Dacha, dacha, dacha, dacha … SAMOGON!

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Hot Dacha Action

Hot Dacha Action

After the kaleidoscopic madness of the night before, we sleep for most of the day.  We’re meant to be going to the family’s dacha later in the afternoon, which is about when we start waking up.  A dacha is a small summer house with an attached garden that many Russian families have.  They use the garden to grow fresh fruit and vegetables and the house as an escape from city living whenever they feel the need.  The deal is that we will go there, stay the night and swim in the nearby lake in the morning; in return for helping her father paint the fence.  We discover Vortex Yulia managed to get up about nine in the morning to meet a few Spanish travellers to collect paperwork from them.  She’s in the process of helping them to get registered and find train tickets too.  I can’t believe this amazing woman, there’s nothing she won’t do to help people, even while pushing through terrible mornings like this one.  I still think she deserves nomination for sainthood and this might be one of the required miracles.

Just after Yana arrives, Vortex Yulia suddenly announces that her father, Oleg, is leaving soon and we need to be downstairs in the next five minutes.  This causes a flurry of packing and we soon flood out the door much to the amusement of her mother.  She had been the one to discover Don passed out in the door and thought he was hilarious.  This kind of thing is apparently not uncommon for their family and friends.  So it was that myself and Don, with Yana, Vortex Yulia and Yulia’s little brother Dimitry, Dima, pile into the 4WD to begin the drive out of the city.  Lari was due to meet us later after catching up with some other people.  We agree that there will be no chance of alcohol tonight since we’re all still too seedy.  We stop in a hypermarket to get food supplies along the way and we wander around it aimlessly for a while before Oleg starts hurrying us along.  I then find Yana standing transfixed in front of a massive fridge filled with cakes.  These are one of her major weaknesses and I can feel the inner torment going on.  So I search for the largest, craziest looking one and pick it up to buy it.  Her face lights up and we then discuss at some length the potential benefits of all the other cakes.  Then we find another shelf of them to continue our strictly scientific analysis.  At the end of this important scientific research we conclude that the one in my hand meets all the most important and relevant criteria.  It’s a cake.

The trip to the dacha is uneventful until we turn off the sealed road and onto a dirt track.  Vortex Yulia immediately bursts into life and a bottle of cold beer appears in her hand.  I’m actually thinking that looks like a good idea, but I can’t quite bring myself to actually drink again.  She opens the beer and hands it to her father; who’s driving.  I do a double take and check on Don who’s also smiling and looking surprised.
“Is that normal?”, I ask her.
“No!”, she exclaims, looking suitably shocked at the very thought.
“Normally mum does it, but she’s not here so I have to”, she explains.
Don and I start laughing.
“It’s a tradition when we hit the dirt track; Dad gets a beer”.
“Do you realise how unbelievably Australian that is?”  I venture in happy disbelief.
She looks confused for a minute then asks if we want one.  Don and I both look equally horrified at the prospect.  Even with recent improvements, the idea is sickening.

Just before we arrive at the dacha we pass a huge pile of smouldering garbage on the side of the road.  It’s placed about fifty metres from the beginning of the small village built here and parts of it burst into flame randomly as we approach it.  All kinds of rubbish are piled together; bottles, cans, plastic, cardboard and whatever else someone’s finished using.  The stench is overpowering as we pass next to it.  Burning plastic and rubber mixed with a melange of wrongness.  Don and I share another surprised glance and I know this will be discussed later.  We pass through a strange iron gateway with wrought iron lettering stretching across and above the road.  The lettering says ‘Механизатор’.
“What does that mean?” I ask Vortex Yulia, trying to recognise the word
“Ummm…it’s like a machine operator, someone who drives a tractor or some other thing with a big engine.”
“Oh, a Russian woman then?” I suggest with an evil grin.
“Yes, something like that”, she answers with a laugh.
It feels like we’ve officially passed into a separate land, the world of the dacha.  We can see about fifty tiny blocks of land (about twenty metres each side) nestled within a large clearing in the forest.  Each block has a quaint little wooden A-frame house and many have one or two other small wooden shacks on them.  Next to every house there is tilled land growing all kinds of vegetables, fruit and flowers.  Some plots have greenhouses as well, including ours.  We unpack the car into the tiny kitchen inside the doll house.  I think small is the best way to describe everything here.  It’s like a village, only, well, smaller.  The first thing I notice wandering through the door is the deer head mounted on the wall with a badminton racket hanging off it’s antlers.  Purely practical, of course.  Where else does one hang one’s badminton racket?

