August 5, 2008

More Dacha Revelations

July 6, 2008

After more rain overnight and most of the morning, it turned into a humid and soggy but mostly sunny day in the country. There is standing water everywhere and I'm very grateful for my non-Russian crocs, which are comfy, lightweight, and able to dry very quickly after getting wet. The rain has been very detrimental to the vegetable gardens. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in particular need a lot more sun than they have been getting.

Breakfast at the dacha was a real boost to my confidence. I had been very worried about whether my rudimentary Russian would hold up with older individuals who didn't speak any English, especially given my limited vocabulary. However, the morning perhaps gave me my biggest boost of confidence. I am an early riser, especially given the Russian propensity for staying up late and sleeping in. So, I had breakfast with Lena's parents while everyone else was still asleep. Lena's father wanted to speak about American politics - not my strong suit, and I usually avoid the topic like the plague even in the United States, but I was a guest in their home... Lena's mother wanted to hear about things that were closer to my heart - and easier to describe - such as my family, our apartment, life in Chicago, gardening, cooking, etc. The breakfast conversation was really the best part of the day. The fact that I could understand their questions and responses and even formulate appropriate answers and questions of my own was very empowering. And I've learned that even when I don't know a word, I can use my minimal vocabulary (and a whole lot of arm gestures) to talk around the words I don't know and get my point across.

The food was as incredible as the day before and I tasted several foods that were new to me: homemade tvorog (Russians call it cottage cheese, but it's much more like a ricotta or mascarpone); goat milk from goats living down the street; chicory instead of coffee; compote made from kalinka (need to look this up - little berries that I'm not certain have an American equivalent); preserves made from apples, orange zest, and peach juice.

We walked around the neighborhood when everyone had finally emerged from their respective cocoons and there was a lull between rain showers. The neighborhood has a lovely pond where people swim and wash clothes and a monument in honor of the people from the area who died in World War II. We passed any number of free-range chickens and ducks along the way, and heard goats and cows bleating behind fences. I gather that the neighborhood used to be a huge communal farm with lots more animals and year-round inhabitants. Now, the nearest school is 3 kilometers away and that would be as far as the moon during the winters. Very few roads are paved and none seem to have any local maintenance. Busing would be a huge issue and it's just easier to move back to Moscow or Vladimir during the winter months. Lena's parents stay in the country from May-October and claim that most of their neighbors are on similar schedules.

It was hard to say good-bye at the end of the day. Lena and the girls stayed on for a week's rest and Misha and I headed back to Vladimir. I returned to the city with a bag of radishes, dill, and parsley, which made for a great dinner with a few slices of bread and butter. Because Andrei and Ira were out when I got "home", I had to brave the Russian washing machine by myself. I was sure that I had done something terribly wrong as it ran FOREVER. Seriously, after 1.5 hours I started to wonder if the downstairs neighbors would be coming up to inform me that I had flooded their flat or something. But, it seemed to do the trick - eventually - so that all of my clothes were clean for the trip to Murom on Tuesday. I just hope that the breeze does its job and the rain stays to a minimum so that they will be DRY as well. But that's another story.

No comments: