Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Out in the country - Walking and stargazing

Walked into Chumlyak tonight. stopped at the store(s). Stopped at the first store for the first time in a while. One of the attendants recognized me, and I her. We swapped hellos, and how are yous. I asked for my beer, bread and pelmeni in Russian, then bought a glass bowl just pointing and saying "this", and a brush for my shoes in the same way. They have no dry red wine, so I visit the "new" store. Svetlana, one of the attendants, is there. We say hello and exchange greetings. My slightly expanded Russian is going over well. Here I get pelmini - the old store didn't have any, and dry red wine.
The walk is a good one, and helps to keep me in some fitness. The stars tonight are very bright - as the moon is rising late. They were magnificent last night too. I have picked out more than a few constellations. After I get back I have dinner, and then head back out onto the lake to identify as many constellations as I can. I can see Orion low in the south - I haven't seen him since I got here. In the opposite direction I see the swan, and Vega is bright. There is some fog, and a enough light pollution that I cannot see the constellation that Vega is in. I can find the Pleiades, and the V of Taurus with Aldebaran. If I'm looking at the chart, I can find Perseus, and the Charioteer, but I can't find them without the chart. It is an excellent night for stargazing. It is interesting though, which stars are clearly visible here, and others which are not. At home it seems like I can usually find the bull, but finding Pegasus and the Great Square is a real chore. Finding the swan is usually hard, but not here and not tonight.
I am out on the lake, and the night noises are spooky, and frightening. There is an occasional groan - sounding like a big seal, but there are no seals here. A coughing sound - like a large cat - but there are not supposed to be large cats around here. Although it is pitch dark because there is no moon, the latent libido from the snow still allows me to see, and the lake presents a clear view into a little ways off. After a while of finding constellations, I head back to camp. An excellent night to find the stars and constellations, but it is getting colder, and the noises are spooky.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ekaterineburg first impressions

Ekaterineburg is a very pretty city, much more attractive than Chelyabinsk. Lots of churches, pretty buildings, new shops. I find it very attractive, and very unlike Chelyabinsk. Chelyabinsk is just an ugly city. Just can't seem to get around that.

One man, when I told him this impression, asked if it was because Chelyabinsk was more "Soviet" style. Nope, not that at all. All the cities over here are remarkably similar architecturally. Chelyabinsk is just an uglier version of an old Pittsburgh or Cincinnatti. It is dirty and ugly in an industrial way. Too many Soviet era apartment blocks, fewer Stalin-era older stuff, very dirty air.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On board, Kazan to Ekaterineburg

12:12 Moscow time.
I am on board train 328, Kazan to Ekaterineburg (Sverdlosk). This was a major solo effort, but all went smoothly, and Tatiana's help lingered on. In Cheboksary, waiting for the bus, she asked a young man, a fellow passenger, to help me in Kazan. He was not only gracious enough to help me find the voksal, he tried to find the platform number. We chased to 3 locations to get that, only to discover they wouldn't post the platform until the train arrived. He refused payment. This was just graciousness to a stranger.
I go by myself to the kacca to upgrade my ticket from "platzkart" - or "the back of the bus, son". The transaction actually manages to flow. I ask to confirm that this ticket is platzkart and the attendant confirms. I ask to upgrade - and here it gets confusing. The attendant rattles out a few sentences - which mostly slip past me. I think there may have been something about 400 something but it could have been 400 thousand, or 400 nothing. She didn't say nyet, or ni, so bull forward with a simple "Da".
I guess folks don't upgrade often. She isn't sure if it can be done - she fetches a supervisor. The supervisor calmy looks and must be saying "Ah, yes, of course we can do this - just fill out this form for the gentleman's ticket, and make sure you make the correct entry over there." Some things are truly universal. The attendant has to stamp the old ticket - but her ink has gone dry. Guess she doesn't use it much. Now she has to go and fetch a fresh pad.
She also needs a new form, and retrieves a handful of forms, as well. She has to fill one out by hand, as her computer system will not handle the upgrade. This takes, o, about a quarter of an hour or so. Glad I'm not in a hurry. But we get it done, and now it is almost time for my train's arrival.
I return to the waiting area. The young gentleman who helped me from the gazelle bus asked
one of the waiting room attendants to help me find the right platform. When she sees me return from the ticket kacca, she stands, and comes out from her booth. Guiding me outside, she points, with a few words, to the open stairway system that accesses the platforms. Then she delivers a short speech - out of which I get "3", and I think "third". I'm betting on "three", because the train arrival/departure board said 3 next to my train number.
Up the stairs, down the stairs for platform 3. Aha! Platform attendants! What luck! As quickly as I can say the words, which amounts to a very slow deliberative delivery, I ask in Russian if this is the train from Kazan to Ekaterineburg. "Da" is the answer. Then I go for confirmation by starting to ask if this is train "328". One of the attendants is less patient, and hurries things along by blurting out the train number, which just happens to be 328. Khorosho, very good. Then I play the same game with the car number to find my car, and once again I am successful.
I find my car and present my ticket to the attendant, but she is not at all sure about the manual ticket. It is as though this is a mysterious new thing that is incomprehensible. I try to explain that I had platzkart, but wanted kupe. I think she understands, but at least she waves me on board. On the way to my compartment she sells me some bed linens, and points out the location of the toilet. Very nice, and I'm grateful to find that I have the compartment to myself. I have successfully upgraded to kupe, or 2nd class, with 4 berths to a compartment. Halellujah, and I make myself at home.
3:23 PM - Moscow time
Dusk has been overtaking day for some time now. The woods have the chiarrusco beauty of all northern woods at this point of daylight - enough dim light to see the woods and the trees, contrasted and sharpened by the starkness of the white snow.
It has been snowing off and on for much of the day - small amounts really. As the dark takes over, I believe I see it snowing again. This is a huge country of plains and very low, rolling hills. Elevation changes of a few hundred feet are an extreme. Still, if is beautiful. Around Kazan the architecture varied from other places I've seen yet. A little more originality - patterns in the brickwork, etc. than other places. Perhaps what I'm seeing is post-soviet era. Kazan has a huge, ancient fortress that I glimpse as we drive by. It looks like it would be very interesting to visit.
I see a great deal of Middle Eastern and Arabic influence here. Cheboksary and the Chuvash Republic had more Mongol influence in their history. All of this is reflected in the facial features as I travel. The book store at the voksal has the Koran, whereas in Cheboksary and other locations, I've seen the Orthodox icons and the like.
Somewhere between Cheboksary and Kazan we pass through a small city that has the normal Stalin and Soviet era block buildings, and something more. The something more is two story, log construction, block apartment buildings. I will guess that they contain between 8 and sixteen units in the typical Russian style apartment architecture - multiple entrances, etc. They are huge for log construction, small for apartment complexes here. Just as blocky as the rest, just smaller. I imagine they are quite old. It looks like heating was from fireplaces originally, as some have multiple chimneys. Many appear to be still possibly occupied, although it is hard to tell. Only a few look abandoned. I imagine with some work they could become very nice duplex or 4-plex units. It would probably have to be careful, caring construction, though, and it probably wouldn't be worth the expense. Who knows?
6:00PM Moscow time
We stop somewhere with a hyphenated name. I get out for a breath of air, and a loaf of bread. Another passenger boards to share my compartment. Younger than me, probably in her 30's, a Russian. She seems, not quiet, but not wishing to be talkative. Ok with me. She is clean and well-groomed, attractive. So sharing is no skin off my nose.
I bought the loaf of bread in a magazine at this small voksal. I thought it was white, so I asked for temnui (dark), but she said this was all she had. Later, when I cut it - I was pleasantly surprised. It was a light wheat - not a white - bread, and it was very fresh. I used it and the smoked venison from last night's dinner to make a sandwich.
At one of the stops a young man comes in to panhandle - a sob story, although it sounds like a sob and honor story (I spent 10 years in the service, I was in Afghanistan, whatever, you get the idea). I don't understand a word, and I don't think I have to. He is persistent even though I tell him I don't speak Russian. The other passenger says "English", and otherwise ignores him. Eventually the conductor comes by. She speaks to him and he wastes no time in clearing out.
Things are quiet as we get under weigh. We sleep. There are a couple of stops in the night. My compartment companion gets off an hour or so out of Sverdlosk. If you haven't guessed by now, I've figured out that the trains are still calling Ekaterineburg "Sverdlosk". It is Sverdlosk on the ticket, and on exiting the voksal, it is Sverdlosk Voksal in 10 foot tall letters. This might have more than a little to do with why I couldn't find trains on the RZD.ru site into or out of Ekaterineburg. I needed to use Sverdlosk.