Racket Hanger

Racket Hanger

Don and I notice that we have both sparked up a fair bit on the trip.  Maybe it’s the cool country air or the Georgian food; but the day is certainly looking up.  We’re shown to our, well, small cabin.  It’s exactly big enough to put two single beds in it with half a metre between them.  In the twilight you can make out the silhouettes of plants and flowers leading down a gentle hill from the house and cabin.  We’re standing on the small verandah in front of the house admiring the view when Vortex Yulia emerges again to join us.
“Where will Lari sleep?” I ask her out of interest.
“Oh with me and Yana or maybe upstairs if she wants more space”.  I involuntarily look up at the ceiling and imagine what kind of small attic will be there.  I picture Lari curled up in a corner of it talking to a mouse about one day having her own room.

Oleg and his dacha garden

Oleg and his dacha garden

We wander out to set of the fireworks I found in the hypermarket and meet Lari while the show is going on.  We trudge back to the dacha along the gravel road, feeling perky in the cooling night and filled with the childish happiness that fireworks bring.  Lari decides she’ll sleep in the attic.  Now I can see her with a little bluebird up there and I think I want some pictures.  While she’s getting settled, I setup my portable speakers and mp3 player on top of the fridge in the kitchen to provide some calm, funky music to settle us all down.  I grab one of my beers from the fridge thinking a nightcap would be good about now, but this is when I become aware that Oleg is cutting up cucumber and tomato.  I wonder what it’s for when he starts on some of the processed luncheon meat the Russians seem to love, but my bowels detest.  He then says something to we three crazy Australians and his face opens up into a broad, mischievous smile.  We look to Vortex Yulia expectantly and she shakes her head
“I’m not going to translate that!”, she says in her most unimpressed voice.
A vodka bottle has appeared in his hand and we’re looking at each other in mild terror.  He wouldn’t do that to our poor livers would he?  We badger Yulia to translate so we can meet Russian hospitality head on.
“He says….You’re in Siberia now, so you can have some vodka or we put you in a grave.”
Don and I look at each other and grin.  We both shrug, resigned to our fate,
“Well, if you put it like that, we’d love some”.

Yana seems to absorb slices of the cake through her skin and also manages to pass some around to everyone as we start our vodka session.  We continue working through the vodka by toasting the dacha, Vortex Yulia, her dog and I think we toast hamsters at some point in following with the alphabetical sequence.
Oleg keeps producing half finished bottles of vodka and we drain two of those with a little help from Yana and Lari as he regales us with stories of his trips to Germany and Paris with his wife a few years earlier.  Of course, he doesn’t speak English and our Russian is very limited, so the story takes a fair while with us gaining the barest surface details of it.  I beg Vortex Yulia to come back in so we have some chance of understanding.  We’ve emptied the plate of food and Vortex Yulia leaps into action to get some water on the boil.  Pelmeni are on the way!  We’re absolutely loving sitting in this lovely, warm small kitchen of a dacha in the middle of Siberia drinking vodka with the locals.  Whatever comes our way is going to be just fine.

We finally move onto the bottle he bought back in the hypermarket – back when we had vowed not to drink again.  He’s now talking about a taxi driver in Paris who completely fails to take them to Maxims.  The driver takes them to a number of other tourist destinations in the city, but not where they want to visit.  Oleg ends up getting angry and underpays him before running across a street in heavy traffic with his wife in tow.  We remember the night we were drinking Samogon with Elven Nastya in Yekaterinburg.  We try to tell him but we can’t remember the word in Russian.  We ask Vortex Yulia and she tells us again – much to her father’s delight.  He then produces a small bottle of what he calls ‘whisky’, but is definitely Samogon – of a much lower standard then Elven Nastya’s .  It’s vaguely the colour of whisky, but the smell is more like methylated spirits.  He pours all of it into two small glasses for myself and Don and wryly says it’s only for guests.  We both assume at this point that he’s trying to get rid of it.  He’s not interested in having any at all, but pours himself some more vodka.  Don and I agree it isn’t really whisky and that throwing it down quickly is the best possible approach.  We do so and immediately regret it.  Finally we’ve found the Samogon we’d been warned of; the kind that finishing a bottle will probably destroy your eyesight for a week.  I suddenly picture the two of us genuinely blind and staggering aimlessly around the Siberian countryside looking for assistance.  Friendly Siberians would take us in and give us some bread, tomato and cucumber and then more Samogon that keeps us in this state permanently.  We’ll become Russian Samogon Zombies; doomed to walk the earth at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.

