Thursday, November 09, 2006

A life moment…

I was having a bite to eat with the young hasidim over at the synagogue yesterday. You kind of get caught up in things when you hang out with religious Jews. This is not a facetious remark; Orthodox Jews pray three times a day and spend a lot of their day in study of the Talmud and the torah and such. So as you can imagine there is always something that comes up that requires your attention like say, prayers or some argument about what is right or wrong, kosher or not kosher; it is pretty endless really.

Anyway, what happened was that there was new female helping out in the kitchen. Her name was Christina, but this is neither here nor there. Anyway, I went into the synagogue's kitchen to get another potato blinni and I happened to make a little eye contact with the young girl, and there was a lingering moment in there, and as a result of this little flirt, I, as we say here in Belarus, felt myself quite good. Not the end of the world and really, not even the beginning of anything; just a little moment in time, but as I returned to the table, I had all eyes on me.

"What happened there?" I was asked by one of our young Talmud scholars. I smiled a little smile at having been caught out, thought a second and laughingly responded that I had simply had a "life moment". This of course drew a laugh. At least at first.

But of course this matter could never be left alone; that would imply that the young celibates agreed that such a thing as flirting with a young girl for all of three seconds was any sort of thing that a person should ever do; that is if he was with G-d. I should say here that I knew that this was not the place to get all flirty with a young girl- perhaps that was why I enjoyed it so much or even why it happened at all. Forbidden fruit after all is the business that our young lads are working to join into. So of course what happened was that we had to beat the moment to a pulp, analyzing improprieties both real, imagined, potential and even theoretically impossible. I was required to think of Tanya, Anya, Egor, my social position, my inner moral life, my relationship with G-d, etc. I was asked to think of the consequences of my actions, the consequences of my lack of acting, the consequences of trying to act as if it didn't happen and how I would act if something did. This is redundant, but you get the point that we did this thing death and a half and went on and on ad nauseum until even my new girlfriend was staring at me wondering why the hell I even bother talking to these guys.

There is a philosophy (this from Robert Persig, by the way) that says that there are three ways of dealing with a charging bull.

a) one can take the attack head on and deal with the horns.
b) One can try to lull the bull to sleep with quiet music or
c) Don't even enter the arena

For those of you who already understand about Poland and me, I am rather notorious for choosing the horns. I guess you always end up paying for life moments, don't you? Wait a minute... I think that last line was from Hemingway...

From Fiesta, chapter 14

"I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values. You gave up something and got something else. Or you worked for something. You paid some way for anything that was any good. I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time. Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money's worth and knowing when you had it."

Had another life moment today when I had coffee with the father in law of an American friend I met here. I am going to post an interview I made with him soon; the reason is that he is one of the great complainers against Belarus I have ever met. All you oppositionists who read this slot can go ahead and get your knives and forks ready because you are going to get a full plate of the sort of stuff you love. (Hmmm, I guess grinding certain ideas to death is not necessarily only a Jewish avocation.) But for the moment I just would like to say that I really enjoyed the conversation for what it worth. I mean, the man is lively, energetic and firm in his ideas. I liked listening to him. I mean sometimes he would fudge his numbers to make a point, but all in all he had good sound arguments. I didn't necessarily agree with them all, but what he had to say was strong enough rhetoric.

Now, my orthodox friends never seem to understand this but I simply like these moments simply for what they are. I don't know, maybe this is because I have lived through a lot that I can appreciate moments like this. Actually, that last sentence might have also been stolen from Hemingway; just a second…

From Chapter 7 of Fiesta:

"You see Mr. Barnes," says Count Mippipopolous, "it is because I have lived very much that now I can enjoy everything so well. Don't you find it like that?"

"Yes," answers Jake, "absolutely."

In any case, I guess you can't stop but to have them and in my opinion, these sorts of moments are what make life worth living, really.

