Thursday, May 31, 2007

Belarusian dieting…

Boy this heat wave is becoming impressive. Even with some intermittent rain over the last few days, the times when the temperatures come back up really gets to you. You wake up sweaty, clothes tend to stick to you and the worst part is that eating becomes uncomfortable. I mean, of course you need to eat, but if you do, or if you try and eat something heavy, you simply suffer for it afterwards.

I am going through this right now. I had an extra plate of potatoes this evening and right now, and this is several hours later, I am still feeling them. Isn't that something? Or maybe it was the potato chips I ate with the beer before I ate the potatoes…

In any case, I went off my "heat wave diet" and I am feeling it now. Maybe any dieter feels this way if they had been "good" for a while and then broke their plans. Or maybe it is just the heat. The thing is though; this new diet I have been using really does work! I can work ok while on it, better even than I usually can. This is both mental and physical labor. I even seemed to have more control over my emotions. I have lost a few kilos, have been feeling much better in general and what is more, I have not really been so affected by the heat wave as others seemed to be.

Ok, so how does it work?

This diet frankly is not any new idea for the region and in fact, I am surprised I had not thought of it sooner. I first learned of this way back in 1997 when I found myself at the Moldovan border for a short period of time. I had tried to get into the country by train but had forgotten to get a visa before hand. I got pulled off the train and taken to a room in the station. They kept asking me for $100 which was the genuine cost of the visa, but for some reason I refused to see that this was anything but extortion and of course, you know me, I wouldn't pay.

So they left me in this office room waiting until the next train back to Romania would come. After a while I came to understand that I was not actually confined to the office but had the run of the station, I just couldn't go outside. Sort of like Tom Hanks in Terminal. The difference was that I had a pocket full of American money which at the time, went a long, long way at a Moldovan train station. So after I found the station restaurant, I basically I sponsored a party for anyone who wanted to say that I was great and the guard with the rifle who was following me a around was a dog. There were a lot of takers.

We were eating chicken legs and peroshkies, fried and salty fish, crème cakes and cookies and washing it all down with beer, wine, coke; whatever anyone wanted. It was really a lot of fun for everybody except for the guard. At one point I got to flirting with a long, thin lady in a thick wool, old-style office dress that was reminiscent of the Soviet Union. Probably she was some kind of office executive or maybe she was KGB, but in any case she spoke a little English and seemed to find me irresistibly sexy. She had come into the terminal restaurant with either her husband or her boyfriend, but they had been arguing back and forth. After a while, they just sat at a table together staring in opposite directions. She caught me looking at her and got up and sat at my table. The boyfriend or husband got angry at this move and stood up and said something to me in a hard voice. Unfortunately for him, it was my party and a cop got between us, slapped his face, asked for his papers and told the man to sit down and act like a man, or something like that.

I guess in Moldava, it is pretty much the woman's prerogative to do as she likes. Either that or you don't disturb the guy who is paying for the party.

The boyfriend as would also have to have been local custom, began to drink himself into a stupor, on my tab of course. The lady didn't seem too moved by this display; she waved off her guy's protests as if he was a fly that had been bothering her. After a while I forgot about him too and we started cooing and holding hands.

All around us, people really seemed to be enjoying the party. At one table there were military officers with their tall hats, at another were some well dressed, businessman types, another table had a group of laborers and lots of passengers and uniformed train personnel in between stops shuffled in and out through the course of the afternoon. In its way, it was a very exotic scene.

I remember telling my new lady friend, whose name I found out was Ilse, that I liked music and she told me that she did too. As we were holding hands, she started to hum a very familiar tune with a sort of melancholy lilt to it. She had a nice voice and even tapped her fingers on the table as if she was playing the notes on a piano. After a bit, she started singing the song in Russian, or maybe Moldovan, I didn't know which. It was driving me crazy because I was sure that I know the song from somewhere but just couldn't place it. And then suddenly, it came to me and I joined in:

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is still a sigh

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by…

And at this moment it occurred to me that I wasn't actually stuck in the train station at the Moldovan border but rather in the movie Casablanca: This was Rick's bar, I was Victor Lazlo, stuck in Rick's cafe waiting for an exit visa and Ilsa was, well, Ilsa playing me off of Rick, played by the drunken boyfriend, who was now lying under on of the tables! I stood up and started to sing La Marseilles! Viva La France!

But I digress…

Anyway, while I was in the station a tall and lean police officer came in on his break. He went to the bar and ordered a glass of vodka with a piece of brown bread and a glass of rosol, the juice or brine that the pickles were pickled in. He did the shot, followed it by sniffing the bread, took a bite and then chased everything by downing the pickle juice. At that first moment, I was sort of stunned and more than a bit revolted. This was certainly not normal. But after a bit, I started to think about why this combination would have worked for the guy and this was my theory:

For maybe a thousand years before the advent of electric refrigerators, pickling, along with salting was how people would save their food. Consequently, ingesting the salt, sugar and vinegar that was used in pickling became a staple of everyone's diet. Therefore, if someone got a little hungry or edgy, low blood sugar or whatever, probably the smallest amount of material one could put inside one's self that would really hit home would be that shot of vodka, piece of bread and a glass of pickling brine. I of course had stumbled upon the actual core of Russian culture, but you know, it really works!

I know I have been here for a long time but I honestly had never gotten into this before this heat wave. But as it has been so uncomfortable if you eat even a little too much, I had to do something to try and stop eating. The problem is that I like to eat and do not like to diet, which makes it harder. But amazingly enough, a single shot of vodka, a small piece of brown bread and a pickle will not only kill off any hunger pangs for a couple of hours, it will also allow for a bit longer attention span and a bit more directness of approach for work that must be done. This is mental and physical. So hey: Do Zdarove!

Now I know what you are saying: Of course you like the diet, it calls for getting drunk! And probably you are right. But then again, when in Rome, one does as the Romans. So if the local version of "Fit for Life" calls for a few grams of the local product, who am I to stand opposed.

And besides, these heat waves don't come around very often: I might as well enjoy it while I can.

More soon…