Friday, May 25, 2007

Another day of cabbage killing…

A bench grinder: Sometimes all you need to do is ask
I think I would like to be clever right now but I doubt if there is enough electricity in my brain to do so. We were out at the farm again. Hot as the devil watching the Playboy channel today. Tried to redo the cabbages but I think they got fried. That would be two batches of cabbage we are not going to be eating come September. Won't know for a couple of days but if they didn't survive the planting, I don't think I will buy more. Well, not until September out at the market like everyone else.

Had a funny moment about that cassah (scythe) though. On our way down our village street I asked a couple of dadushkas whether or not they had a grinder I could use to sharpen the blade up a bit. I didn't actually know the word and the first two guys laughed at me. I went to Tanya for a translation but she didn't have a clue. So I went through some gesticulations, making a sound like a machine and sharpening and imaginary blade on it.

"What are you talking about? We don't have such modern tools here. We do it by hand, with a file!" The last guy I spoke to was Vitali, who lives across the street. I asked him if he had a grinder, or rather, I went through the grinder dance again. Vitali piped up that the way to really sharpen a cassah is to use a hammer and beat the blade flat and then sharpen it with a file. I told him I understood this already but that I had no anvil.

"what's an anvil?" Tanya didn't know that word either and of course Vitali didn't understand my description. I really need to spend more time working on my Russian.

Lena, another neighbor, was there and offered that this was one of those village skills that I simply needed to learn if I wished to be there. I don’t know why she has to talk like this. But what can I do? I mean, I understand that I am like a bagel in a potato patch but it isn't like I have no skills. Usually I just go with it because it is easier that way. In the end what happened is that I needed to agree to take a "lesson" from Vitali all about cassahs and we agreed to meet up after he got finished buying bread from the store.

At was at this point that we went about trying to plant more cabbages. We did a good job actually. We have a grass problem but we managed to turn the garden and take out a lot of the roots. We planted in an orderly fashion and got everything into the space it was intended for. The only problem was that it was so damned hot! Of course, planting in the evening is always better but we did not have this option today. We hoped that we could compensate by using the early morning and a bit extra water. By the end of the day though, the cabbages were looking really, really droopy.

After planting we went about cleaning until the sun basically drove us straight into the ground. You would think we were too far north for this kind of oppression but no, it was like a hammer. After about an our and a half, two showers and a drink break, I decided it was time to go and talk to Vitali and take my cassah lesson. Anything was better than digging.

He greeted me with his usual "we all know about Americans and therefore will never believe a word you say" smile and walked me like a three-year-old onto his property.

"Sit there." He said, indicating a bench. He had to go to three or for different places to get all of the tools he needed. Finally he came back with a railroad spike that he pounded into a tree stump which already had a hole for it.

"This is your anvil?"

"It's enough!"

So by way of showing what he big secret is, we had to take apart the cassah which took some doing because the wood was soaked to make it more firm. This technology seemed over Vitali's head, but I didn’t press the point. Finally he sat down and gave the blade a few licks with hammer. After a few minutes he took a better look and yelled at me for letting the blade get so dull.

"We can't work with this now."

"We can't, huh?"

"No, it's impossible. It's a piece of shit. But wait a minute. I have an idea." He stood up and went back into one of his sheds and came out with a grinder bolted onto a metal table.

"You have a grinder?"

"Of course I do. Do you think I am stupid?"

"But you said you didn't."

"It's called a zhyornov. You didn't ask correctly."


With pleasure I ran the cassah blade over the grinding stone. I worked at it for several minutes working the edge so fine that you could see the steel start to melt on the opposite side. After I finally agreed I had done the job right, the blade had a razor edge.

And you know, I just want to say something about using a cassah; the tool is not all that hard to handle when it is actually sharp enough to do the job.

(Note: for that smart ass who wrote to me saying: Not haizain, kozol, I just want to say that I am not a complete idiot. But please have some respect for attempting the project at a local economic level. If I had the money, there would be better tools.)

Anyway, when we finally straggled back to town, we picked up Anya from the kindergarten and on the way home, she convinced us that we needed to go to the Milk Shop for some cokeanchipsies. This translates from 2-year-old to coke and potato chips. However, while we were in line and watching everyone order ice cream cones and milkshakes, I asked if she would rather have chipsie or marozhina. "Marogina!" she said with authority, so I asked for about half a kilo and brought it home in a box. Well, Anya followed the box to the table and I followed Anya; pretty much only Tanya had any interest in changing clothes or putting things away. So I took out three spoons, and thus armed we dug in and wiped out the box in about five minutes. Down towards the end, Anya was spinning the box trying to get at the last solid parts and threatened to cry even if I tried to stop her.

"You like ice cream?"


I can't believe I still have to go to synagogue tonight. I am not going to see my bed till midnight or later. And even then I am going to feel that sunburn all night. What a mess…

More soon…

Oh, and as an aside, Erica Fishbein is in town. For those who miss the connection, Erica manages the "Babushka Blog" about all of the interesting stuff going on up in Minsk in the Jewish Community. Looking forward to a tour of Pinsk with her and 20 high school kids from New York who are visiting the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus.