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.