Oleg mid session

Oleg mid session

Suddenly the pelmeni are ready.  We dive headfirst into them to get rid of the taste of the vile liquor.  They have to be the best food for a vodka session that I have ever had the joy of experiencing.  Oleg has some sour cream to dip them in and then Don remembers our adzhika sauce is in his backpack and runs out to fetch it.  They are delicious 100% Russian stodge!  Lari decides she will let the three of us finish the last half bottle and wanders upstairs to sleep.  By this time communication is largely a matter of charades, heavy gesturing and hoping one of the other team will recognise a word in there somewhere.  I have no idea what the last toast is to, but we decide that bed is the right place to be.  This happens just after the last bottle is emptied.  I shut down the music and Don and I walk unsteadily out into the night.  The cold air kicks us sharply awake and brings on the full effect of more than two bottles of vodka that have largely been consumed by just three people.  Don makes it to the cabin and lies down.
“What was with that pile of rubbish on the way in?”  I ask, suddenly remembering how utterly unexpected it was.
“Dunno.  Haven’t seen something like that since Africa.  Nobody cares because it’s not important enough”, Don replies sadly.
“I think it’s gotta be Boris and Yuri at work again”, I add and then continue, putting on my best Russian accent.
“Yuri, where we put water bottles and plastic bags now our picnic in beautiful park is finish?”  Don smiles continues with his best accent,
“Just put them in pile here with car tyres and chicken bones then we set whole thing on fire.”
“That sounds very good Yuri, throw on plastic bottles so they burn quicker near our houses! …but… It will start fire in grass, yes?”
“Dont be silly….grass only here two months, then snow and we need good fire.”
“And our vodka bottle?”
“Oh throw on too, we can’t make two piles here…”
“Maybe government will pay your sister to sit here in little booth and tell people?”
“Good idea! Then we have more money for vodka!”
“And sausages and cucumber and tomato, Yuri, only drunkards drink without food!”
Don finishes giggling and turns over, succumbing to the sleep demons.

I’m pottering around thinking some music would be good and I’m about to go back into the house to retrieve everything when I see a shadow of someone walking past the house and into the yard.  I freeze, the light is on inside the cabin, but it’s in front of me.  I don’t think I can be seen here.  Another shadow drifts past and I suddenly picture some local activists coming to relieve the foreigners of their possessions.  And maybe some blood.

Yana suddenly comes in the door to say hello while Vortex Yulia is heading for the outdoor toilet.
“Fuck! You had worried me just then! I thought someone was breaking into the dacha!”, I admit with extreme relief.
Yana and I chat a little and share a cigarette.  Yulia and Yana trade places and I invite her to sit down.  She says she has to sleep tonight after last night’s efforts and would just wait for Yana, who soon returns and we all move outside to let Don sleep in peace.  Yulia leaves us talking on the back verandah and sharing another cigarette.

I look up at the moon, which is now bright enough to throw the village into relief.  I wonder what it is that I have done to deserve this idyllic moment of natural beauty.  In the middle of Siberia I am sharing a quiet moment with this amazing woman under the care of this wonderful Russian family I met less than two days ago.  I know how I got to this place, but not this feeling of peace, connection, harmony and beauty.  The light is perfect on Yana’s face as she says goodnight and I close my eyes to try and hold the feeling in the moment as long as I can.

