Of Dachas, Lakes and the Russian Utopia


Yana, our beautiful Ukrainian painter

We wake up late in the morning to discover Yana and Yulia sunbathing in their bikinis in the back yard.  Lari is still sensibly wearing a long sleeved shirt with trousers and a wide-brimmed hat; a sure sign of an Australian encountering direct sunlight.  Oleg produces two tins of paint and four brushes for the three Australians and Yana.  He also gives us rubber gloves to avoid too many paint splashes.  Don and Yana take two sides of one part of the fence, Lari and I do the same on the other side of the main gate and we all set to work.  I end up sitting down on a soft green bed of weeds to paint the underside, Lari covers the top and we work our way through a few metres of it over an hour or so.  During this time Yana becomes ‘the Ukrainian painter’ as we appreciate her formal work gear of a bikini and a tiny pair of shorts.  One of Oleg’s neighbours comes to talk to him over the fence and Yana translates afterwards for us.
“Oleg is telling him he’s going to make a plaque that says ‘This fence was painted by Australians’ after we finish.  Then his friend says ‘this fence is painted by people from every country’.”
Yana explains that Oleg and his family have friends and relations all over Russia and some former soviet republics.  When they have visited the dacha in the last six months, he has had all of them painting the fence and he always makes a point of telling his neighbours where they’re from this time.  He’s particularly enjoying having Australians working on it, since no-one will be able to beat that in quite a while.  We laugh and enjoy our time in the sun painting Oleg’s fence.

Getting in touch with my inner dacha...

Dima comes over looking a little unsure of himself to tell us in English,
“It is time to stop and go to the lake.”
We smile and thank him and finish up.  Vortex Yulia wanders out to fetch some fresh vegetables for the lunch after our swim and asks,
“How was Dima?  Did you understand him? He was so nervous!”
She had been coaching him on what to say for a while before he found the confidence to come over and tell us.
“He was great, he said it once and we all understood immediately”, I assure her.
Then for some reason I’m forced to get a picture of her standing behind a huge yellow flower in her yellow bikini holding an enormous zucchini.  She giggles while I’m taking it and then asks me what sort of Russian girl I think she is.
“You did tell me last night, ‘good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to London’”, I remind her.
She fondles the zucchini saying,
“A girl’s gotta do what she has to do.  I am single you know!”
She laughs and strolls bouncily back inside the dacha.  We gather together our swimming clothes and pile into the car, ready for the next expedition.

The complete Russian woman..

The lake is under ten minutes away and Don and I are very happy to find a large number of beautiful Russian women there enjoying the cool water on a hot Siberian day.  I take one of the beers I’ve brought along and head for the water pretty quickly to take up my formal Australian pose.  This involves wearing a shirt, hat and sunglasses in the water and holding a half litre bottle of beer.  The water is fairly cold and Don is whining about it at some length.  Yana takes the moment to splash him soundly, even though she won’t go in either.  So everyone starts splashing Don until he succumbs and sinks into the water.  Only Yana and Oleg stay dry on the shore.  When I return to land for another beer, I sneak behind Yana and grab her to pull her into the water.  She giggles and screams, but Oleg comes to her rescue and I’m forced to flee into the deeper water.  After a swim into the middle of the lake we return to shore and start drying off.  I remind Vortex Yulia that she has to prove she’s Russian now as I retrieve my camera.  She giggles and immediately strikes a series of poses on the water’s edge as Don, Lari and I all take some pictures.  Yana is giggling and giving her ideas for more poses, while Oleg looks on with a big grin on his face.

Yana soaking up the rays...

More Russian girl posing action..

We arrive back at the dacha and Vortex Yulia puts together the ingredients for Okroshka soup.  It is a cold soup, so preparation is easy.  She cuts up a bunch of cucumber, tomato and meat into small cubes and throws them into a big pot.  To this she adds four litres of Kvas and the soup is ready.  We munch our way through a couple of bowls each, washed down with some more beer.  Yana keeps attacking the cake in another frenzy as Oleg collects a bucket of vegetables to take back into the city.  With lunch finished and everything organised we grab our bags and pile back into the car for the journey back to city life.