Anyway, I had one more of these this evening. I was trying to catch just a few minutes sleep- I have so much work left to do before Friday and I am sort of desperate for some shut-eye. But just then mid-doze, the doorbell rang. I got up off the couch and opened the door and there in the hallway were two women, one of them a vaguely recognized, and she was holding a large clipboard.

"Does Yelana live here?" She asked without greeting or looking up.

"No, she has long ago moved away. She lives out on the other side of Pinsk." Belarusian people have a truckload of built up anxieties over having people with clipboards come to your door asking questions and this fluttery sensation went straight up my spine the moment the words about Tanya's sister left my mouth. She began writing something in the slot below a name that was written there.

"And who does live here now?" She asked, still not looking up.

"What is this for?" I asked.

"Who is living here now, please?" She asked again though now she was looking over the edges of her glasses at me, the pencil quivering in anticipation of my answer. I smiled lightly. It was important to let her know that I was amused by this moment rather than insulted. I am getting more and more like this the more I hang out with the hasidim.

"Um, why exactly are we asking these questions?" I asked and snuck around so as to have a peek at the clipboard. I could see that she had scratched away Lena's name and was waiting to print the replacement information.

"We are from the policlinic. We are collecting information." She said with a dour expression. It was only at this moment that I realized I was talking to Anya's doctor. If I blamed winter clothes for not having recognized her, I still felt like a fool. But then again, my answer should have been equally as hard for her not to have known and I smilingly gave her Tatyana's name and ochistva. I then gave Tanya a call to come and answer the questions. She also had a problem with the clipboard and questions situation, and also had to ask several times why we were being asked these things. Finally the doctor decided that we really were not going to answer her questions until we knew something. Or maybe she figured it was actually in our best interests to know the truth rather than just getting her information and running away. So she confided that it was information regarding an epidemic.

Well of course we have been coughing a lot and Lena wad also been really sick along with grandma, all of us really. And you could see this all over town, everybody was coughing a bit and medications were selling like hotcakes at the local apothecary. So Tanya answered a few questions about Anya and Egor and myself; all of this being dully noted on the clipboard. Finally, the doctor seemed satisfied and at this point I chimed in that indeed this has been a rather terrible seasonal flu and that it had evolved into an epidemic was pretty obvious from my observations as well. But as soon as I said this the doctor looked at me over the tops of her glasses and said that the epidemic was not the flu.

"It's not the flu?" I asked.

"She said it is not the flu." Tanya added in, she is still apparently the only person in all of Belarus who doesn't believe I speak Russian.

"I heard what the woman said." I rolled my eyes at the doctor and then asked her what the epidemic was.

"Diphtheria" This is basically the same word in Russian.

"Diphtheria?!?!?!" I exclaimed a little louder than anyone was expecting and all took on a rather shocked expression.

"Diphtheria." The doctor said calmly.

"This is a joke?" I asked. I was starting to get that fluttery feeling in my spine again.

"No. This is the problem: Diphtheria." I didn't know if I shod laugh or cry. Nothing wanted to come one way or another. I started for the house and then went back to where I was before. Then I looked up and saw that everyone was looking at me. Didn't this mean anything to anyone? Isn't this one of the diseases we have eradicated?

"Fucking Belarus!" I said.

"Be calm, Adam." Tanya said. I had started pacing around in circles again.


The three women (The doctor had an assistant) were now staring at me. I stopped and looked at them for a moment and the shook my head a bit at the velocity at which this last news flash had hit me. I suppressed a cough, thanked the doctor for all she was doing, asked if there would be any more questions, was told that that was all, and with that I wished her good health and went back into the house to think about what I needed to do about this. One of the first answers was to write this theme. Now I have. Frankly I feel much better. I mean, the cough is still there… yes, it is still there…. But I feel much better. I think I am going to try and get some real work done now. Tomorrow I guess I will go over for a shot or… whatever the hell you do to deal with a bout of the old, common, ordinary, every day case of diphtheria.

More soon…