Hot Yana Action

Hot Yana Action

After the kaleidoscopic madness of the night before, we sleep for most of the day. We’re meant to be going to the family’s dacha later in the afternoon, which is about when we start waking up. A dacha is a small summer house with an attached garden that many Russian families have. They use the garden to grow fresh fruit and vegetables and the house as an escape from city living whenever they feel the need. The deal is that we will go there, stay the night and swim in the nearby lake in the morning; in return for helping her father paint the fence.

Myself, Don and Vortex Yulia decide we need food in the mid afternoon and struggle down the street to a Georgian restaurant. Don orders another Bozbashi soup and we make Vortex Yulia get one as well to appreciate the glory. I choose a Kharcho soup to see what its like. We then top up the order with bread, grilled meat, sauces and vegetables in a frenzy of sheer hope in trying to soak up this hangover. The wait seems to last an aeon as we speculate on starting a blood transfusion business in Russia to help people with bad hangovers. The Kharcho soup is delicious, a mixture of lamb, rice and vegetables in a thick, spicy sauce that I absorb in minutes with the help of some more lavash bread. We discover Vortex Yulia managed to get up about nine in the morning to meet a few Spanish travellers to collect paperwork from them. She’s in the process of helping them to get registered and find train tickets too. I can’t believe this amazing woman, there’s nothing she won’t do to help people, even while pushing through terrible mornings like this one. I still think she deserves nomination for sainthood and this might be one of the required miracles. Don and I pay the bill and we slowly make our way back to the apartment to lie down again and hope our bodies will find something to make the pain go away.

Just after Yana arrives, Vortex Yulia suddenly announces that her father, Oleg, is leaving soon and we need to be downstairs in the next five minutes. This causes a flurry of packing and we soon flood out the door much to the amusement of her mother. She had been the one to discover Don passed out in the door and thought he was hilarious. This kind of thing is apparently not uncommon for their family and friends. So it was that myself and Don, with Yana, Vortex Yulia and Yulia’s little brother Dimitry, Dima, piled into the 4WD to begin the drive out of the city. Lari was due to meet us later after catching up with some other people. We agree that there will be no chance of alcohol tonight since we’re all still too seedy.

We stop in a hypermarket to get food supplies along the way and we wander around it aimlessly for a while before Oleg starts hurrying us along. I then find Yana standing transfixed in front of a massive fridge filled with cakes. These are one of her major weaknesses and I can feel the inner torment going on. So I search for the largest, craziest looking one and pick it up to buy it. Her face lights up and we then discuss at some length the potential benefits of all the other cakes. Then we find another shelf of them to continue our strictly scientific analysis. At the end of this important scientific research we conclude that the one in my hand meets all the most important and relevant criteria. It’s a cake.

The trip to the dacha is uneventful until we turn off the sealed road and onto a dirt track. Vortex Yulia immediately bursts into life and a bottle of cold beer appears in her hand. I’m actually thinking that looks like a good idea, but I can’t quite bring myself to actually drink again. She opens the beer and hands it to her father; who’s driving. I do a double take and check on Don who’s also smiling and looking surprised.

“Is that normal?”, I ask her.

“No!”, she exclaims, looking suitably shocked at the very thought.

“Normally mum does it, but she’s not here so I have to”, she explains.

Don and I start laughing.

“It’s a tradition when we hit the dirt track; Dad gets a beer”.

“Do you realise how unbelievably Australian that is?” I venture in happy disbelief.

She looks confused for a minute then asks if we want one. Don and I both look equally horrified at the prospect. Even with recent improvements, the idea is sickening.

Just before we arrive at the dacha we pass a huge pile of smouldering garbage on the side of the road. It’s placed about fifty metres from the beginning of the small village built here and parts of it burst into flame randomly as we approach it. All kinds of rubbish are piled together; bottles, cans, plastic, cardboard and whatever else someone’s finished using. The stench is overpowering as we pass next to it. Burning plastic and rubber mixed with a melange of wrongness. Don and I share another surprised glance and I know this will be discussed later. We pass through a strange iron gateway with wrought iron lettering stretching across and above the road. The lettering says ‘Механизатор’.

“What does that mean?” I ask Vortex Yulia, trying to recognise the word

“Ummm…it’s like a machine operator, someone who drives a tractor or some other thing with a big engine.”

