Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gettin into Russian character and details

I'm getting into the culture and the details of everyday life a little now. Making friends and talking to people, etc.

Rode almost 40 kilometers today. Into Shchuch'ye, visited the Russian teacher, we walked to the orphanage and visited for a while, then walked back to her apartment and I rode home. Lovely day. Rode around Chumlyak on the way home and stopped at a new store.

I started to get ready to cycle in about 10:00. I fixed my tires with shoegoo two nights ago, so I needed to pump them up. Got the HPxp out, and started at it. Got the tire to about 30 lbs, and didn't seem to get any farther. Looked at the pump, checked it this way and that, and finally figured out that the pump had died. Kerfluewy. Gone, kaput. So I've got one tire at 30 lbs of pressure, and the other at zero. Great. I've looked thru my tools that I brought for a Presta adapter before, but I look again. I pull everything out of it's bag, box, or tin - everything. No adapter. What now? I can't ride with flat tires, and everybody else here has car-type valves. Phooey. But, I think, maybe the camp has a pump with a reversible valve head. I go downstairs and check, but no. So, maybe one of the bikes on the rack has a frame pump with a reversible head? Check one - nope. Check two - nope. Check three - jackpot. Let's hope the pump works! I take it upstairs, and it works, alleluja!

Now I'm pumped up and ready to go. The wind has picked up somewhat, and I become acutely aware of this when I get outside - the wind blows my bike over, and nearly me, too. It must be 25 mph right now! Do I really want to go out, knowing that in one direction I will be absolutely hammered trying to ride into the wind? This gives me a great deal to think about, but I finally, after quite a few minutes, decide to go. After all, I am out here and I am dressed. I put on my shoes, and take off. On the road the wind is at my back - ok, so I'll have to work my ass off coming home. The wind is so strong that I am cruising at 35 kph with little effort, and milkweed parachutes keep pace with me at 20 kph. So the ride into Shchuch'ye is fast. On the highway stretch, it is a crosswind, quartering a little into a head wind. I make it safely into town and try to find Elena's house. I get directions, but find that I am on the wrong street, for the house that matches the number I have does not in any way resemble Elena's description. I head back to the street, and cruise farther, trying to have faith in Elena's directions. Suddenly I find myself next a landmark she mentioned - the bankrupt flour mill. Accross the street is an apt building that matches her description, and voila, I go to the apartment number, knock, and who answers the door but Elena! Bingo, got it.

We have tea and she fixes pelmeni. After a great deal of talk, she asks if I will visit the orphanage - an institution we as a company are supporting. I willingly agree, for I am anxious to get a better idea of the flavor of Russia in general and Shchuch'ye in particular.

We walk about a mile or so to the orphanage, and after giving us the grand tour, the director (directress?) sits us down for tea and more pelmeni - except these are the larger version and have a different name. She also pops out the cookies and chocolates. This is Russian tradition! Anyway, the house she has refurbished to house all these children is large and rambling. Single-storey, built well before "The Great Patriotic War" (WW2), they have done an excellent job of refurbishing and making things work. It is clean and freshly painted or wallpapered. They have donated carpets on most of the floor space now - when they started a few years ago, the floors were bare wood. The halls have some excellent runner rugs, obviously hand loomed. I immediately think there may be a small cottage market for these. Eventually I move us on, and we walk back to Elena's apartment.

From there I get my bike and proceed home. I was getting a little nervous about the time - it was getting on in the afternoon, and the sun was getting lower. I am in plenty of time, but the sun is low, and it is a little cooler. Fortunately tho, the wind has gone down a little as well. It is still a job on the way back, but not really that hard.

On the way home, I need a couple things at the store, so I stop in Chumlyak, and check out a different magazine. It is smaller, cleaner, and tidier, with a slightly different selection of items. She has plums, and I buy some, along with some cookies. I take a side trip on one of the Shchuch'ye streets just to see the houses. The house appearance on the side streets is better than on the main street - or I don't notice the "shackiness" that much anymore. It isn't significant once you start to get a feel for the townfolk. They feel much more like middle American rural community than shackeytown dirt-poor. I think it is just that this is a rural village, and the current times are not that great. But there is money and commerce, and this is good.

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