Friday, December 16, 2005

8:40 AM, Ekaterineburg
Sitting in the airport, time on my hands - today's variation, old song. This is a good thing this day. I need a break today. (jingle that one yourself, ok?). Work has been very hard. I frequently feel at odds with Berg. Too much conflict.
So - a break today! I'm going to Cheboksary to visit a new place!
Hats - winter in Russia is when the hats come out. Caps, beanies, and fur hats, and several styles of earflapped hats for men that I've only seen pictures of in history books about earlier days in the US and logging crews in the northern midwest. There is the sharka - usually made of fur - this is like a large round pillbox when all folded up. When in Moscow, it seemed that the locals only wore this style in mink. But in Chelyabinsk I've seen many other furs used - including fox, like mine. I don't feel so all alone any more.
Today in Ekaterineburg I saw a man wearing one with the ear flaps down, made of an even bushier fur than my fox. Very much the mountain man look!
But let's talk about the women's hats for a bit. The church ladies in Memphis would fit right in - except the women's hats here are seriously and universally functional, whereas the church ladies' hats are only for social show. But I see fur hats in swirls, peaks, caps, boxes, snoods; with bobbles, dangles, beads, and stars. Any woman with a little money has a fur hat - there is obviously a certain amount of prestige being sported about here.
However, as I've said about MY hat, the hats here are seriously functional. Ever seen an insulated baseball cap? They are common here! The "driver's" cap associated (by Americans) with the British is popular - in leather or heavy cloth. And they are insulated. Stocking caps, or watch caps or beanies, are triple the thickness of mine.
A word about roads. This is the first time I've been out of Chelyabinsk going towards Ekaterineburg. the roads are much better than the highway out towards the Kurgan Oblast. Kurgan is obviously "out in the sticks".

Monday, December 12, 2005

Snowmobile traffic

--- A friend wrote:---------------------------------
. . .told me that you will be using a snow mobile to get from point A toZ. I found this interesting. A town full of snow mobile traffic??

I had considered it, and I might still do it, but I've had little time to shop, and this is not a small purchase - they are expensive here. There are not many snowmobiles here yet. I'm not sure that they would use many where I am - they actually don't get much snow here, just cold. So far we really don't have a good snow cover. As for towns full of snowmobiles, go visit Wisconsin, Minnesota or upper Michigan in the winter. They have trails paralleling the road system, tourist travel, etc. Not quite replacing the auto traffic, but it does replace some of it. Pretty amazing actually, and that is what gave me the idea.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Saturday train to the city

10/12/05 Sat Cybbota

I go in to work this morning. I make some progress, but I want a break.

I decide I'll take off and see if I can catch the electrichki into Chelybinsk. I call for a van to take me to town. The receptionist at camp gets me a van to go into Shchuch'ye. So far so good. I request a stop at camp to grab a book. Still no problem. Then I tell the receptionist that I'll probably catch the return train at 10:00 (PM), which gets in at midnight!

Now I begin to smell a problem. The head driver is acting a little - hmmmm - perplexed? Maybe agitated? Ah well, this eats up a few minutes and I decide to head out anyway. I'll miss the train if I wait any longer. We'll figure somethin out - or I'll walk. [Ha, right, Mark, now think about that for a second. It's 12 or 13 miles from the voksal to the camp. It takes you an hour and twenty minutes to walk the 5.2 miles from the site. That equates to 3 or 4 hours minimum of walking, maybe more. And, after 5 miles my feet are pretty done in. Huh, you gonna walk that? I think a car is in order. Of course, tho, it is nice to know I could walk if I had to.]

The drivers and staff are always a lot more nervous and agitated when I try to do something that is not on the schedule. I think its BECAUSE it is something that is not on the schedule, and like people everywhere, they have a tendency to overrate the local danger. Not that there isn't any, they just overrate it.

We get to the Shchuch'ye station, and I buy my ticket. The train will be here in about 5 minutes. I get on. As we go, I watch the station names, and the landmarks, writing them down in my notebook.


Once at the voksal, I go to the shopping center that is right there by the voksal. I find a couple of things I've needed - CDs, a teapot. I find two ATM machines, but neither will take my card. I still have a couple of hours until the early electrichki. I call the transport coordinator. She is at the Christmas party, and says there is a bus going back at midnight. That is later than I want to hang around, so I determine to see if I can get things done in time to catch the early electrichki. I cross the street to look for the only major thing I'm missing at this point - an ATM. There is an exchange center inside a building lobby, and an ATM. It doesn't look promising once I get close - a Visa machine, it has no Plus network sign. I try it anyway, and the first two times I try to enter the amount I want - it declines. Not good. The third time I check my balance - it comes up. This is a good sign, 3 times a charm? I try again for a withdrawal - this time with one of the pre-programmed amounts. It works. I do it twice more to get the same amount I had tried to enter by hand. It gives me the cash every time, no problem. Ok, so now I have the cash I need, and I notice a grocery store next door. I step in to check it out. I pick up a couple bottles of vino, and a couple other small items, and head back to the voksal. I try to find a kacca (ticket booth, pronounced like casa) for the electrichki, and they counter people chatter on without me understanding a bit of it, except that they have pointed in a direction and they are telling me somewhere in that direction. At first I think she is saying the ticket booth is farther down the way inside the train station.

After waiting on line in the next line down, I screw up my courage, and attempt to ask a couple of ladies standing in line with me where the electrichki kacca is. One of them gives me some words I understand - something about the ulnitza (street), and I think she uses the word for first - which I could not repeat, but have heard in class. So I head down the station towards the end they all pointed, and eventually discover that there is no exit this way. I ask at the last kacca, which looks different from the rest. Nope again. Once again, I get the pointing directions farther down. I walk back to the entrance area, passing the ladies I talked to and we do sign language for "out first, around, and then down that way", they nod and smile, and we all understand that I need to go out first. Which I do.

At the next building it is quite quiet. I ask the attendant at the kacca for the electrichki to Shchuch'ye. She says yes, but -- and it is a big and long "but", and I don't fathom a single word of it. Something about hours, but I am totally lost. I know she is saying something about an hour and a half or something. At the same time she has asked me for my ticket, and I'm bewildered, because I'm here to buy my ticket, and she has taken my money. She confers with another attendant and issues a little cash register receipt, which is something they always issue with the tickets anyway.

But we get back to the question of the hours. I have an idea that she is saying something about the departure time, because I say "electichki, ahdno minut", and she says nyet. I think the train is leaving in a couple of minutes but she says no. Am I too late? Is the train not on schedule? I don't have the faintest. I get out the Palm, and open up my memo with the schedule, and point to the 1835 departure time. She says da, and something about Moscva, and this is not the first time she has said something about Moscow. She points to a clock on the wall behind me. I look at it, and it says 4:25. Ok, no problem. And then I realize - it's not 4:25, it is 6:25! She has been telling me the electrichki departs on Moscow time! I say I understand - Moscow hours, da? Da. Khorosho (very good). And she tells me my schedule is wrong, the minutes are different from what I show. I still have an hour and a half, or two, to kill.

I call the camp to see if this will present a problem for the drivers - me getting in about 10:30 or 10:40 local time. Ludmilla is on the desk, and she checks. She will call me back, and she does so in about 3 minutes. No drivers, I will have to get a local taxi. The drivers will all be in Chelyabinsk. I ask her to get a telephone of a local taxi for me. She thinks this may be a problem, but agrees, and 10 minutes later I'm set up with a local driver to pick me up and drive back to the camp. There are no regular taxi companies in Shchuch'ye, so we must rely on "private" taxi service. Just some joe who is willing to make an extra buck. Plenty of that. I'm sure it is better to arrange this in advance. I could just take my chances on finding a car when I get in. But this way, at least somebody knows somebody.

I won't tell you how nervous I was about finding the right electrichki. The station has 9 platforms, and I'm supposed to find which one is the electrichki. Right, sure. I go back to the kacca, which now has a long line, and I may be running late, too. I ask the attendant which platform, she says nyet, and just keeps telling me "electrichki". Great. Now my inability to speak is definitely in the way. But I'm not making any progress standing here talking to the attendant, so I am off and back to the pedestrian overpass that feeds the platforms.

In the middle of this pedestrian way, I stop a man and ask him where the electrichki to Shchuch'ye is. He doesn't know, but looks around and finds a staircase down to a train that looks like an electrichki. So I head down, and do what some Russians have done with me - ask me if this is the train/bus/trolley to xxxx. As a matter of fact, it happened today in Shchuch'ye - a man asked me if this was the electrichki to Chelyabinsk. Da, da, I replied. So I'm doing the asking this time, and the guys I ask say da, this is the electrichki to -- and I don't know the town name they say. Later I will discover that this is the name of the town at the end of the line - past Shchuch'ye. At the time I was only slightly less nervous than before. On the one hand they said yes to my question, on the other hand, they were adding stuff that was totally confusing to me. I get on the train and ask a soldier there - mistake. He was playing a game on his phone, and was not happy about being interrupted. Aww, I feel so sorry for the poor boy. He gives me the same routine as the three guys having a cigarette did - says yes and then proceeds to muddy the issue by telling me the other town's name. I wait until he goes outside with his buddy for a cig, then ask the lady sitting across from the seat I have chosen. She also says yes to my question. I'm going to sit here and give it a go, I guess.

I have done worse, you know. One time in Ireland I missed my stop, and got off at the next station, only to discover that no train would be stopped there going back for two days on. It was close to freezing out, I wasn't dressed for the cold, and it was cold and raining. There were no taxis or cars or anything at that station, and I just had to go to the road and start walking to try and get back to where I was staying. Cars only passed me about once every 10 or so minutes. That night I eventually hitched a ride, but they weren't happy about it - they just felt like it was the right thing to do. I did get back, which was a good thing. Quite a few people say it is dangerous around here, in Russia, and I can see a few of those hard glances that indicate some hostility, but I know Ireland at that time was very dangerous in a situation such as I had found myself. I had to avoid religious conversation of any sort, and conversations were often directed to religion by the Irish I met. It would have been easy that night to have gotten into trouble. A mean drunk, or someone in a bad mood. Their economy has improved since then, and I think their temper has improved along with it.

