Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Snapshots from the beach...

I like summer. I suppose this is a ridiculous thing to say because everybody likes summer, but I am these days becoming more appreciative of the little gifts we receive from the world and in Pinsk; a truly beautiful, hot summer day is actually a bit of a rarity. The weather is in general not really so harsh as one might think. We are in the south of the country and not that far from Ukraine, and so the winters are not Dostoyevskyan really, cold yes, snow and ice yes, but not even really as dark and grey as Minnesota was.

But having free time in the summers is one of the things that is really cool about being a teacher. And I do really like being a teacher, just so you know. An old friend from California was a teacher and he likes to say that his three favorite things about being a teacher are June, July and August. And I can certainly see that this is true especially as I had to work through last summer because there wasn’t enough money to stop. Learning my lessons however this year I saved my money in advance of the slow down and, having already stuffed enough nuts in my tree to be at least reasonably comfortable, even by Belarusian standards, I have been able to hit the beaches without being too troubled by the economics of it all. And believe me, the rest was needed and appreciated.

But it is August which means we are now spinning towards the end of the summer of 2009 and I thought I might write about a sunny day last week when Anya and I made our way to the beach.

The city of Pinsk, which borders along the Polesskie Marsh, has a long stretch of beach across the Pina River. I suppose you could say there are three beaches, a grassy expanse to the left of the bridge and a sandy stretch to the right and the nicest, a sandy incline on the peninsula reaching into the confluence of the Pina with the Prypyat. This last is straight across the river from Gorodskoi (City) Park and is accessible either by traveling left after the bridge around the boat works, or by rowboat taxi from the park, the cost of which is a nominal 500 rubles (maybe 20 cents) for adults. The beach itself is rather steep and flattens out at the top into a vast sandy area, surrounded by trees, which is big enough for football and volleyball matches.

We were three in this party hopping off the launch in our bare feet, myself, Anya and her new best friend Paulina, a pretty neighbor girl with a broad infectious smile. After having a brief look around we hiked up the incline and Anya, as usual, picked out our spot which, bless her heart, was close to an amazingly beautiful, dark skinned goddess with long black hair, large breasts and smooth curves, all barely covered by her brown thong bikini. One tries not to gawk, but in this first moment I found it rather impossible not to and only Anya’s persistent tugging at my shorts reminded me that I needed to spread our blanket and inflate the girl’s floatation devices. The Hawaiian Tropic model, the only reasonable way to describe her, smiled at my attention creating all sorts of fluttering internally and all I could do was to return the smile. Like I say, I like going to the beach in the summer.

But of course, first things first and the girls wanted to get into the water as fast a possible. Anya has recently graduated from water ring to water wings, two inflated collars which are worn on her upper arms that keep her head above water. Paulina has the same pair, though she is not that willing to allow her feet to leave land and so the three of us waded out into the Pina’s soft brown water together. I know I shouldn’t take liberties with other people’s children, but I couldn’t help dragging Paulina gently a bit further out so she could experience actually floating, a moment she handled with laughter followed by a protest that she didn’t know how to swim back. However, she disproved the theory herself in about 5 seconds when I refused to help and she had no choice but to try. I got a kiss on the cheek for that, by the way, when she figured it out.

At about this moment, back on the beach, Hawaiian Tropic had come down to take a languid cool off dip and again smiled at me, leaving me again dumfounded and in awe of her curves. Finding somehow the region where speech is created in my now completely adolescent brain, the thought occurred to ask her her name, and I mumbled my own. But then suddenly I was for some reason compelled to offer “a line”. I don’t know why I needed to do this because though I really admired how attractive she was, I wasn’t actually thinking of pursuing the matter, I am old after all. But then again, maybe I thought that she was used to this and that I ought to at least put up an effort to appear to be aggressive so as not to insult her. Anyway…

“You know,” I said in halting Russian, unsure of exactly how the grammar would work for this but hoping for a laugh in any case, “you should work for the Pinsk tourist bureau.”

“Why is that?” She asked.

“Because, if they took your picture right now about two million men would flock to Pinsk just to come to this beach.” The line was well received and her warm smile was more than equal to the sunny afternoon. Her name by the way was Marina.

After our swim, the girls and I warmed up under blankets and munched potato chips. A young blond boy came to us and wanted to borrow our small red ball which we either kick around as a football or I use as a pillow. I gave it to him, which angered Anya for some reason, though the chips kept her from chasing after him when he left with it. The boy headed off towards another attractive single lady, long blond hair and a teal bikini, sunning nearby. I guessed that the both of them being blond, she must be the boy’s mother and when I asked, she answered that yes, he was. Children hook up almost instantly and so when the chips were done, the girls and the blond boy all went back to the water to play some more. I stayed up top and read while lying on my belly.

After a while, the blond got up, went to one of the blue metal changing cubicles and retuned after a moment in her street clothes. She picked up her bag and blanket and headed off to the launch. I thought maybe she was only going across the river to buy something to eat, but she never came back. The boy seemed awfully young to be left on a beach though. Later, the boy brought the ball back and then went back down to swim some more, but didn’t seem to have the slightest care that he had been abandoned or at least that his mom had suddenly and without mentioning anything, simply disappeared. Strange.

About that time, Paulina’s mother came to join us. I had asked her to come when she agreed to let Paulina come along with Anya and I to the beach. Vika is shy and was a bit hesitant to agree, but I guess she decided that trusting me with her child might also mean trusting me in general and so here she was. Vika is 23 and comes from Baku, Azerbaijan. Her husband works for the railroad and she is looking for work. She has a quiet way of talking on about things that is very soothing, this strikingly different from Paulina who has the habit of screaming without a minute's notice and shifting moods from bright happiness to stern scolding if she is not presented with appropriate attention. But Vika does like to go on and to have an appreciative ear, so basically my part of the conversation was to nod and smile and offer a chuckle to the humorous parts. Not an unpleasant task, really.

