and packing in the epoxy laced cement, all within five to ten minutes. There is no charge for children though (Thank G-d for socialized medicine), which is especially good for us as Egor’s promises not to eat too much candy are in effect only about as long as the pain from the fillings last.

Anya has finally figured out crawling which as I am sure you know is both a blessing and a curse. That spike of independence is a drug for babies and she has been into everything. She has been able to stand up and walk around with the help of walls or her bed posts for a long time now, but knew that she was obliged for help when she ran out of hand holds. Now of course we do not know where she is going to end up or what she will be breaking. Tanya made a good joke about this as we watched the baby toss every book and tape from a floor level cabinet. “Do you think that maybe she will just do this once and then get tired of it?” Yea, right. Book shelves are baby heroin. She is not going to be satisfied with just one pillage.

So you know, we are baby-proofing. One good thing is that Russian apartments have their electric sockets about a meter up the wall rather than at the baseboard. But the bad side to that is that permanent electrical connection hanging from them. So, find ways to stop Anya from playing Tarzan is a specifically difficult puzzle.

But like I said it is a joy and a curse. Everybody loves when she comes over to them with that big, two-tooth smile with her grunts and squeals of love, but of coarse after a minute you hear “Quiet Anya”, “Not now, Anya”, Don’t touch that Anya”, “What are you doing Anya?” “Don’t eat that, Anya!” and so forth. It sets up sot of an interesting cycle: Anya sees you from across the room, stares at you until you look at here, charms you with that dazzling Hollywood smile of hers, comes over to you and starts grabbing at whatever is in front of you. This is funny for about a minute and then you pick her up and redirect her over to the Egor’s (and now her) box of toys. You go back to what you were doing. She looks at the toys, decides you are more interesting- or rather all of that cool paper or that computer mouse on the desk, And she crawls back over and is back in place again. You pick her up and carry her back to the other side of the room, and she crawls back again. One way by carpet, the return trip by air. It I sort of like the rain cycle: From the ocean as clouds, the clouds drop the water as rain, the rain water flows back to the ocean.

This week is marching by, heading towards crunch time (Yet another) and all I am feeling is a sort of numbness, a largess a… The Russian words seem to fit better about this… Ленивый, слабый, медленный, пустой.

Sometimes I think that this is simply growing older. My beard, which for years only had a few flecks of gray on the left side of my chin, is now sprinkled with white coarse little hairs. And those old injuries back from when I thought I was Superman now hurt on cold mornings and speak of coming rain. Or snow, or frost.

Or perhaps it is just the result of a lack of exercise lately; I haven’t been biking nearly s much as I used to. But is this because the bike itself needs work but I have not the money to fix it? There’s an irony here for a guy who came here with the soul intention of saving the country from its own slowness and largess by preaching bicycles. And now I am in the dumps and I can’t even peddle it off either.

But the other reason I haven’t been riding is that my knee and foot have been slow to heal. Obviously another sign of age. For the last month my knee has been inflamed every time I come back from the farm. Something that should be there is not or something that is there is ripped. And then in the middle of this I stepped on a piece of glass that a previous owner of our land thought should be in the middle of the field. I am always finding and tossing away little shards of glass. What was the guy thinking? Anyway, I stabbed the middle of my foot and there has been a painful little ball there as well for the about two weeks now.

Or maybe it is just the weather. We had only the briefest of summers this year. All that rain in the beginning washed away that fresh, glowing, pre-solstice rising sun and all we got to bask in was that harder, post June 22 receding light. I am already getting beaten with the Autumnal nostalgia flashes, Do you every get these? Memories of moments, people and places from your life. For me, they always seem to be brought on by smells or particular changes in temperature at about this time of year. And they are potent, I tell you; my family, visions of when I was a very small boy, my ex-wife… Mostly I get this when I am out in the field working. But of course, in a way I don’t mind them there because the fantasies are a break from the scraping and picking.

Or maybe I am blue because of the bad luck we have had this year. We lost 65% of the tomatoes as well as 80% of the pickles. We simply couldn’t stop the crud from getting onto all of them. We got something, but nothing like what we had hoped for. Yes, we are cool with some things, We are, despite the rain, receiving a lot of potatoes. Ten times better this year than last. Our beets are tasty and Tanya brought in about a dozen ears of corn yesterday that are just beautiful. But I can’t help feeling like a father with a lost child over the things that didn’t work out.

I did though have a cool event yesterday as I finally found a way to get Grandma’s old potato digging tool repaired. These tools have three sharp flat fingers and are used to flush out potatoes. Grandma had hers for years and years but we (I) broke it last year. We replaced it with a really super new tool, but grandma was never happy about it. She likes her tools the way she liked her tiny old stove. I am not going to get into that today. Anyway, I tried lashing the thing together with wire, which worked as far as an apple picking took went, but it failed the first time it was asked to go I the dirt. I tried drilling out a couple of holes in the hopes of running a couple of bolts through it, but the steel was too thick for my hand drill. So you know, it has sat there for a year, covered in wire and looking pretty pathetic.

So yesterday I was sitting out with Anya and Egor on the bench in back of our apartment. Aunt Nina was out with her baby rabbits and ducks and Anya was in the grass with them. Unbelievable foto-op missed. But then the guys came to do some work on the gas and water pipes in our yard. I noticed that one fellow had a tank and was welding rebar into a support cradle. The Tool! I left Anya with Egor, ran upstairs to the closet, found the potato tool and brought it down to him. I showed it to him and said I would give him 2 rubles (a local short-hand for 2000 rubles, about a buck- and the cost of a bottle of wine, naturally) if he would re-attach the head to the struts. He said ok and did a great job in about a minute. No problems. And he even added a little extra copper to the under side of the struts just so that they would be stranger than before. He handed me the oven-hot piece back using a welding stick as a carrying hook. I paid him everything that was in my pockets, not a whole hell of a lot more than a buck, quenched it in the bathtub and than screwed in a lightweight handle and left it in the corridor for grandma to find the next time she comes to garden.

That one felt good. Maybe not as good as that apple pepper jelly, but close. I have been thinking that it is the small items, the tidbits such as these that are as much what living in Belarus is about as much as anything. I mean, something breaks, it takes a year to find a real solution, certainly that solution needs to be under-the-table and connected to drinking but in the end, somehow seems to connect perfectly to the vast tapestry of life here. And this is what we get. Not the big things, not the spectacular highs, just the little things, the details, the moments. I mean, sure it is bad, but there is pleasure here. You just have to know how to look for it.

I moved that Lukashenka essay back to its original place about four or five posts down from here and I have made a place for it as a permanent page. You can get there via the HOMEPAGE now or by clicking those blue words here.

And finally, for all of you who referred my blog to friends after that advertising letter I sent, I offer a hearty thank you. And also a thank you goes out to any new readers checking me out for the first time. And for all of you to whom the idea of investing in this blog, the new book or that pesky bike shop here might occur, of course, I have a thank you for you as well!

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More soon…