However, if this train did not go to Shchuch'ye, I would be in another situation like that time in Ireland. Once we are finally underway, the conductor announces that Traktorstroy is the next stop, and I am more confident. I was still nervous about it, and continued to be so until we actually arrived in Shchuch'ye. There was a route schema on the wall of the car, and I looked at it and studied it for a bit. That was when I learned that the town name I had heard earlier was the last stop for the train, and thus probably the name of the electrichki route.

When we arrived in Shchuch'ye, there were lots of people and cars. A "taxi for hire" man approached me. I asked his name, but it wasn't the name Ludmilla had given me, so I told him I had a car. At the parking lot I see a white Toyota, which is what I was expecting, and the driver next to it smiles when he sees me as though I have fit a description he has heard. Good. I ask his name, it is the right name. Vamanos, folks, let's go! Home, back to the camp.

We pass a few sentences back and forth. He lives in this apartment building, etc. The Toyota model name (Speedster?), and some other small talk. Very small talk, but it is more than in the past.

It was a wonderful evening. I had a successful shopping trip, and managed to completely escape the camp environment for long enough to accomplish several things on my own. When I wake up the next morning I feel like I have had a weekend already, not like I need 3 more days off. Khorosho.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Lake Baikal and Lake Superior - a conversation

We got to talking about the size of Lake Baikal, and comparing it to the Great Lakes. Of course, we engaged in some small talk about this one/that one, but it got me curious as to which was bigger/deeper, etc. So, I went to Wikipedia and got this (thanks wikipedia!). Oh, and btw, I think, but I'm not at all sure - that the spelling "Gichigami" below is pronounced something closer to gichigoomee (oo=long u sound, ee=long e sound). That's what I remember from when I was a kid.

Lake Superior (known as Gichigami in a Ojibwe language) is the largest of North America's Great Lakes. It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area with Lake Baikal in Siberia having more volume. (The Caspian Sea is larger, but contains salt water.) Lake Superior has a surface area of 32,000 sq. mi. (82,000 km²) , larger than the Czech Republic. It has a maximum length of 350 mi (563 km) and maximum width of 160 mi (257 km). Its average depth is 489 ft (149 m) with a maximum depth of 1,333 ft (406 m). Lake Superior contains 2,935 cubic mi (12,232 cubic km) of water. The shoreline of the lake stretches 2,730 miles (4393 km) (including islands).

Lake Baikal (Russian: О́зеро Байка́л (Ozero Baykal)), a lake in Southern Siberia, Russia, between Irkutsk Oblast on the northwest and Buryatia on the southeast, near Irkutsk. It is a World Heritage Site. The name derives from Tatar "Bai-Kul" - "rich lake". It is also known as the Blue Eye of Siberia.
At 636 km/395 miles long and 80 km/50 miles wide, Baikal has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in Asia (31,494 km²/12,165 miles²) and is the deepest lake in the world (1637m/5369 ft—previously measured to 1620m/5314 ft). Therefore, in Russian tradition Baikal is called the "sea", and in the Buryat and Mongol languages it is called Dalai-Nor, or "Sacred Sea".
The bottom of the lake is 1285 m/4215 ft below sea level and is the deepest continental rift on the earth. Its volume—23,000 km³/5521 miles³—is approximately equal to the total volume of the 5 Great Lakes of North America, or to about 20% of the total fresh water on the earth.
Baikal is a young rift lake. The rift widens about 2 centimeters/1 inch a year. The fault zone is seismically active: there are hot springs in the area and notable earthquakes every few years.
The extent of biodiversity present in Lake Baikal is equalled by few other lakes. As many as 852 species and 233 varieties of algae and 1550 species and varieties of animals inhabit the lake; many of them are endemic species. The world-famous Baikal Seal (Phoca sibirica), the only mammal living in the lake, is found throughout the whole area of the lake.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

A walk in the dark, a pleasant evening

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 9:26:12 PM

An interesting evening. Two whole days at work that I am working under regular pressure and regular hours. I take off today at 5. Ironic, we had a false fire alarm earlier in the day, and another at 4:55. So I just shut it down and split. Got back to camp and in my room right at 5:30. Changed shirts, put on some wool socks, and went walking.

Put on my fox sharka - the stereotypical Russian fur hat that makes a body look like a mushroom. It is HUGE in the mirror, but it is also deliciously WARM when you wear it! It has ear flaps. You tie these over the top of the hat for the coolest position, you pull them down around the back for the second position - warmer. And, for warmest, you would untie the ear flaps and tie them under your chin. This hat is a marvel of non-techno luxury all by itself. Most that you see are mink - very nice, presents a tighter profile and smoother appearance, and mink is renowned for it's smooth and warm quality. Mine is fox - bushier, more color. I looked for one with a good undercoat, and found one that is pretty good. But man, is it WARM. It is great when it is cold out, really cold, but once I get warm from walking, I have to open my coat entirely to vent enough not to sweat too much. And I still work up a good sweat!

Also put on my wool coat. I didn't wear my winter goose down coat - that would have been way overkill with the sharka - I would have cooked. So I put on my lovely wool coat that I really love. It is such a great coat. It only lacks one thing to perfection - its color. It should be red, or at the worst navy blue, but it for some reason it is royal blue. it is just so hard to find perfection. Hehe. Even in royal blue, this is one of my all-time favorite coats. I've had a couple that I have been attached to in the various stages of my life. The denim jacket with the Dartmouth protest fir tree stencil on back, and the embroidered dawn on the front. The red wool cycling jacket with the patches. The replacement for the red cycling jacket with patches that became almost as good as the first. And now my blue Woolrich.

So I was dressed for walking. I picked up my walking stick and headed downstairs. My timing was perfection. I arrived at 5:38. Tomas teased me about looking like the camp sheperd. I laughed and joked back. At 5:42 a bunch of guys came in from the site, and joked "Wow, now that is real road kill!" (the hat), etc. A couple comments about the stick. Tomas wandered off purposefully. It was fun. I waited until 5:45, then I split. Oh, in case you didn't know, 5:40 is the semi-official "walk" time for some people. So I was waiting to see if anybody showed. I had told one of the other walkers that I was going. I was tired of waiting, though, so I didn't waste any more time. I booked right on out of there.

I told the folks - meaning the counter attendant, and the guards at the entry gate, one hour. I set out in back of the camp - walking the field and river trail/road. Went north until I almost hit the woods. That took about 20 or 25 minutes, so I calculated a about a mile. Instead of turning back, I thought to familiarize myself with these roads a little, and took the next road right. This heads back to the west towards the dirt road, and just south of a small forest copse. Fields on my left, the river behind me as I headed west. The moon was out - just better than a crescent, and I think it is in the growth cycle. It was very bright. When I first left there was plenty of cloud cover, but it cleared some as I walked, revealing Cassiopiea, and then the Big Dipper and the North Star. The stars were fantastically beautiful. The quiet was wonderful, and for the first time in many many years, it was so quiet that when I stopped, the ringing in my ears was almost deafening.

It is a bit scary, walking at night. And here I was out in the middle of a set of big fields and woods, in the middle of winter, all alone. So I had a couple of nervous thoughts, or more than a couple, but nothing that paniced me badly enough to turn around. My feet crunched and squeaked through the snow. The snow was mostly fresh. A car had been by, probably during daylight. Somebody had walked here, probably yesterday. Lots of animal track, probably a day and half or two days old.

I check my phone for the time. I've been gone a half hour, then about 45 minutes, and, while I have been setting a track to loop me back towards my start, I think I am still about 30 minutes out. Hmmm. I said one hour, and now it looks like an hour and a quarter.

Regardless, I begin to pick up the pace a little. I have turned away from the river trail back towards the village Sovyetskaya, over the field roads. It is beautiful. After some time I reach a landmark I recognize - a single tree. I have no trouble at any time picking out the lights of the camp, so there is no question of being lost. I keep following the road, and it occurs to me that there is one weakness in my defense. I have based my defense on a few strategies - my departure days are not predictable, nor is my route, exactly. If I am cornered by a vehicle while on the river road, I can retreat across the river on the ice, or hide along the folds and trees of its banks. But now I am out in the fields. No one will come at me on foot, and if they do, I can handle a lot of people - most people - in a one-on-one. Don't forget I have my stick, and I know something about using it. But in the fields, if a car came out here and came after me, they could just drive anywhere I could run, and my footprints are as obvious as they could possibly be in this snow. Ironically, on realizing this, there is more auto traffic around Sovyetskaya than at any time since I have been walking. The village is still a half to three-quarter of a mile away, but I can see the car lights easily. One or two of the cars actually seem like they are using the edges of these field roads, and not the main road to Chumlyak. So I am a little more nervous, and I pick up the pace quite a bit.

This section of the road takes longer than I remember, and has a couple of turns that I had forgotten. I will have to explore better on a future walk. I finally get to the footbridge. From here it is only a short distance to the hill behind the camp, and then I will be at the entry gate. The clouds are covering the stars again. I throw some practice strikes and blocks with the stick against a defenseless roadside post. Then I am walking up the hill to the guard's building at the entry gate. I enter, and pass through. As I exit, several of the guards are standing around, chatting, smoking, generally having a nice evening. I stop and pull out my phone - the only time-keeping device I have on me. I look at the time and say "Ahdeen chas, pyaht minut." They understand, and one of the guys says something about "sportif" something, but also whirls his hands like pedaling a bicycle. I think he recognizes me from when I was riding my bike. I say "da, da", and continue to say just "kholodna" (cold), then "dobre vecher" (good evening), as I walk back to the camp building.