Now, listening to Vika is not such an unpleasant task really but, after a while, and well calmed by her mellifluous recountings, I needed to head down to the beach to have a swim. I dove in and swam under the water for a bit and then swam out to the red, cone shaped buoys marking the end of the swimming area and from there, turned left and headed up stream. The current in the river was strong and I labored for a while against it until I was near the end of the beach and then rolled onto my back and let the river take me back down, my ears under the water and only the sound of my own breathing and beautiful blue sky over head to pay attention to.

Returning to the world I saw that Vika had also found her way in for a swim, taking great care not to let her abundant black hair become wet. Near her though were two young teenage girls who obviously couldn’t swim, though they were tying with great comic effort to do so. One of them, a tall blond whose bikini top was perpetually situated halfway up her breasts, took notice of my speaking to Anya in English and started in like a clinical scientist to find out where I was from. I gave her the usual sarcastic answers (Kirova Square) but apparently English was not recognizable as being anything but foreign and after a bit more 20 questions, I had her convinced that I was Italian. Still unsatisfied, the girl started in questioning the whole of my picture:

“Who is she?” She asked, referring to Vika who was bobbing Paulina up and down in hip deep water. Vika stopped and tuned in to hear my answer.

“She is my neighbor.” I said. “The dark haired girl is her daughter and the other one is mine.” Anya smiled. The conversation went on and as usual, Anya was asked if she spoke English (and as usual she answered “Da”) and after a while I gave up and explained that I taught English and yes, she and her friend could contact me if they wanted for lessons and yes, it costs money, because really, business is business but it really isn’t so expensive all things considered, and you know, English is the international language so really, it should be considered an investment in your future and other such usual bullshit. After all of this though, and regardless of inanity, the meeting was enough to create a nice, reasonable peace between us and we agreed that they should take my number for future considerations and we left it at that.

Relaxed from the swimming and bantering, everybody hiked up the incline to rest and eat more chips. The blond boy came again to borrow the ball and again Anya told him off, this time more harshly. But just as the boy was trying to figure out what to do about Anya, Marina, our Hawaiian Tropic model, got up, called the blond boy to her to get ready to go and unfortunately started packing away her amazing figure as well. Well, that solved the mystery of the abandoned blond boy but I tell you, they really didn’t look anything alike and more so, when I asked Marina about this, she seemed kind of glum about the association. I mean, I am sure she loves her boy, but I guess she also likes getting attention herself and maybe, having this little urchin to take care of isn’t always seen as an asset in the sex symbol business. Understandable I suppose. But really, he was a very cool kid. Fearless.

Without Marina to sneak peeks at, I tuned my attention back to Vika who was now quietly going on about her family in Baku and about an uncle who had lost his teeth and couldn’t speak very well (though all could understand him) but after a while, I found myself losing the thread of the conversation and, instead of listening, I started trying to capture a decent picture of Marina as a souvenir of the day. But this sort of thing has no real value and even picturing her out of the bathing suit, not such a great leap really, only made me start thinking about how lonely I have been feeling lately and dwelling on that pretty much sent me tumbling downward. Vika was, I think, now into describing a conversation she had with her mother when she was 9 and that was it, the synapses turned off and I was just about asleep when suddenly a volleyball whacked me in the head.

The ball had come from an errant spike from a game of circle volleyball, if this is what it is called. The game is basically about keeping the ball aloft by the group rather than attacking territory and mis-hits get you banished to the middle of the circle, where you kneel down and become the target of such spikes. If you are lucky enough to receive one in the head or back, you are free to return to the game. I got up to return the ball and was greeted by a rather perfect eighteen year old girl in a green bathing suit who had come to retrieve it. It’s funny how the universe works in that you can be thinking how nice it would be to be with a woman you love and then right in that moment, a viable example of exactly what you were thinking of comes walking towards you with a sympathetic expression on her face. My G-d she was beautiful. And you know, though I don’t really know how or why these things are the way they are, in that moment, every muscle in my body told me that I would never forget this stupid moment. And I mean, it is stupid because I’m not a kid, I’m 45 already. But you are telling me I can still get a rush up my spine from just handing back a volleyball? G-d, she was beautiful! Or did I already say that? Anyway, it was an explosion, and probably, the real reason I am writing these words. Or maybe I am overdoing it.

But in any case, it was a beautiful day. The sun was dazzlingly hot and the air crisp and clean and university registration had brought all of the students back to town, the weather sending them to this beach after the paperwork was complete so really, though that girl in the green bathing suit will probably be with me forever, the truth of the matter was Pinsk Belarus in this day certainly had as nice a beach as anything Greece or Southern France might have to offer. I mean, I might be prejudiced, but at least it seemed that way to me.

But then it was five o’clock and I had business at 6:00, which meant it was time to go. The view of Pinsk from the top of the hill is rather nice. The line of trees along the promenade, the Vitebsk, our tour boat which takes you down and back up the river on 45 minute excursions, the newly painted Prypyat Hotel and of course the boat memorial to the heroes who rescued Pinsk and the end of the Great Patriotic War. Everything was green and nice and all who were remaining were still happily enjoying such a rare and perfect day. We climbed aboard the launch and were rowed back to reality. I didn’t want this day to end. I guess they call that nostalgia, when you realize that something so beautiful is also only fleeting or worse, has already been. Summer doesn’t last long in Pinsk, nor does being four years old or even being young and beautiful enough to inspire fantasy. Time does indeed march along. But certainly, taking a picture helps and hopefully, these which I have described will still be with me when the winter comes around.