Friday, July 28, 2006

Two sacks of apples...

A bit more about those Russian houses…

So timing sometimes seems to be right on the ball. Those last two essays about "The Life" and the sorts of things that we all put up with out here in Belarus must have had some karmic value to them because we had this rather dramatic catastrophe last night. Everybody in the house was up in arms, screaming and yelling, fingers pointing, accusations flying everywhere. The clean up from the disaster took all of six hours and the workmen were still joking about it as they were finally loading up their truck at a little after one in the morning.

Now I was to blame in this. I admit fully my guilt. This was not a crime in that I intended no harm to myself or to any of my neighbors and it might not even be considered a tort because I have done this same thing, as has Tanya as well, for two years now and we have never had this sort of problem before. I don't know why what happened had to happen. Maybe there was some other culprit somewhere in this that I do not know about. But as I say I am guilty.

So how far back must I go in telling this story?

I spent the day at the dacha. There is a lot to do out there, but really, it was mostly the sort of work that could wait a day or so and so I was a little under par. By way of an excuse, my eyes are still bothering me and I have been spending far too many hours on a computer project, I wasn't really in peak farming form as it was. But nevertheless, I managed to cut a lot of the grass around the tress and dig a few young potatoes for Anya in addition to gathering pickles and apples.

This gathering business is no small deal right now because out trees are really full of apples this year. The reason for sure has been the perfect weather during the spring and summer. It is not just our farm but everybody's has had a bumper crop. So though the season has not really started yet, there are hundreds and hundreds of little apples which have fallen from the trees. Now these apples are not really prime grade, a lot of them have little scabs about them or have a problem with the core- you are not going to make any money selling them. But they are absolutely fine for juicing, and so I have been gathering every apple I can find and carrying them home in sacks slung over my shoulders. Yesterday, in addition to 14 kilos of pickles, I also carried a bit more than thirty kilos of apples home. Again, people don't really get it when we talk about the quality of life here. I would think having to lug 100 pounds around on one's back would have those tourist bureaus jumping with orders for one way tickets.

But 90 minutes and two busses later I was climbing the stairs to our apartment. Tatyana asked if we were going to do all of the apples right away, and I told her no, we would only be doing half and that we would wait until today to do the other. The reason for this is that cleaning and preparing the apples for the juicer takes time as does the actually juicing itself. Of course we have done this many times and so we move pretty smoothly, but still people are not always in the mood for this sort of thing. But I was tired anyway from my day and I really wanted a few minutes at the computer to check my mail and have a look at the evening's work there. And this of course had to anger Tanya who thought I was walking away from her and letting her do all of the apple cleaning. This wasn't what I was thinking, but it was what she wanted to think and so we had a little scandal and she got angry.

The reason I mention this is that when Tanya gets angry she does a really crummy job of cleaning the apples. To me, the juicer basically only takes out the water and as most of the bad parts are already dry, it doesn't really matter. Or in other words, I can't for the life of me taste the difference between juice made form apples that have been absolutely cleaned of all the black bits and the stems and such, and juice from apples which have been halved and quartered and any ugly parts carved out quickly. And in her haste to completely remove any trace of black from her apples, and this is especially true when she is angry, she cuts away too much of the clean parts and the garbage can fills up quicker than the to-be-juiced bowls.

So after the screaming and yelling (I was really tired) I had to fire her from the cutting so that we might actually receive some juice from this batch. This is a serious issue actually because the last time we made juice, I received an entire litre more than she did and I thought that my juice tasted better. But I am getting off the point.

So anyway, we cleaned about fifteen kilos of apples and then started juicing them. We have a little Belarusian-made centrifuge juicer and it works just fine. I wish I had a bigger one, but really, if you treat it well, it does the job. In this juicer, as with pretty much any juicer, there is a receptacle for juice and another for the discarded pulp. We get about equal amounts so when two litrs of juice have been extracted, we have about as much pulp and what we usually do is to flush this down the toilet.

I am sure most of you have just began to understand the nature of the catastrophe.

At seven, when the internet rates changed, I got up and went to the computer to check my mail. Tanya did the last few kilos of juicing and then started to clean up the juicer in the sink. I had my head back and was dropping eye drops into my red eyes when there was a frantic knock on the door. It was Egr, one of my English students who lives just below us.

"Dya Dya Adam, please come downstairs."

"Why must I come downstairs?"

"Because there is water everywhere and we need your help."

"Water?" Oh shit, I thought to myself and got up and went downstairs. Nina was running from room to room with towels and a bucket trying to pick up the water that was all over her floor.

"What is happening?" I asked

"What is happening? Come look what is happening. "She grabbed my arm and pulled me into the toilet."This is what is happening!"

I stood there dumbstruck. The toilet was pulsing out a mixture of water and apple pulp all over the floor.

"And it is here too!" She pulled me over to the bathroom and the tub was also backflushing seeds, skins and stems. "What must we do about this?"

"Well turn off the water for one!"

"What the hell is going on around here?" Another neighbor was at the front door, "Nina, we have apple shit coming up through our toilets, right now. Do you have this too?"

"Yes, I do. And it is in my bathtub too!"

Baba Masha came in the door. One eye was red from, where she had an eye operation. "I think someone tried to flush apples down the toilets because they are coming back into our house!"

Listen," I said "I did it. We were juicing apples and we flushed what was left. But we have done this many times and we have never had this problem before."

"Well it has happened now. We have to call the housing organization for this. There will be fines to pay for sure."

"I have never seen anything like this."

"Who is going to clean all of this up?" I opened my mouth to speak when we heard a scream from the last downstairs apartment. Everybody turned their heads to look and within seconds the door flew open and Baba Vera stood there with a plunger in her hand.

"There is apple shit all over the floor!" I closed my eyes and stared at the floor while everyone screamed and yelled. And after a minute I said that I was sorry, and that we would not so this any more.

I went back upstairs and went to work and didn't leave my desk for rest of the night. The plumbing truck had to come twice and the second time, they were snaking our drains for over two hours. I could hear Nina and Egr laughing and joking with the men who were telling apple jokes at about 1 am, when the truck finally turned off the generator.

But you know, at the bottom line, it frankly is the truth that there is no difference in the taste of apple juice made with a little bit of the bad stuff left in the apple. And you get more juice. I think Tatyana is just being severe in her thinking about how things need to be done. But in any case, we have juice.

More soon…