I change shirts and pants, and hit the weight room to do some weighted squats for sprinting capacity. I do a few other exrecises, as well. Situps, a few weighted punches, not much more. Dinner is next, then I have signed up to use the sauna at 8. We chat a bit at dinner, and then I hit the sauna. This sauna was designed by a Swede - it is HOT. Hot, and dry. Nice fittings, very very nice - luxurious. But also coed, and I have already gotten accustomed to doing the banya nude. Fortunately there is no one else there at all.

I can't spend much time in this sauna - way too hot. Unlike the saunas in the public baths I've gone too, it is much hotter. The public banyas have had very nice saunas, just not quite the heat I learned to seek when I was a youth in the upper peninsula of Michigan. This sauna has every bit of that heat, and a touch more. It is damn good and hot.

I have difficultly lasting ten minutes the first time before I have to shower. I use this first shower to cleanse, then head back to the sauna. I am more comfortable, but I am by now also bored. I last for something between 5 and ten minutes, then add some water to the rocks. I lie down for another minute or two, but then I am absolutely bored and tired of it. So I leave the sauna. There is a Moscow Times and I read that as I sit and cool off for another ten minutes or so.

I head upstairs, and my legs are righteously tired. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

It's been a while.

It's been a while since I posted - coz there hasn't been much to post. I can't imagine anybody is interested in reading about work, and I don't want to write about it here anyway. Life outside of work has been minimal and boring. Very boring. I have not had time nor the opportunity to do much of anything enjoyable.

Part of this is a direct effect of camp life. Imagine being on a tall ship as crew, or part of a lumber crew in the woods, or a cowboy on a drive. A modern navy vessel, or in prison. Mostly men, you wake and breakfast with the same people you work with, that you lunch with, that you eat dinner with, and who are at the bar in the evenings. Telephone connections are shoddy at best, internet connection is very very poor. Broadband is a dream. You don't have freedom of movement, because you have to arrange for transportation everywhere. The language is difficult, and even getting sufficient "tourist" phrases is a problem. At least, it seems harder than I remember Spanish being. Finding one's way around is also difficult because the alphabet is so different. So the last month has not been easy or fun. All work, no play.

We should be getting through most of the roughest stuff at work, though, so hopefully the work pressure will alleviate.

Back to Russia. The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year. Everyone is remarking on it. It is very slowly getting cooler. Here its is December, and it was only a couple of days ago that I first used my blue woolrich coat to the max, and that was when I chose to walk home from the site to the camp one night. It was about 7 PM, and so it was quite dark, well into night. And it was a bit nippy. Probably in the teens, in fahrenheit, and not even in the low teens yet. But I had to zip up the whole coat. This is not a heavy coat, more like a light winter, or 3 season, coat. Time, maybe, to finally get out the winter gear.

I had told everyone I was going to buy a snowmobile. But, they are very expensive here, and I'm afraid I can't pull myself over the cost barrier. I'm seriously considering buying one in the states and shipping it here. It could be cheaper than buying here. Originally I estimated that they were getting a 50% premium over US prices, but now I think it is more like 100%. Which is nuts. I mean, we aren't talking an investment. We are talking about a vehicle, like a car, which is never an investment - it must be considered a toy. You ain't gonna get nothin out of it when you leave it behind. At best I can hope to cover some of the expense. Now maybe this isn't quite true, I may be able to loan out the snowmobile for "gas money" and even make more than my payments, but I don't really expect to be able to make a profit, and I don't think I should plan on one. So I'm changing my strategy, and I'm going to check out the cheap end of the market. I'm having one of our translators, a young Russian fella who has spent a lot of time in the States, check out what the cheap market options are.

I've mentioned the wine I can get at the stores before. It is harder to get decent wine out here at the camp - coz you have to go to Chelyabinsk. Chumlyak has some wines, but they are even cheaper than I consider very drinkable. They are only drinkable when there is no other choice. Altho they aren't UNdrinkable. But I have generally had some interesting choices. From the good ones, I've saved a couple labels and scanned them in. One is a Spanish wine - from Santa Cruz, no less, a Valdepenas. It was nice and dry, with a slight dustiness in the mouth. Excellent. The other is Russian, but I'm not sure if it is from Georgia or Moldovia or another province. Not quite as rich as the Spanish Valdepenas, but nicely dusty in the mouth, with good flavor. I often look for merlot here, since this is usually a dry wine, but often here it is bottled as semi-sweet, and tastes as though sugar was added to give it sweetness. Each new bottle is an adventure and a gamble. Some work, some don't.


Thursday, November 3, 2005

Guess what?? It is still fall.

It snowed. The snow was on the ground. It melted. The ground was bare. It snowed. The snow was on the ground. It melted. The ground was bare. Which brings us up to today. Is it winter? or is it still Fall? I don't know.

What I know is this: dusk and dawn are long, drawn-out affairs. The sun may sink rapidly, but it stays light long after sundown. Looonnnng. The temperature is hovering around freezing. Daytime it is over, night-time it is just below - but the creeks, rivers, and marshes are freezing over. The roads are clear, but the shoulders are muddy. Since the roads are not very wide, and they are made more narrow by not being particularly useable, the muddiness of the shoulders greatly reduces the useability of the road. Greatly.

Last night we had a camp poker group. I was on my way somewhere else - to make a business conference call - and saw the game operating. I thought, "wow, great idea". As soon as the conference call was done, I went back to the poker table. Great. 500 ruble buyin. Great, perfect. I get in the game. Now, it is a typical "home" poker setup - lots of really stupid variable games. Hell, man, I don't give a good goddamn. I buy my chips and sit in. Enough cards go my way, and I fold often enough - that I end up 1k rubles ahead. Sweet. What was really great, tho, was that I could drop my worries, and have a good time, with the crew. Excellent, or aklithchna as we say over here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Snow? No snow now!

So a couple of days after it snowed? It warmed up and melted, then rained, and then warmed up, and the roads dried off. Good. Now the roads are clear. That last business came down too soon, and the roads were not good. Today it is still clear, but close to freezing, and the ground is finally having a little time to freeze so that maybe the next snow won't be such a mess on the roads. The water tanks for cleaning workboots outside the offices had a thin crust of ice at 5 this evening. And so did the puddles. I was a bit surprised, because it was sunny, and the air felt warm to me - I had my window open for quite a bit of the day. It was nice out.

I saw a chickadee yesterday - but not an American one. This one was slightly larger and had black on its breast - like a vest. Still had the black cap - definitely a chickadee of some variety. Quite cute, actually. About wren size.

The weather says it might snow again tonight. It says "slushy" accumulation, but I hope they are wrong. Let's hope for good conditions!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hello winter.

Yesterday it did get above freezing, and the snow melted a bit, but it started snowing again yesterday evening. Last night it chilled down again, and this morning it looks like winter. Grey and white. Hello winter.

There are a few inches of accumulation - the ground is covered, and the roads are ugly. The temp this morning - at 10:20, is -1 C. I think it's here to stay. So winter starts about a month and maybe 5 weeks before we figure on winter starting in the upper peninsula of Michigan. If I recall correctly.

I don't think there will be any more bike riding for a while. Sure I could ride in the snow - no problem for me, but the cars would have a hard time passing, and that would just be too dangerous.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I think it's real snow now.

Last night it started snowing for real, and this morning there is 3 or 4 inches on the ground. The weather forecast says it will warm up still today, and that later next week it will be above freezing and it will rain. I say "Ok, if you say so!" This is the first winter weather we have seen.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

First snow

We got our first snow last night, but it is no more than a salting on the ground. It is soon gone during the day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Entered Tuesday, October 18, 2005 11:26:55 PM

1128 (AM, Shchuch'ye time; PDT 2228, Monday, Oct 17)
Landfall. We are crossing over the North Sea or somewhere up there by Scotland, Norway, and Finland. I see islands and isthmuses, and lots of water still, so it must be Scandinavia.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 11:26:55 PM; PDT 1026, Tuesday, Oct 18
Arrived camp about 2 hours ago. So, there ya go. It is 10 AM on the Central Coast, so that is 0230 on Monday, thru let's say 0730 on Tuesday. 24 hours of travel time, or actually, 27 hours, 'cause I'm counting driving on each end, not just one end. Arrived in Moscow in the late AM local time, depart there about 3 PM local. Two and a half hour flight to Chelyabinsk, wait for the luggage, and then we drive to the camp - another 2 hours. It is around 9 PM as we pass through Chumlyak, and the magazines (stores) are closed.

Inflight report

Monday, October 17, 2005 7:32:28 PM (Shchuch'ye time) (PDT 0632, Monday, Oct 17)
Well, well, well. On my way back to Russia.
On my way back, and glad to be so. I am looking forward to the challenge at work.

2:27:55 AM (Tuesday, October 18, 2005) (This would be 1:27 PM Monday Santa Cruz time)
Except it's not 2:27 in the A (cough) M. Body clock reads about noon, current time zone reads 14:27. I am going to see us fly out over the east coast today, halle-lujah. This should be fun. I will be going into fall weather. I'm actually looking forward to the winter. It will be an adventure. I need to remember that positive attitude.