“Oh, a Russian woman then?” I suggest with an evil grin.

“Yes, something like that”, she answers with a laugh.

It feels like we’ve officially passed into a separate land, the world of the dacha. We can see about fifty tiny blocks of land (about twenty metres each side) nestled within a large clearing in the forest. Each block has a quaint little wooden A-frame house and many have one or two other small wooden shacks on them. Next to every house there is tilled land growing all kinds of vegetables, fruit and flowers. Some plots have greenhouses as well, including ours. We unpack the car into the tiny kitchen inside the doll house. I think small is the best way to describe everything here. It’s like a village, only, well, smaller. The first thing I notice wandering through the door is the deer head mounted on the wall with a badminton racket hanging off it’s antlers. Purely practical, of course. Where else does one hang one’s badminton racket?

Don and I notice that we have both sparked up a fair bit on the trip. Maybe it’s the cool country air or the Georgian food; but the day is certainly looking up. We’re shown to our, well, small cabin. It’s exactly big enough to put two single beds in it with half a metre between them. In the twilight you can make out the silhouettes of plants and flowers leading down a gentle hill from the house and cabin. We’re standing on the small verandah in front of the house admiring the view when Vortex Yulia emerges again to join us.

“Where will Lari sleep?” I ask her out of interest.

“Oh with me and Yana or maybe upstairs if she wants more space”. I involuntarily look up at the ceiling and imagine what kind of small attic will be there. I picture Lari curled up in a corner of it talking to a mouse about one day having her own room.

We wander out to set of the fireworks I found in the hypermarket and meet Lari while the show is going on. We trudge back to the dacha along the gravel road, feeling perky in the cooling night and filled with the childish happiness that fireworks bring. Lari decides she’ll sleep in the attic. Now I can see her with a little bluebird up there and I think I want some pictures. While she’s getting settled, I setup my portable speakers and mp3 player on top of the fridge in the kitchen to provide some calm, funky music to settle us all down. I grab one of my beers from the fridge thinking a nightcap would be good about now, but this is when I become aware that Oleg is cutting up cucumber and tomato. I wonder what it’s for when he starts on some of the processed luncheon meat the Russians seem to love, but my bowels detest. He then says something to we three crazy Australians and his face opens up into a broad, mischievous smile. We look to Vortex Yulia expectantly and she shakes her head

“I’m not going to translate that!”, she says in her most unimpressed voice.

A vodka bottle has appeared in his hand and we’re looking at each other in mild terror. He wouldn’t do that to our poor livers would he? We badger Yulia to translate so we can meet Russian hospitality head on.

“He says….You’re in Siberia now, so you can have some vodka or we put you in a grave.”

Don and I look at each other and grin. We both shrug, resigned to our fate,

“Well, if you put it like that, we’d love some”.

Yana seems to absorb slices of the cake through her skin and also manages to pass some around to everyone as we start our vodka session. We continue working through the vodka by toasting the dacha, Vortex Yulia, her dog and I think we toast hamsters at some point in following with the alphabetical sequence.
Oleg keeps producing half finished bottles of vodka and we drain two of those with a little help from Yana and Lari as he regales us with stories of his trips to Germany and Paris with his wife a few years earlier. Of course, he doesn’t speak English and our Russian is very limited, so the story takes a fair while with us gaining the barest surface details of it. I beg Vortex Yulia to come back in so we have some chance of understanding. We’ve emptied the plate of food and Vortex Yulia leaps into action to get some water on the boil. Pelmeni are on the way! We’re absolutely loving sitting in this lovely, warm small kitchen of a dacha in the middle of Siberia drinking vodka with the locals. Whatever comes our way is going to be just fine.

We finally move onto the bottle he bought back in the hypermarket – back when we had vowed not to drink again. He’s now talking about a taxi driver in Paris who completely fails to take them to Maxims. The driver takes them to a number of other tourist destinations in the city, but not where they want to visit. Oleg ends up getting angry and underpays him before running across a street in heavy traffic with his wife in tow. We remember the night we were drinking Samogon with Elven Nastya in Yekaterinburg. We try to tell him but we can’t remember the word in Russian. We ask Vortex Yulia and she tells us again – much to her father’s delight.

