mort09 May 29th, 2010
Last Sunday I went to the dacha with a student named Natasha. She and her dad picked me up at 11 and we drove out. One of the things that makes dacha culture viable in Russia is the abundance of undeveloped land. Only twenty minutes from Ukhta, there are forests untouched by industry. Natasha’s family, it seems, is hardcore about their dacha. Her dad told me how their land had just been a bog when he bought it, and they dug trenches around it to drain the soil so that they could build their house and plant the garden. The house is made of bricks and wood and has two rooms and a porch on the ground floor and an as-yet-unfinished upper level. The porch is for storage of rubber boots, hoses, blankets, etc. and also has a fridge and a sink whose tap is attached to a pump from their well. The first room is a small kitchen, where the big brick wood-burning oven for heating the house is located. It also serves as a stove. The second room is the living and sleeping room, with two futons, a TV, and a record player. Theirs is definitely one of the nicer dachas and they seem to work hard on it. Natasha said they began building the house 15 years ago. Their garden is also beautiful. It has 10 different sections where they grow flowers, garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, and various herbs that I don’t know the names of. They also built a banya, which I will talk about later.
Natasha and I first went to gather the leaves of some berry plants to make tea with. After drinking the tea, we went for a longer walk in the woods. The forest is all birch and fir trees, and the ground is mossy and spongy. In some places it is a downright bog, and you have to choose your steps carefully. Natasha said one of her friends sank up to her waist last spring. After our walk, we made chicken shashlyk on the mangal (like a grill) and ate it with cucumbers, tomatoes, and green garlic stalks. Natasha played some songs on her guitar and I attempted to sing along (восьмиклассница-а-а-а-а), and then we went to the banya. The banya just has a small front room with some wooden benches, hooks for your robe, and a door that leads into the steam room. The steam room also has wooden benches, along with a metal oven filled with hot stones, a couple plastic tubs, and a tank for cold water. There was also a thermometer, which was at 90 C when we went in the first time and down to 80 C by the time we left. Natasha said her father likes it at about 120, but her mother can’t stand more than 60. 90 is pretty hot, but I think the banya in Moscow was hotter the first time we went in.
The next day I went on an excursion with Natasha, one of her groupmates, Tanya, and their geology teacher, Nina. We went out to Vetlosyan, a suburb where Tanya lives, and hiked up to a quarry, where Nina showed us the view and talked a little about the mining. Then we hiked out to another hill where there is a huge Lenin head and another great view. Nina had to leave at that point, but Natasha, Tanya and I continued our walk across the hill we were on and then out of town to a second quarry which is now filled with water and has become a popular swimming spot. We took the bus back to Ukhta and ate vareniki (dumplings) and salads at a Ukrainian restaurant, then walked out to the river and followed it past the edge of town to a wide field where it begins to curl like a slinky. We found some horses in a neighboring field and spent a while taking pictures of them, then walked back to town and took the bus back to my dorm, where I got to rest my aching feet. It was a fun day, though. I love seeing new places, especially ones that are so close to the familiar, and these were things I could never have found on my own.
Wednesday night I went to my friend Oleg’s apartment and we made bliny. He used his secret recipe and I showed off my flipping skills that I learned from my French host dad back in high school. After we had stuffed ourselves, we were wondering what to do next when Oleg decided to bust out the karaoke machine. Approximately the next three hours were spent singing at the top of our lungs. I don’t know what the neighbors thought. We sang all of the Russian songs on the disc that I knew (about three or four), but mostly focused on the foreign songs. Although both of us knew a lot of the English songs, we found that the places where our knowledge overlapped were surprisingly few. There were about 20 or 30 Beatles songs on the list, of which Oleg knew only 2, and he didn’t know any Rolling Stones, Elton John, Diana Ross, or Beach Boys. I, on the other hand, only know a little Boney M, and no songs by Joy, Europe, or many other groups I don’t remember. We each spent a lot of time exclaiming over the other’s lack of culture, but it was fun. I also got a free taxi ride home! When I arrived at my door, I tried to pay with a 100 ruble bill (taxi rides within Ukhta cost 50-60 rubles, i.e. less than $2), but the driver said he didn’t have change. I said I had no other bills, so he said, “Well, you can just pay later.” “What? How later? Who should I pay?” “Just pay later.” “Ok….bye.” I had to call Oleg to make sure I really did get a free ride and wasn’t expected to pay the cab company somehow.
On Thursday it basically rained all day and got cold. My apartment is freezing lately. It’s not so bad except when I wake up in the morning I really don’t want to get out of bed, and sometimes I don’t have hot water (they’re turning it off for good on June 1). But all my winter clothes are coming in handy again for chilling at home, where it’s colder than it is outside. That night we went to see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which was pretty amusing for being so ridiculous.
Friday we had planned to play baseball again at English club, but not many people came and it was still kind of cold and wet out, so we just played card games and looked at pictures instead. Hopefully we’ll play baseball on Sunday. Later that night (around 11), a whole group of us went to Planeta to have one last party before Nadya left. She and her family left for vacation in Turkey tonight and won’t be back before I leave. I got to break out my new summer dress, and we hung out, drank, talked and danced. I finally decided to leave at about 4 am, and it was kind of surreal walking home at that time when it’s 50 degrees and completely light out. Today I walked around Ukhta and Sosnogorsk with Masha all day and saw Nadya off at the train station in the evening.
This week I finished another book, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Nußknacker und Mausekönig (the basis for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet), which I bought in Germany because it had a pretty cover. It was fun to read and surprisingly easy for me to understand, since it was written in 19th-century German, and I’d heard that Hoffmann is absolutely insane. I guess this is one of his more normal stories, though. I’m now reading some novellas by Mikhail Bulgakov, who wrote The Master and Margarita, which I read earlier this year.
I leave Ukhta next Sunday! Ahhh!