The time scoop: Got my butt up just after 2 in the O-dark-hundred. Lazed around for another 10 or fifteen minutes, then we got up. I brushed my teeth, brushed Alpha, got dressed, took the bags downstairs, then out to the car. Sz cooked a breakfast burro, and made a p-nut butter sandwich. And coffee. Then she had to "get ready". We were a bit late out the gate - about 20 minutes, I guess. Since I planned a little slop time in the drive time, that covered us. We arrived at the front of the terminal about 5:10 or 5:15, just 2 hours and a few minutes prior. Perfect. No lines to speak of, good there too. I say no lines, but that is relative. There were still 10 or 20 ppl in front of me, and it took a good 40 or 45 minutes to get to the counter. Bless me, that counter is a worse problem in SFO than security. Security lines only took me about 5 minutes.

Arrive ATL at 1445 local or thereabouts. Scheduled departure 1525. Gate is just a block down the terminal - pretty close for ATL. So, cool, I grab some chocolate as an antidepressant, have a couple nibbles, and sit down next to a plug. Plug in this box, and type away.

So, let me figger it out. Sleep adjustment and thyroid pills adjustments. Flying time is 10 hours, but I need to compress a night into that time. Either that or stay up the whole time. 'Coz I'm gonna get in at night - and I want it to be night. Got lots to do.

3:12:33 AM (PDT 1412, Monday, Oct 17)
We are taking the northern circle route. Heading northeast by north up the eastern seaboard before we go out to sea. Over Virginia now. I'm a little disappointed, I expected to head out to sea sooner, and I don't think the Atlantic on the northern seaboard is quite as pretty as that along the southern coastline. Prejudice, hehe!

Oh, and the movie is in russian again. Damn.

I can see the Delmarva peninsula. Cool. O, and the movie is in English on the other channel.

There she is - the Atlantic-O. Be-A-U-ti-full. We are gliding to the northeast as we move northwards, and the coast is slowly moving from our right to our left.

4:32:18 AM (PDT 1532, Monday, Oct 17)
We leave the coast for the Atlantic by Nag's Head / Martha's Vineyard. A little 'down east' of the Gulf current, eh?

7:31:31 AM (PDT 1831, Monday, Oct 17)
It's morning in Shchuch'ye. Good morning. Off to starboard I see . . . stars! Orion hangs there, as big as life, so to speak, 3/4 of the way over the horizon - one major star of his lower kilt is below the horizon. The moon is bright, the land is . . . not. There has been only a cloud bank visible below since we began to cross the Atlantic. I'm up and getting on Shchuch'ye time, I guess. Good on me! I eat the last of the chicken legs and peanut butter sandwich for a breakfast. I guess I've screwed up the shift timing on the thyroid. I should have compressed it - and I stretched it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I got lots of questions about the length of the days (nights) in Russia now, and about how cold was it yet. The equinox was just a couple weeks ago (around September 22) - when the day and nights were an equal 12 hours each. Today, just over three weeks later, we see that while Aromas got 11:16 hours of light, Chelyabinsk got 10:21. Not that much different yet, but we can certainly see that daylight is leaving Chelyabinsk more rapidly than Aromas! In 3 weeks, Aromas only lost 45 minutes of day, but Chelyabinsk lost 1:40. Since Chelyabinsk will only have about 4-6 hours of daylight on the shortest day (sometime around Dec. 22), this makes sense.
Aromas Weather:
Temperature: 53.4°F Pressure: 30.05"
Average Wind: 0mph NW Sunrise: 7:14 AM
Humidity: 100% Sunset: 6:30 PM
Dew Point: 53°F Wind Chill: 53°F
Monthly Rain: 0.04"
Chelyabinsk Weather:
High: 12° Low: 1°
Feels Like: 12° Dewpoint: 5°
Barometer: Wind: N 6 kph
Humidity: 62% Sunrise: 9:24 am
Visibility: 6 km Sunset: 7:55 pm

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Back home for a few days. After a few days of hard work in Moscow, and an incredibly long ride home on the airplanes, I am home for a spell. In a short time I will be heading back. This is a good thing, I haven't had my fill of adventure yet. So it is good to be home, and it will be good to go back.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Walking in Moscow again

If you don't like to walk, Moscow won't like you. This city has no tolerance for people who can't walk. If you don't want to walk, you can do it, but I think it will be very expensive - taxis, or your own car and parking. Sure the metro is unbeatable, the buses are great, but how about walking to the metro or bus stop? Or to the corner grocery that is two blocks away? Or up and down the stairs everywhere. This city likes to keep its citizens in good shape.

I thought I was getting better shape, but my feet and legs had forgotten what a punishment this pavement is! Ow.

Huffing and puffing, yours truly, Mark.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

chapter 2

In Moscow again. Almost feels like home in comparison. Spent the night in Chelyabinsk. That is a dirty city - nasty and ugly. The buildings have the same appearance as other cities in the former Soviet that I've seen. Remarkably similar. It is the air pollution and the noise pollution that make it so bad. The air is ugly all the time. I have seen worse smog, but on a regular basis, day in and day out, every time I have been here it has been there. Even at 5:30 this morning - a Sunday, it was hanging like a dark fog, visible in the light from buildings and streetlamps. The worst part of this is that the Russians seem to have an extreme case of "country mouse - city mouse", and the city mice do NOT think well of the country. Which is entirely a shame, because they have a beautiful countryside, with clean air and towns that are readily available by rail. I think that this prejudice may have an economic impact, as it seems to reduce the support that rural infrastructure gets. I'm sure there were analyses of the economic impact of rural electrification in the US. Wonder what they told us. But the point was that they would rather live in Chelyabinsk, in its ugly glory, than in Shchuch'ye in its glorious helplessness. It's a pity.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Heading home - chapter one

Saturday, October 01, 2005 11:08:22 AM

Well. This morning was an adventure. Here was the agenda: ride the train from Shchuch'ye to Chelyabinsk. I had it all planned out. I went to Shchuch'ye a couple weeks past to find the train station and get the schedule. There were several trains running each way - about one every hour and a half. Ok, so today I get there, and sit and get ready to wait. The van driver comes in to make sure I'm able to get my ticket and the ticket lady tells him that the train isn't running to Chelyabinsk - or something. I don't know what is being said, but it involves words I don't know, and it doesn't sound like things are going according to plan. The driver is great. He points to the rail map on the wall, and shows me that the only train to Chelyabinsk is running from 3 stops downline. I could take the train I was getting on. Stop at this other town for 20 minutes, and take another train to get to Chelyabinsk. Now, I could do that, but this is not fitting the plan, and I've got my luggage with, and this could be a real bitch. If I get stuck in Podunk here I am really stuck.

So after much figuring and talking and guessing at what each other means, and the driver talking to the locals to get the page two of the story, we finally call the camp and get a little translation help. The connection is awful, so that doesn't help much, but I do decide to just hang it, and head back to the camp. Part of why I am doing this is so other people could do this, and nobody at the camp would take two trains except for perhaps Rich Verrecka. And he's crazy enough to do most anything.

The driver did get that the next train would run at 3:30 PM. So we will try again then. I could take the bus at 5, but that's not the point. The point is to take the train and check it out. So onward.

I finally get on the train at 315 PM. It doesnt even stop for two minutes before moving on. Once it does get going, it doesnt get much speed up when moving either. Perhaps 30 or40 mph, sometimes slower.
The car is wide - wider than American trains. Tbe seats - benches, really, but with a little padding, are roomy. Plenty of room to stretch out. These cars are not new, tney arent old either. The seats and ihterior are in good repair and clean. There aren't many passengers, so it will be a comfortable ride.

As the train nears Chelyabinsk, the cars fill up. It is still comfortable, even when we are sitting 3 to a side - with one fat man in the middle. There is still room enough. The air does get a little thicker, as many of the riders are blue-collar, but it is no more than marginally a nuisance.

We make good time to the outskirts of Chelyabinsk - arriving at the first landmark within an hour, and at the first Chelyabinsk station within an hour and fifteen minutes. However, it takes another 45 minutes to travel to the main voksal (train station). That blows any time advantage from the train. Still, it is safer, and more comfortable, than the buses. And, there is the possibility that if you scoped out the first station, that you could get transport from there, and make a more efficient connection. That last little distance was just unreasonable. The first station is much smaller - not really much of a station at all - but the time makes it worth looking in to. So later, y'all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How's the weather?

> What is the weather like this time of the year?>

Absolutely marvelous, just recently had a couple of mornings with light frost on the grass. Still getting warm during the days, mostly clear and plenty of sunshine and fresh air. The days are getting shorter - I think we just passed the equinox. Nights are brilliant with the moon and stars. The birch are turning yellow, but not so brightly as fall in the US.

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.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Clock

Just want to post a picture of my clock. The connex is so bad I've tried this several times and failed, but for some reason I'm getting thru now - so here goes.

5 minutes later:

Nope, not this time.

30 minutes later. I guess I got it after all.

Babuleta - Woman's summer

They call it babuleta - or something like that. It's hard getting the pronunciation right in the Roman alphabet. The vowels move differently. It's what we call Indian summer in the States. It's wonderful weather, clear, warm, and mild.

I rode my bike into Shchuch'ye yesterday. About 29 miles round trip, although I could have done it in 25 if I had ridden straight and not explored. It's a nice little town. Not very organized, things are kind of scattered around here and there. I went to the train station to get the schedule. Stopped at a store. Stopped again in Chumlyak to get some wine. I actually had a small talk conversation of two whole sentences with the storekeeper. "This weather. Woman's summer?" She corrects my pronunciation - I go "Da, da." Then I tell her it is good. It's a start.

