Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Playing Russian billiards...

Today's letter from 2002 is from March and just a few days after I came to Belarus. There are a lot of things that happened to me straight away that left serious impressions on me and because of this, ended up in the play "Pod Kablukom". I have often wondered if that play has grown antiquated with the passing of time but each time I go back and read it, it still seems to hold true. I am presenting these letters to go along with the approaching fifth anniversary of my May 15th "being Had" episode in Poland. It is my hope to resolve this situation once and for all this year, and the donations fundraiser for the establishment of a legal fund is one way that people can help.

Sun, 10 Mar 2002 23:39:29 -0800 (PST)
Russian billiards: I think this game was invented by Stalin to keep the proletariat down
Hey Bill,
Yea, I am in Pinsk, Belarus and I am doing ok. Things have gotten bad here in the last five years and there have been some changes, not a lot of them for the better. It is all still pretty poor here, but the worst part of it is that the spirit of the place, ands that was the thing that really did it for me, seems to be waning. Well, I mean, it is not gone, but they are slowly coming undone under a market economy as they have nothing to sell. They are a mess politically, and socially, I am afraid that they are starting to give up hope. This is both a bad thing, and, frankly, we are the cause of it. So this and Olga is living in Germany of all places. I talked to her. She seems ok, in a way. I am going to see if I can't get her to come back here for a visit of a few days as apposed to going to Germany to see her. Met some people, had some fun. The trip here was crazy as I got refused entry by the border police, which cost me a few days. But all is ok at the moment.

Ok. Sounds like it is not a fun as the last time u were there. Why not go to Germany, Germany was kind of nice when I went there plus great beer.
Why did they refuse u? Stay out of trouble

Well they don't like Americans very much. My old passport was kind of ratty and they had thoughts that maybe it was a fake. Or maybe they didn't and just wanted to play with me. I say this because when I did finally get in, they demanded to play with me again. Spent an hour banging on me at the border before letting me through. I could take it personally, or I could say it is a general thing. This is a long story. But anyway I went to the embassy and got a new passport and now I am here.
Probably I will be in Germany after I leave here for various reasons. But for now I am content to be here. It is hard to describe what it is all about here. It is something on the inside. There are words for it, spakoinye, delicotny...it is a softness and a hardness at the same time. Just human traits but taken to a cultural extreme...I have some sense of joy and truth here...
Last night I went out and played a game of Russian billiards with some guys I met at the hotel bar. Now, I guess the first thing that you are probably thinking, is how am I getting along in a place where they speak Belarusian, and I am an English speaker. Well, the best way to describe this is to say that, you just do it. And that is all there is to it. I guess it is kind of like a blind person who comes to rely on other forms of understanding in order to get along. So in this case, you read a lot of body language (which really works for the girls), inflection, what the situation is around you and what is being looked at. So the point is, that even though moi russkie nyet charashow (my Russian is not very good), I can still get along. In fact, aside from the dollar discrepancies and the celebrity thing, people seem to like me quite a bit. This is, generally speaking, pretty damn cool.
But anyway, what I am talking about is Russian billiards. Now, Russian billiards is not quite the same as the game that we play in the west. To start with, they play on a table that is about the size of a snooker table, longer and wider then we play. They use fifteen balls and a cue, like we do, and there are six pockets. But after that, it gets kind of funky…first, all the balls are the same color, white, except for one yellow ball, which you break with. Now, after you break, you are no longer obligated to use the cue ball any more. In fact, you would be there all night if you did. In this game, you can shoot at any damn thing you want, no stripes solids, cue's, anything. Any pocket, any shot. Now, right now you are probably thinking that this is a stupid game, right? Well, they make the balls about 20% bigger and the pockets about 30% smaller and they take all of the angles out of the pockets! So there is no rail shot, and barely any straight shots because there is only lie 2 mm on either side of the ball as it tries to go in the pocket. And, if you miss by like an inch or two (which you do all night) the ball does not ever sit there in the pocket but gets moved halfway to another rail.
So what kind of game is this? This is a game of pool that lasts like two hours and is as exciting to my American sensibilities as watching soccer on TV (in a different language). I mean, it just fucks with your head because you just can't make the shots. And really, just to make a point here, you will lose your sense of perspective because you just can not make any shots. I mean, you see the shots. You remember that you once used to make shots. In your mind, you see the angles for the shots. But you jest never make any of them here. I think this was some tool used by the Russians to keep the general population at bay, because these guys just sit there and flail, and no balls ever go in the pockets!!! Its insanity, it's impossible! Especially with liberal helpings of the local vodka…
Anyway, like the guy I was playing with, he was pretty cool. But we started to play with the idea of gambling on the outcome. And I said we would play for $100 a game. Right? I thought the guy was going to come, you know? But I said, ok, look; show me your hundred bucks, right. off comes the wedding ring, the phony Rolex, he's rubbing the lapel of his jacket, and I just say, no, show me what the real story is (pashalsta, skoloko pravelno dzenghi!) and we decided on five bucks a game. Which is 8500 new rubles, (they split 1000 to one, but there still has been something like 800% inflation over the last five years since last I was here. I lost. Nyet probleme. But the real thing is, I think I now better understand Belarusian women: I mean they are there, and they are so beautiful that you just can't stand it any more, but you just never seem to hit the pocket…know what I mean?
Anyway, that's about it for now. I have a date with an English teacher. Olga is in Germany, I asked her to come here but she is being herself. This situation is also hard to describe...and I have to get going. More in a bit...