17 May 2008

A Russian Holiday

On Victory Day I went в шашлыки/v shashliki (barbecuing) with a friend and some of her friends. We drove out into the countryside and found a spot by a pond near the village of Troitskoye ("Trinity"). "Do you do this in America? Just drive out into the country and find a good spot for a picnic?" one of our drivers asked. "Not really," I replied, and tried to explain how property ownership in the U.S. means you kind of have to find a place that's actually designated as public, like a park or campground. He seemed surprised, but also enormously pleased to have found an area in which, in his view, Russia one-ups the U.S. And I agree that at the very least, it's nice not to feel like you're probably trespassing if you walk through a field or build a bonfire on a beach.

On the subject of drivers, I was a little worried, because my experience has been that Russians are more ok with driving after drinking than Americans are, and since it was a holiday, of course we were going to drink. (An older American I was discussing it with holds that our stigmatization of it, like our aversion to littering, is something that's been beaten into us only in the last fifty years or so.) But neither of our company who were driving drank anything at all, much to my relief. I didn't know how I would have gotten home otherwise.

And on the subject of drinking, two things: one, there's this whole demographic of tough-guy eighteen-year-old boys who don't seem to really like me (largely, I think, because I'm American; in this case, also because Aina, the friend I was with, got mad at them when they swore in front of me, and not swearing eliminates about 90% of their means of personal expression). This doesn't really bother me, but whatever. But I discovered that, as if by magic, they really warm up to me if I take a shot of vodka. Ha. (Not that I'm going to take to the bottle to make people like me, but it's sort of a neat party trick...)

Second, it turns out that the spot we were occupying was kept up, if not exactly owned, by a guy who lives by the pond in a little shack with no running water. He keeps people from fishing in the pond, although whether that's under orders from someone who actually owns the pond is unclear. Anyway, we paid our due to him by listening to him recite poetry, playing checkers with him, and of course sharing our chicken and beer. In return, he helped us chop firewood and gave us some stools. At the end, he brought out a huge bottle of home-brewed vodka and proposed a toast with the men – "to veterans, for Victory Day!" The guys who drank with him took one whiff of their shots, waited til he wasn't looking, and poured them out on the grass behind them. I later managed to get hold of the bottle, and understood why – the stuff smelled like nail-polish remover. Hmm, "harmful or fatal if swallowed"?

Anyway, he asked me to take his picture with his favorite puppy (he had several wandering around), which is really the whole point of this post:


Sorry, again, for the general lack of posts in the past week or so. All I can think about when I think about writing is that I'm leaving soon, and that's not something I'm really ready to write about. I'll try to do better, though! If you're particularly hungry for more of my adventures – and who wouldn't be? – my neighbor Seth posted some pictures from our day at the horseraces a few weeks ago. (Pictures that *I* took, albeit with his camera.)

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