He then produces a small bottle of what he calls ‘whisky’, but is definitely Samogon – of a much lower standard then Elven Nastya’s . It’s vaguely the colour of whisky, but the smell is more like methylated spirits. He pours all of it into two small glasses for myself and Don and wryly says it’s only for guests. We both assume at this point that he’s trying to get rid of it. He’s not interested in having any at all, but pours himself some more vodka. Don and I agree it isn’t really whisky and that throwing it down quickly is the best possible approach. We do so and immediately regret it. Finally we’ve found the Samogon we’d been warned of; the kind that finishing a bottle will probably destroy your eyesight for a week. I suddenly picture the two of us genuinely blind and staggering aimlessly around the Siberian countryside looking for assistance. Friendly Siberians would take us in and give us some bread, tomato and cucumber and then more Samogon that keeps us in this state permanently. We’ll become Russian Samogon Zombies; doomed to walk the earth at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.

Suddenly the pelmeni are ready. We dive headfirst into them to get rid of the taste of the vile liquor. They have to be the best food for a vodka session that I have ever had the joy of experiencing. Oleg has some sour cream to dip them in and then Don remembers our adzhika sauce is in his backpack and runs out to fetch it. They are delicious 100% Russian stodge! Lari decides she will let the three of us finish the last half bottle and wanders upstairs to sleep. By this time communication is largely a matter of charades, heavy gesturing and hoping one of the other team will recognise a word in there somewhere. I have no idea what the last toast is to, but we decide that bed is the right place to be. This happens just after the last bottle is emptied. I shut down the music and Don and I walk unsteadily out into the night. The cold air kicks us sharply awake and brings on the full effect of more than two bottles of vodka that have largely been consumed by just three people. Don makes it to the cabin and lies down.

“What was with that pile of rubbish on the way in?” I ask, suddenly remembering how utterly unexpected it was.

“Dunno. Haven’t seen something like that since Africa. Nobody cares because it’s not important enough”, Don replies sadly.

“I think it’s gotta be Boris and Yuri at work again”, I add and then continue, putting on my best Russian accent.

“Yuri, where we put water bottles and plastic bags now our picnic in beautiful park is finish?” Don smiles continues with his best accent,

“Just put them in pile here with car tyres and chicken bones then we set whole thing on fire.”

“That sounds very good Yuri, throw on plastic bottles so they burn quicker near our houses! …but… It will start fire in grass, yes?”

“Dont be silly….grass only here two months, then snow and we need good fire.”

“And our vodka bottle?”

“Oh throw on too, we can’t make two piles here…”

“Maybe government will pay your sister to sit here in little booth and tell people?”

“Good idea! Then we have more money for vodka!”

“And sausages and cucumber and tomato, Yuri, only drunkards drink without food!”

Don finishes giggling and turns over, succumbing to the sleep demons.

I’m pottering around thinking some music would be good and I’m about to go back into the house to retrieve everything when I see a shadow of someone walking past the house and into the yard. I freeze, the light is on inside the cabin, but it’s in front of me. I don’t think I can be seen here. Another shadow drifts past and I suddenly picture some local activists coming to relieve the foreigners of their possessions. And maybe some blood.

Yana suddenly comes in the door to say hello while Vortex Yulia is heading for the outdoor toilet.

“Fuck! You had worried me just then! I thought someone was breaking into the dacha!”, I admit with extreme relief.

Yana and I chat a little and share a cigarette. Yulia and Yana trade places and I invite her to sit down. She says she has to sleep tonight after last night’s efforts and would just wait for Yana, who soon returns and we all move outside to let Don sleep in peace. Yulia leaves us talking on the back verandah and sharing another cigarette.

I look up at the moon, which is now bright enough to throw the village into relief. I wonder what it is that I have done to deserve this idyllic moment of natural beauty. In the middle of Siberia I am sharing a quiet moment with this amazing woman under the care of this wonderful Russian family I met less than two days ago. I know how I got to this place, but not this feeling of peace, connection, harmony and beauty. The light is perfect on Yana’s face as she says goodnight and I close my eyes to try and hold the feeling in this moment as long as I can.

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