The telephone and internet communications at the camp are having trouble. I really don't think it has to be this bad. I really think there must be something our IT people could do about this - IF they wanted to. I think the biggest problem is that they don't care to do anything. Very low level of responsiveness.



Thursday, September 8, 2005

I have not been sleeping well. I wake up around 4 and don't really manage to get back to sleep. I imagine part of it is just not having anyone to sleep with.
Dawn - and sunset - take a very long time here. When the sun actually comes over the horizon, it seems to take no longer than anywhere, but the pre-dawn light, the early morning period, and then the pre-sunset dusk take a very long time. All part of the latitude.
I'm not sure what to make of life at the camp. I don't like being stuck in the camp, but I knew I wouldn't. I'm learning a few words, so I can get things at the store, but I can manage little besides other than saying "Good morning". The atmosphere at the camp is pretty much what I had calculated - like a dorm. A cushy dorm, but still a dorm. I've never really fit into that environment. I do better now that I have more patience and tolerance (comes with age, eh?). And, I have a couple comforts of home - my bicycle, and the clock. Speaking of my bicycle, I rode to work yesterday. Five point 32 kilometers one way. That's just about 3 and a third miles. Perfectamundo. If I ride into the village after, it makes an 8 or 10 mile day. Perfectamundo. I was really worried about the last kilometre of roadway into the site. It is paved with huge concrete blocks. They aren't blocks as in bricks, large or otherwise, but blocks that are 4 or 5 feet wide by 10 to 15 feet long. The roadway is constructed of 3 of these blocks laid lengthwise side by side to form the roadway span. I am told that they put down a good underlayment to support and drain from under the blocks. It seems a cheap and durable way to construct a road quickly. However, when driving down it in a car, it becomes a corduroy nightmare, reducing speed, and seemingly threatening tire damage. Pa-chunk pa-chunk pa-chunk pa-chunk driving that last kilometer. I was very concerned about riding a bicycle on this section, thinking that it would be even harder on my bike. And, it certainly has that potential, but in reality the blocks are laid closely together, and it is no worse than some concrete roadways I've ridden on. The last sections by the guard gate are bad though, as at this point there are 6" gaps between the blocks. It requires a careful weaving from block to block on my road bike. On a mountain bike it would be next to nothing.

The weather is still warm, with cool nights, but I don't think it's gotten below 40. Some of the fields have been plowed and replanted. We don't know whether this is a winter wheat, or just a fallow crop. We see flocks of geese feeding in the fields in the distance. They must be huge birds. They are so far away I cannot see them clearly, but they are grey. They are so big I think they must look like emus up close!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

On visas and immigration cards

On keeping track of passports and registrations. When I started this, one purpose was too leave a little more knowledge behind of what to expect over here. We've already covered the economic part - this is no longer the Russia of the Soviet era stereotype. Goods are widely available. Wages are still very low, but there is plenty of business being done. Levis don't sell for 4 times their US value, and a pack of Marlboros won't get you a ride anywhere in town any more. Now on to passports and registrations. You've got to have a visa to get here, and the government takes visas and all very seriously. On the other hand, customs was much less vigilant coming in than I would have expected in the US. Copies of your passport and visa: just have a couple copies available in your luggage, in your purse, etc. If you lose your passport, or have to give to someone to process the various permissions you may need, then you still have some proof of who you are and what you are doing.

You have to have an immigrant registration card in addition to your visa on entering the country, and you keep it with you at all times. It's like the US I-94 (?), but they are more stringent. You also have to register your location at all times. This gets stamped on your registration card, or sometimes your visa. Getting it stamped on your registration card is better, but I wouldn't try to communicate this when I don't speak the language. You have 72 hours in any location grace period. After that you had better be registered. Big fines if somebody requests ID and you're not right. Any time you leave the country, your immigration card and registration are automatically kaput, and you need to start anew on returning. It's really pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

For normal tourists the next won't apply, but if you are here on business, things get stickier. For instance, I need a special ID for the camp I live in, as it is administered or protected by the Russian Fed govt. I also have to have another ID for the office here, because it is in a restricted installation. Always ask. More often than not I haven't been fully updated about what I need to do until after I have already done it. Regular expats take it all for granted, or they forget, etc. etc. blah blah blah. So anyway, I brought extra passport photos, and when those ran out, I got some more extra, just to be helpful if it was required. That may be the smallest thing you could do, but it has come in handy once anyway.

Something not often noted is that you can register your location with the US consular service as well, via an internet site. This may prove helpful in an emergency. It is also a good thing to watch for the traveler's advisories about fraud, etc. You'll get some tips on the types of crimes to be watchful for. You may have read my earlier post about the change bank "quick count". Other visitors have been reporting other types of crimes at various times. There was a lot of credit card ripoffs a couple of years ago. I don't know if they are still happening, but it seemed like the reports I saw were mostly about 2 years old. So maybe that gang moved on or got busted or something. Who knows? I'm still more cautious than in the US about which ATMs I use and how well I hide my PIN input. For anyone who wants to think I'm stereotyping or whitewashing - whichever, I'm more cautious in the US for violent crime. I haven't gotten the vibes for that as much here. But don't take my word for it, just follow the advice travel experts always say - when you don't speak the language or know the customs you are a target for certain types of crime. Anywhere. Cheers!

Chelyabinsk shopping observations

We went to Chelyabinsk shopping today. Nice experience. First thing I will say is that you can smell some air pollution, but it is worse in or near the streets (vehicular pollution). This is one reason why the town smelled to me when I first passed through. When you're driving through town you are always on the street. The air is still not pristine though. On returning to the camp the difference is noticeable to me - although I will admit I think I am sensitive to this.

The city itself is pretty in spots. It doesn't look poor, but it is not in the best of repair either. It seems far more rural than a city of 1 million people would in the US or Canada. In this regard it fits the pattern I have seen here. The affluence is still too new to have acquired the automobile flavor of other cities of the same size in other first world countries. The city fits the pattern of economic growth and activity I saw in Moscow, although slightly more subdued. The economy wasn't just Moscow.

On returning to Chumlak I again notice more details, and the town seems less 3rd world than unindustrialized European. I can see large brick buildings that appear abandoned or disused. They have a similar appearance to farm structures I've seen in the US. I wonder if they were farm structures not so long ago. This would fit with appearances to me. Although I could really be off on this, a scenario where this village is on the upswing, but went through some bad times recently would fit to my way of looking. It could have been that there was a larger farm operation here in the Soviet era, but at some point it shut down. Now changes have grown into place a little, and the economy is swinging up. Everywhere I've been things seem like that. I don't see desperation - not riches either, but not rags.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Gdye magazin?

Where is the store? "Gdye magazin?"

I walk to the town tonite. The weather is absolutely beautiful. Couldn't be better. On the way I notice some rain clouds coming in waves though. It is so flat I see them from eons away. Some of them coming look quite black and widespread, so I'm thinking I have made a mistake in not bringing my umbrella. It is still beautiful. The walk seems longer than 2 kilometres to town. It's quite probably not. It takes me about a half hour to walk in to town. At 4 mph, that would be about 1.75 kilometres. It is much more comfortable than walking on the city pavement - as I spend most of my walking time on the roadside. It is hard gravel, but this is softer than pavement.

It is a village - about 1k population they say, but the actual village center would surprise me if it held 500. Close up it does not look quite so "shacktown" as it does driving through fast. Walking you can see the lumber and work involved. There is still plenty of patchwork using, ahem, cough, "available materials". I walk in to town, and say hello to a babushka walking towards the street. I ask her where the market is. She understands my pronunciation of market, so she points. It could have been less obvious I suppose, but I don't know how. It was a half block up and on the main street, with a half dozen or so people out front.
Four of those people out front are babushkas selling a little produce - almost certainly that they have grown. No fruit, just veggies, and I am more than a little shy, so I head inside to the store. Once inside, I enter a decent sized room with shelves of products behind a counter that forms a u shape for 3 of the room's walls. The fourth wall is the front of the store - windows. I look at their products, and start to puzzle through some things and check out what they have. Pretty basic stuff. There are two counter ladies. The blond one addresses me in Russian asking "what" something. I say "one minute" in Russian, and she is cool with that. I browse a bit more, find what I think is bleach, smoked turkey legs, cheese, yogurt, beer, wine and bread. I point to some things, and use the PDA to translate for me on bleach. She points to the bottle I had thot it would be. She motions something that looks like scrubbing clothes while talking, and one of the words sounds something like "disinfect" so I go with it and say "Da, da". The turkey and cheese I just point too. We have a foreigner's crippled conversation over the beer. I find the word for dark, she lights up 'o yeah', but looks and says, of all things "nada". Now what the heck is "nada" doing in Russian? Don't ask me, and I can't find anything like it in the ru-en dictionary.

So I buy some stuff that she says is not beer, but something else, but looks like beer, and everybody is buying quarts like it was beer, and it is what they've got, so I buy a quart. And I buy a bottle of Moldovan Merlot for a 100 rubles (sto rublay). Cheap cheap! I will see who has gotten the best of this bargain soon enuff. I don't do to badly, spending only about 500 rubles, about 17 $$.

On the way back I realize that I am once again lucky, and have missed the rain almost completely. I haven't seen a single stick to pick up and play sticks with, but about halfway I do find a metal bar that probably belonged to one of the trucks that come by frequently. I pick it up and decide it will be good for stick play. I take it with. My little bag - my NY courier bag style book bag, made by Globe courier bag company, is stuffed with groceries and supplies. I bought a kilo of red apples at 29 rubles for the kilo. Not bad.

