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!