Apr 27, 2011

Кавказский Дневник (Caucasian journal, part 2)

 Thoughts and observations on life in the Russian Federation, as recorded by Djozef Kellner during his travels in the North Caucasus (Part 2):


If they made a "sounds of Russia" tape to lull homesick Russian émigrés to sleep, one sound would be that of sheet metal falling from great heights.  Another might be the sound a huge, unseen dog makes when it hurls itself at a solid iron gate, just at the moment you walk past on the other side.  To foreigners the two might seem indistinguishable, but just as with language, one learns to differentiate similar sounds with time and repeated exposure.  Besides, the latter sound is invariably followed by the sound of an unseen babushka scolding the dog.  Other sounds on the tape might include the slamming of a crash taxi door, followed by the driver sullenly muttering 'don't slam the door' to himself, or the voices of a hundred consecutive men asking if you have a cigarette. 


Whoever you are, there isn't a single Russian female who isn't personally concerned with your health.  Even if she's a rebellious, Westward-looking teen who spits on everything Russian and only listens to electro-house progressive, she still thinks you should drink more tea, eat more garlic, and put on your hat.  When I called in sick one day at work, the next day I got ten informal prescriptions from ten informal doctors, each one unique from, and more effective than, all the others.  Like I said, this phenomenon, unlike many I discuss here, is totally without exception.  It even compelled my black widow neighbor to break her two month vow of silence.  I was refilling my water bottle from the tap in the kitchen, as I had several times a day for the past two months, when she broke in and said "I don't advise drinking that water.  Bad for your health."  I looked at her, and then back at the pale yellow water pooling at the bottom of my bottle, and gave my best Russian attempt at "ya gotta tell me these things sooner."  But I spoke in vain - she had already slinked back to her room forever.  


The little green man in the crosswalk-lights in Russia leads a much more colorful life than his American counterpart.  In our sterile, homogeneous 'walk' signals, he's always perfectly upright, walking at a measured clip, looking straight ahead until his motionless, straight-backed, unfeeling red alter-ego tags in.  In Russia, the glass is installed at all variety of angles, each of which lends the green man a unique, expressive pose.  For instance, here he is at the corner of Gogol and May First Street.  In this instance, he's a gregarious pedestrian surprised to see a friend while crossing the street.  He's stopped in his tracks, leaned his weight on his back foot, and extended his hand before going in for the handshake and the embrace: 

Here he's facing a dilemma familiar to all Russians - it's wet outside, there are deep, broad puddles in the crosswalk, but straying outside the lines might result in a fine.  He's carefully lifting his knee almost to his waist, leaning back for balance, and preparing to stretch or leap over an obstacle.  Also, note here that he's walking in the opposite direction.

Here he is on the corner of Gogol and Proletarian Street, crossing to get to the central market.  Clearly, he's been unwinding in the Russian style, maybe with the friend he met on May First Street.  Disoriented and rapidly losing motor control, he's failed to put enough weight into his step, and is about to topple over backwards:

I tried to photograph him at the corner of Pushkin and Zhukov, where he's leaned way forward, full-out sprinting to get out of the way of a speeding bus, but I wasn't fast enough.  Even his usually-stoic red twin gets a little more animated than back home.  Sometimes he's got that same rigid, American posture, but other times he's leaning slightly, resting one leg or the other while waiting for the light to change.  And his life can take dramatic, unexpected turns too.  Here I caught him turned sideways, floating in microgravity during a trip into space.

Sorry for the poor quality.  For obvious reasons, I couldn't photograph him from the center of the crosswalk.

Almost all food in any Russian market or shop is "local," "organic," "farm-fresh," and all those other things we Americans pay top dollar for.  To Russia's great credit, it doesn't have the mass producing, mass shipping, gasoline-intensive, stamped-and-plastic-wrapped food infrastructure that we do.  Furthermore, for foreigners almost all foodstuffs are affordable, often less than half the price we'd pay at home for arguably worse-quality food.  Indeed, the real price isn't paid in rubles.  The trouble is that any given food item is either a vitamin-rich, all-natural, probiotic "whole" food, or it was all of those things, but now just tastes "pro-biotic" because it's spoiled.  On the whole, it's still probably better than the pasteurized, factory-efficient American model.  But it can be a delicate dance, and a few weeks ago I missed a step, drank a bottle of expired kefir, and spent a long night wishing I had never even put the shoes on.  And that wasn't the end of it.  Two days later, I had a dream where I was in my dad's kitchen in Illinois, and my friend Leo told me not to drink Kefir too long after the production date on the carton.  Thanks.

So far, I've avoided "food" entries, because I dedicated so much space to Russian cuisine already in Irkutsk.  No sense eating a dead horse, right?  On the other hand, I've been collecting photographs and discovering new, exciting, occasionally disgusting dishes here too, so maybe a full food entry isn't out of the question.  Stay tuned.


The blog has gotten bloggier and bloggier, as blogs are wont to do.  If you'll take a look at the top of the page on the right, you'll see the newest feature - an email-subscription widget.  My longtime tech-supporter and blog guru Carrie pointed out that mass-emailing to announce a blog post makes no sense, something akin to sending handwritten letters to announce a forthcoming email.  I always felt that it made no sense, but couldn't figure out an alternative.  Now there is one.  Turns out I just needed to create a feed, or burn my feed, or feed my HTML, or some other high-tech garbage I know nothing about.  Eventually I did figure it out, so please subscribe at the top of the page, because there will be no future email-notifications.

Also, while adventuring in the "Help" section of Blogger, I learned what those little buttons do under each post.  The ones that have the Facebook logo, the Twitter logo, etc.  Turns out, those buttons allow you to share the blog on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I'm not telling you what you should or should't do, but do that.  Pick a post you liked, share it somewhere, and help promote international understanding between Russia and the English-speaking world.  Also, it will help me - if ten thousand people read the blog, I think Google sends me a check for two or three dollars in the mail.  Or maybe they even send it electronically, who knows.  


beth said...

that topic sentence is one of your best. and bring on the food edition!

Carrie said...

Agreed - food edition (with photos), please.

Well done with the feedburner widget, and I like the placement in your layout. Two thumbs up.

Elena said...

Your description of the little pedestrian man could be taken out of Pelevin!

I would like to hear about weird Russian food too - a refreshing new perspective.

geoffrey said...

and i'm thinking the food edition should carry an R rating, no one under 17 admitted without parent or guardian.

Iosif Markovich said...

By popular demand, I guess there will be a food edition. And Carrie, your format-praise is the highest honor the blog has ever received.

Carrie said...

The President/CEO of your former place of employment agreed with my comment on the placement of the new widget. You know how we nit-pick our formatting, so you should feel very good about your self.

Annie said...

I just want you to know I subscribed to your blog, and the "captcha" asked me to type "therrepi". An appropriate request considering the pig head, spoiled kefir, dead horses, and otherwise disturbing content.

P.S. Yeah, I said 'captcha'. Take that, burnfeedhtmlwidget.

Iosif Markovich said...

There used to be an 'adult content' warning on the blog, but then it disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.