I get back 5 minutes before the dining room closes for dinner, put my stuff in the fridge, and hurry down to dinner. I make it with a couple minutes to spare, and I am hungry as a Sara-hound.

After dinner I open the wine. On opening, it is a bit harsh, but after airing for a bit, it is quite palatable. A tad dry and dusty, but with nice flavor, and quite drinkable. I guess I got the bargain.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Shchuch'ye at last.

Arrived at the camp yesterday. The drive from Chelyabinsk is quite long. Chelyabinsk is dead flat. I'm told the Urals are an hour east, but this is considered by the locals to be in the Ural region. As we drive out I am reminded of nothing more than the north woods country. Large farm fields are broken by woods of poplar, birch, and evergreens. The land is flat, like Wisconsin and Minnesota, the highways stretch out straight and long. We do not actually drive through Shchuch'ye before we turn off on a road to go to the camp. We pass through the village of Chumlyak just before getting to the camp. The villages, including Chumlyak, that we have passed through are a jumble-pot of weatherbeaten wood structures. They are in various stages of repair/disrepair, some with the functional patches of corrugated tin or other "collected" material to keep them operational. The appearance is somewhat 3rd world. I don't get the impression of hard poverty that I've seen in the third world though. This is more like an arrested development - as though the village was frozen into economic times of 50 or 100 years ago. Some of the houses are obviously better off, well and prettily painted. So you have a complete economic range - but not to the standards I'm used to.

So far, this is pretty much what I read would be found here. I see the occasional newer building - a concrete block "cafe" for one. As we pass the turnoff to Shchuch'ye, we can see a couple of multistory apartment-type buildings, maybe 4, perhaps 5 stories in height. These are being constructed as housing for the construction crews. We pass a new 2 or 3 story school constructed for the village by my company. The primitiveness of the villages is a little disappointing. I see more shacky-town structures than I would like to.

On the other hand, I also see enterprising citizens selling some small amounts of produce and stuff on the side of the main road. This is a good sign.

At the camp the folks are very pleasant and social. My room is just what I expected - a dormitory type single occupancy. Essentially the size of a decent hotel room with cabinetry and furniture designed for living there longer than one night. Cupboards, closet space, desk area, mini-fridge, etc. The bed is fine - mattress on a flat surface support. I've had a similar setup at most of the places I've stayed here - instead of a box-spring American style, the mattress sits on a solid wooden platform. The bed frame is otherwise similar in appearance to bed frames we are used to. I love it - I like my bed firm, and I've been convinced for years that firm beds are better for you, so I'm happy on this score. It is great to unpack as though I'm going to stay for a while. I'm a bit bored of living out of my suitcase.

I don't have the promised internet connection. I am upset with this. There is an internet room as a makeshift measure, but this will not do. They had a sattelite connection, I'm told, but had technical problems - so they are waiting for optic cable installation, perhaps in October. Phuh.

The food in the cafeteria is quite good. It may well represent a problem with getting my weight down. On the other hand, you can't take food out of the cafeteria. You can't cook in your room (not that I had expected to). They have a little store, but all I see are quick-stop store junk offerings. They provide box lunches for the office, but they are box lunches. Gag me, one piece of fruit, some cold cuts, some offerings of bread.

However, it is quite apparent to me that some things will not fly. The fruit is one example. I am going to have to find a way to buy fresh fruit. They have regular rides into Chelyabinsk, but I'm not about to spend all day once a week just to go shopping for the week. The driver speaks less English than the drivers in Moscow, so asking for anything different is not part of the equation there. Can't just make a quick stop somewhere. I'll need some fresh bread, yogurt, and other stuff.

The camp is offering Russian language classes. Marvelous. I'll do that.

I take the day and do mostly nothing - and enjoy it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Toilet paper

Toilet paper

I have failed to mention this, but this is a funny one. For those of you who are attached to your super-soft American toilet paper, don't come to Russia. I have seen nothing but a hard paper version, similar to once could be found in public restrooms. (Ahem) Tough stuff. Now, the nice part of this is that I don't like American toilet tissue any more. It is now so soft that it is fragile, and tears when I try to use it. Blow your nose? Phew, goes right through. In Warsaw the hotel has a product that is a little nicer version of the hard paper common in Russia. A better compromise between soft (and useless), and hard (and harsh).

Observations on Warsaw

I finally made it somewhere. Once again, the unexpected has cropped up in my every move. I have just been the 'lucky' one with all this. I'm quite tired of the excitement, strangeness, and hassle.

Thursday night I met the other American who flew over for the same visa renewal and we go to the "Old town" to walk and have dinner. This is different from Russia, for sure. The people are different, the weather is different, the culture is different, the clothes are different. Of course weather is just that, and changes all the time - and has changed from Moscow to here. Moscow was still pretty warm - and finally looked to get some showers to clean things up. Here it is cool - jacket weather, and definitely showering. The umbrella is the thing - and I put on a t-shirt under my dress shirt, as my jacket is packed in my bike bag and unreachable! The air is very fall-like.

We swap observations while walking, and eventually find a spot that seems attractive enough to both of us. It's a bit hard, as it often seems to be among expats going for dinner. Nobody wants to quite say "This is the spot". A number of reasons for that I suppose. Part of it is a lack of hunger - we just aren't that hungry. Part of it is the unknown factor for the restaurants - which ones are any good, and which will we enjoy. Part of it is a desire to get along and defer the choice to someone else - trying to get a feel for the other person. So deciding on a dinner restaurant can take a little longer than usual.

He has been to Germany before, so has some interesting views of Warsaw. It is also his first time to Warsaw. He sees a similarity here to both places - Germany and Russia. He has spent no time in Moscow, though, so his Russian viewpoint is different from mine. Very soon we will start Chapter two of my Russian adventure - "Away from Moscow". The other American's view of the economy is different from my view from Moscow. This fits with what I've heard from the locals - things are different in the country - and most of Russia is "in the country". Moscow is different, but I hope not too different.

Back to Warsaw, though. We are hoteled on something akin to an "Embassy Row", close to "Old town". The latter is a major tourist attraction. They rebuilt major parts of the old town that was destroyed in WW2, trying to maintain the same flavor. Shades of Memphis, Santa Fe, and Seattle. My viewpoint is colored because I'm in a "good" section of town, but there are still some general observations I can make. My American friend feels more comfortable here - he says it is more like home (States). I think in some ways he is right, but in some ways it is less like the States to me. I feel more different here than in Moscow. Fewer people I deal with speak English, even though I find more of the general populace that speaks English. More speak German. The clothing styles are more different from Americans, and I stand out more - even dressed as innocously as I am, in white button-down shirt and chinos. However, as for Warsaw, I feel like I stand out more as a tourist here than I do dressed the same way in Russia. The locals pick me out more readily, and I can pick out differences in ways local males dress themselves from Americans.

Now (chuckle, chuckle) this would be quite the opposite for American women. They stand out like a sore thumb in Russia, but you would be gambling to pick them out here. This is because the Russian women do have a general style of dressing which is both specific and different from other countries. More high heels, fewer flats, tight shirts or tops that reveal a little midriff, low-waisted pants (hip-huggers), and tighter skirts are the norm here. American women dress in much more masculine styles. Women from other EU countries fall in various other middle grounds. The one thing that is almost always true tho, is that a woman with the midriff revealing tight top and heels will be Russian. I've seen few tourist women adopting these styles.

I've also seen no tourists wearing the pointy Italian shoes for either sex. Some Italian tourists are an exception here, but no tourists seem to wear the pointy shoes. The toes on these shoe may be so long they curl up, like a picture of an 1840's dandy in the US, where at one time young men would sit with the toes of their shoes jammed against a wall so as to make the toes of the shoe curl upward permanently.

Automobiles too, are more a commonality than a difference. The market here is again international. The models are slightly different, and some of the automobile choices are a little different, but more are the same than not, except for the absence of monster SUVs and pickups. Thank you very much.

But, some things are also now apparent. I have been observing this in Moscow, but now it is quite apparent that clothing and styles are now international. Clothing and styles of dressing are far less useful as giveaway details than they were 20 years ago. It is obvious that the same factory is making shirts for Columbia in the States as well as somebody else in Russia. Getting around Warsaw, this is obvious. Local in-country clothing manufacturing is a thing of the past - except for high end stuff, which is also international. I see some difference in styles of dressing, but not so much as I would have seen 20 years ago. In Moscow, it is so universal and international that it is difficult to tell the French and British tourists from the American tourists or the local populace.

Warsaw is only 2 million people, smaller than Moscow by a good margin. Yet the traffic is much heavier, and the automobile infrastructure much more developed. The pollution strikes me as being more prevalent as well. I can taste it in the air, even tho the weather is rainy and windy. Such weather should be clearing the pollution. I am sure it is, but if my tongue and my nose are a measure, the pollution is worse here than Moscow. That may well not be true in a few years, with the rate at which Moscow is growing.

I see street marketers here - just like in Moscow and like I remember in London. The stores and businesses appear healthy, and quite a bit more mature than in Moscow. Perhaps 5 years, or 15 years ahead of where Moscow will be.

