Saturday, May 27, 2006

City pollution

Driving into Chelyabinsk

The trees are blooming as we go into the city. My fellow riders comment on the beauty of them. Indeed, they are beautiful, but I had seen the air over the city long before the trees came into view, and that view overrode any enjoyment I might have had of the beauty of the trees. The dirty air poured visibly from the smokestacks, hanging over the town, a horrid pall of pollution.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Inside a Russian country house

Inside a Russian country house:
I've wondered, now I know. No running water. The stove is also the heat. The exterior of this house is a brick veneer over a log structure. That puts in one step up in quality. Almost all the houses are of log construction, only the very newest are different. Many are still exposed logs with the wonderful detail work on and around the shutters and eaves. You can tell how well the family is doing by observing the condition of the exterior.

The porch acts as an extra layer of insulation, I'm sure. It is enclosed. Inside it is small. This house is shared by two families - it is quite simply a duplex. Common? Don't have the faintest. The bathroom is an outhouse. It is obvious why the slit trench type of bathroom remains common. If you've got an outhouse, it is much cleaner than a stool-type arrangement. The shower equivalent is the banya. This is a small sauna-type construction, in an exterior building. Unpainted wood exterior, but the interior is nicely done plain wood. The heat is far from the extreme heat I am used to, but I guess that is family preference. I think that maybe most Russians actually like their banyas only very warm, not hot. It is an excellent bathing opportunity. Much use of water to cleanse inside the banya. There are two water containers - one attached to the stove, which is hot of course. And, another sitting away from the stove for cold. Grab a bucket, make your water the temp you like, and start watering down with a dipper. Soap up, rinse, repeat. Not a steam bath at all. Very cleansing. So is this family poor? They have a big box of toys for the little boy, a nice tv, VCR and DVD. No stereo here, but they have 3 cell phones along with a regular phone. The regular phone is a real cheap model, but gets used the least also. They have a fridge, a nice one. But the washing machine is a combo of two somewhat older machines, designed to work without running water. They actually, to my surprise, have a wash basin. At the top, there is a small water bucket attached that you tap underneath to release a little water. The basin has a drain, and a compartment underneath with a bucket for waste water. Made of tin or painted light steel, it looks like something I'd see in a home catalog from the late 1800's in the US. Very practical. I think one must remember how innovatively that time made practical use of technology in many simple ways. Today we call it intermediate technology, since it bridges the gap between non-industrialized technology and fully industrialized technology.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Evening sashlik

Evening sashlik:Two of us go to Chumlyak for sashlik for dinner for a change. This is a day I rode to work, as the morning was beautiful. In the late afternoon some thundershowers came up. I delayed riding home, hoping to miss the rain, but it didn't stop so quickly. I went ahead and rode, getting wet. I had expected it to be cold. Standing outside in the damp of the light rain, and with the wind, it felt cold. As I rode I quickly found it was not. I suffered from cold not at all. The heat I generated was quite sufficient, and the rain helped to keep me cool. As I reached the camp, the rain was slowing to a stop. Within another quarter of an hour, the sun began to appear from behind the clouds. We decided to go to the village to eat. Walking out the evening was beautiful. The sun was shining brightly and dramatically from between banks of black clouds. A massive and brilliant rainbow glowed for a time, eventually fading as the sun moved. Another rainbow appeared, farther away, fainter, fading more quickly. The air smells clean, with the bright and light odor of the north woods.
In town, one could feel that they were in a Mediterranean village. The flowering trees are blooming, and the town is actually beautiful. From outside the cafe one can see across a field to the woods, and it looks clean. Not the usual condition for the village cafe! From inside I can see the roofs of the adjacent houses. Birds are flying overhead through a brilliantly colorful sky full of clouds and blue sky both. It is the clarity of the air, and the fresh cleanliness of everything else, making the colors so fresh and glowing that one thinks of photographs of romantically picturesque Italian villages.