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.