In both places it is hard to believe how much has changed since the times of the communists. In so many ways it is almost as it that was just a dream or a nightmare of the past. As a matter of fact, this may present a difficulty in the future for the Russian Federation, as there has been no self-analyzing or self-chastisement such as occured for Germany after WW2. This means that the Communist past may well be remembered more and more romantically by the Russian population. Since at least the Muscovites are operating in what seems to me to be something of a "wild west" atmosphere - where the law has limited impact - this could lead to a politically restrictive change. Actually, I am sure that the law will become more restricted, and this can be good, but it also might not be. It is very dependent on how it all comes about. The wide-openness of the marketplaces is a good thing. The wide-openness of the range of public behavior is not. Many people are upset over incidents of what looks to me like hooliganism. There is also bad feeling about various different ethnic groups coming in and working. If the markets or particular ethnic groups get restricted, this will lead to a
future with a smaller and less successful economy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Finally going somewhere

Between one thing and another my plans changed about five times in the last week or so. The decision was made to go to Warsaw for visa renewal before going to the site.

I've managed to spend the morning packing the clock. Found a computer box big enough, cut the styro to fit, and packed it all in well.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Shopping again, last go-round

Today may be my last weekend day in Moscow. I am finally getting "on my feet", so the timing could be worse, I suppose, I just can't think how. Since it may be my last opportunity before returning to the US, I went shopping and bought a bunch of stuff. I bought myself a winter fur hat for one. Fox is what the man said it was. Pretty nice fur, and the hat is HUGE! Should be warm when it's cold. As I was shopping and looking for stuff for Graeme and Suzanne, I saw something that caught my fancy. More than caught, it was something I've loved for years and years - a bloody mechanical clock. Wooden case, you know, very traditional, not really a big deal, but you can't get 'em new unless you spend a bundle. Nobody makes windups anymore. So this wall clock is hanging there, and I like it, and the man says $50. I practically choke and shit at the same time. If it works, this is an extraordinary value - the clock is an antique. It wasn't a great one, just a plain one, but it was probably manufactured before 1940. The vendor tells me 1936. I wouldn't really know. The works appear on quick examination to work, so I close the deal. OMG, what am I going to do with this thing for a year? If I keep it in the dorm in Shchuch'ye, my neighbors may end up killing me (bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, ad nauseum). So I'm carrying this clock - a full 2 feet high plus and inch or so - all through the market. It has beveled crystal with leading for the bottom window, and a wood that looks a lot like oak as the primary case. The actual works frame is a darker hardwood - haven't the foggiest what it could be. But to me it is beautiful. I'll come back to this clock - after I get around to getting back to my apartment, and we see what it actually can - or can't - do.

I shopped amber, I shopped jewelry (stones from Kazakhstan), I shopped tablecloths - Russian linen, and I shopped chess sets. On the way I also saw figurines - little metal dojobbers like you could do panoramas with. I saw exactly one set of these that were antiques, could o' been from the fifties or earlier. Not later than the fifties, I'm sure of that. They were like some I had and loved when I was a kid. I thought of buying them for Graeme, but no, they are fragile. There was a cannon - and the wheels would get broken for sure. It's just amazin' that this set was still in one piece, and if I were an antique buyer with regular shipments, I would have bought the set. They would have surely gone for at least twice what I could bargain 'em for here. But, the shipping, and only one item, and I don't know my arse from a hole in the ground for antiques? Naw, fahgetaboudit. Go have a beer and enuff of the pipe dreams.

I end up pricing linen all over the market, and discovered not much difference in prices. And, not much flexibility. Ok, no problem, that just tells me the merchants are being fair. In the merchant stalls I see at least 3 or 4 nationalities regularly. Some of them are prone to asking twice the "fair" price and bargaining quickly. Some of them go the "Saturn" route - offer a fair price and stick to it. The preface is often "This is my first price". Then you get to offer the "2nd" price. This is the most difficult stage for me - I usually have no desire to spend half of what they are asking, and I also do not wish to insult these merchants. But when the merchant tells you this hockey jersey will be $70! Well, even if it were $30 I wouldn't buy it! I am not in the market for a $70 hockey jersey, unless the hockey god was signing it in person right in front of my very own eyes, by gaw! And even then I would have to know who the "f" the hockey god was! So, you see, it's kinda hard, for me, to break off when the merchant is bustin' his butt to make a sale. I always forget that its not personal. I mean, 30 seconds, and they've established a relationship! Fred would probably have a gas here! (Fred, r u listening?). For all you other folks, Fred was my mentor on sales relationships, and as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to that subject, is one of the most expert people in the whole goldarned world.

Me? I want to shop a whole bunch of stalls until I feel comfortable that I am asking, and being asked, a fair price.

Amber was way too expensive. Military goods were way too expensive. Now, don't get me wrong, they weren't expensive compared to anywhere else, but I just wasn't ready to spend $100 on an amber necklace (that might not be amber), or $50 on a gyenuwine Soviet military belt. Now, as for the military belts, I can guess that the ones I saw were genuine. The leather was the right age, the brass had all the appearance of being genuine, etc. etc. But $50? For a present for a relative whom I didn't have the FAINTEST idea if they would like it or not? Give me a break. It was like the hockey jersey, which was a present for the same relative. WAY too expensive for a gift that I didn't know would go over well.

I spend about 6 or 8 hours shopping, and I'm sure I've gotten the best price on most items when I leave. I take the metro home with all my bags and my clock. Yes, it is kinda in the way. I know the stops I need in Cyrillic now. I'm even starting to have some recognition value with the Cyrillic spelling. Of course, dear reader, to understand what that means, you must realize that Russian spelling is, by and large, phonetic. Not entirely, but mostly. The Cyrillic alphabet is only a few hundred years old, and was invented by Peter the First, I think, or at his behest, to fit the actual Russian language usage of the day.

There are some fine handicrafts in the market (FYI: the Ismylovov Park market, which is now the Partisanskaya Metro stop, they just changed the name from Ismyalovov Park station to Partisanskaya). And some of the finest are shown by people who are at least part of the production process. Which means that you won't find better products at lesser prices by going to the source. Sometimes, these people are the source. This is still a TOURIST market, folks, don't forget that. Which means that MOST of the stuff you see is for TOURISTS, and involves a high level of profit!!!! You can also find beautiful handiwork in textiles, wood (some terribly intricate creations, really quite impressive), painting (think eggs), ivory (my god - elephant, walrus, mammoth, and whale!, and exquisite work!). Furs? I'm sure you can't take some of these home. I saw LYNX for gawd's sake! And gorgeous furs!!!!! I also saw pretty bad furs used for cheap hats. I don't even think I could take a lot of this stuff home! Ivory? Animal furs (which ones are from endangered species?). But the handiwork you can find is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

I found boxes with secret compartments, made completely out of wood, with the only metal being the springs to activate the secret drawers, the screws to hold the springs, and the pin of the hinge being metal. Amazing stuff. Eggs - like the Faberge eggs, painted with duplicates of Klie paintings and decorations. Fantastically georgous. Then there were the chess sets and inlaid wood. As one vendor said in English "extremely professional". Ya, you bet. How about the ivory work? Perhaps some of the most amazing works I saw. Carving a feather, curved, from a single piece of ivory. Or half an apple, from a mammoth tusk. Folks, this was some carving, no shit. Of course, the prices matched my amazement, these folks are not dummies!

But, I finally found the bargains I wanted, or as close to them as I would ever get - so I bagged my purchases, and made my way homewards.

I get home, I put the bags down and take off my shoes. My feet are exhausted and my calves are haunting me with pangs of "shin-splints". Immediately after taking care of urgent necessities, the very first thing I pay attention to is the clock. I wind it - it seems already wound. I try to start it - it doesn't want to start. I run it without the pendulum - it runs fine that way. To make a long story short - it finally works - but not the way it should. At least everything seems to run, the bonger bongs, the ticker ticks. Howsomever, it does NOT run the way it was designed to run. Either the springs are weak, or it needs lubrication, or something. It will not run with the pendulum, it does run without. This means it runs very fast, but I'll run it down and then find a clock man. The bonger bongs, but softly. It is a deep BONG, but not loud at all. If I were in another room and the TV was on loud, I wouldn't hear it. So the neighbor thing is not a worry. At first, when I was trying to get it running, I thought it wouldn't run at all, but I am satisfied that it is just a tune-up thing, or perhaps a new spring at the worst. LOL, I should laff at myself --- IF I need a new spring, then we have a real big IF I can FIND a new spring!!!!!

FYI, I got the clock fixed later. I liked the clock shop - a real mechanical clock shop, filled with nothing but. It costs me more to fix than it cost to buy the clock, but I later discover that the works are from Gustav Becker of Austria, made in 1926. So I got a good deal still.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Russian Red - Hair, and sore feet

Russian red - the hair color

There is a hair color here I just have to call Russian red. I don't think it is completely virulent, but it is slightly noxious. I don't find it entirely offensive, just obnoxiously electrically amazingly red. Kinda like Kool-Aid, it just ain't a natural color folks. Amazingly to me, it is quite popular. I find it humorous - otherwise Russian women show reasonably good taste. The best way to describe this color is to say that it would look good somebody styling punk, or a goth type. However, the ladies who use it here seem to think it is natural in appearance. A-maazin'.


Sore feet

I've got to put one other minutiae in here - my feet. They are killin' me. My feet and calves are just not tuffening up to the demands of walking everywhere. Maybe it will take a year or so, but for the short term, they are in pretty regular discomfort. Enough so that I am being careful how I exert myself. It really kinda burns me, coz like the most I've walked is 6k.This is not that far folks! What is that, 4 miles? Dang, that is nuthing!!!!!!! Pitiful. That's what, just p-i-t-i-f-u-l.