Yana shows us how to make Okroshka...

Lari delivers the finishing touches...

Back to the city...

Soon after we return, I wander back into the kitchen to find Vortex Yulia sitting on a chair holding a can of dog food with Don and Lari watching her every move.
“Watch my dog eat!” She implores me and I take a seat.
She starts to put food in the bowl and Sharon dives at it like a starving jaguar in a berserk rage.  Vortex Yulia puts her feet around Sharon to hold her away and finishes filling the bowl as Sharon struggles to get free; surging back and forwards like a demented pendulum.  Finally Vortex Yulia releases the savage beast and Sharon lurches forward suddenly to bury her head in the food; mouth and tongue racing to keep up with her insane lust for eating.  We are all leaning forward in amazement at the demonstration of frenetic food lust that lasts until its all gone.  Sharon licks the bowl a little more, then something seems to change in her mind as she realises there will be no more food.  Her eyes become a little dimmer and she waddles off to find her favourite spot on the floor of Yulia’s room to lie in the sun.
“Isn’t she amazing!” demands Vortex Yulia and we all have to agree wholeheartedly. She now has to go and teach a student,
“I know, on a Sunday, it’s unthinkable!”, she cries as she’s gathering her books and notes together.  Yana’s husband has also returned early this morning and has been sleeping all day, so Yana heads off to meet him; leaving the three Australians to wander the streets again.

Sharon's sleepy time..

“Nazi rat hunting dogs”, announces Don in his quest to win non-sequitur of the month award.
“Que?” Lari replies pulling her best ‘you-speak-a-da-shit’ face at him.
“Nazi rat hunting dogs, that’s what those things are.  Yulia’s crazy dog, that’s what it’s for.  The Nazis bred them in the war to be small, permanently hungry and able to fit down small holes.”
“Okay”, Lari says, absorbing the information.
“Why didn’t they just use ferrets?” I wonder aloud, “I thought that’s what they’re for.”
“You don’t question ze Reich!  You vill be making ze little rat dogs!”, exclaims Don in a fine German accent.
We make loops around ‘Ploschad Lenina’; Lenin Square – the centre of the city.  We stroll through parks and gardens, posing with statues we find there and lifelike statues that sit on the end of a park bench.  We find one kind of statue keeps appearing, it is of some kind of animal that could be a ferret, or a giant rat or a deformed cat with a huge fluffy tail.
“Is that a Siberian rat hunting ferret do you think Don?” Lari asks him pointedly.
“Maybe.  But ze german reich hounds zurpass zem in every vay!”
We take photos posing with them anyway and figure we can always ask our hosts later.  We decide some food would be a good plan and notice a restaurant sitting on top of a nearby building.  After circling the building and asking people, we can’t find a way up to it and figure we must need a secret handshake or something to gain access.  We turn away from the building to find a place called, but written in Cyrillic letters, ‘Lunch Café’.  As we sit down I notice the café/bar opposite is called ‘Friday’ and enjoy the random simplicity of the local naming scheme.

Lari talks to iron animals too...

Don tames the Siberian rat hunting ferrets...

Yana and Yulia  arrive with Vanya and Yana sits down with us as Yulia and Vanya stroll off together saying they have decided to elope.  Yana pouts delightfully and puts her arm around Don saying she already has a new man anyway.  I volunteer to share the duty with Don, taking alternative days so she will always have one of us fresh.  Vortex Yulia and Vanya laugh and return to sit with us as Yana explains,
“Yulia has already asked if I die for some reason if she can have Vanya.  So I’ve left him to her in my will already.”
“What does Vanya think about that?”, I ask generally.  Vanya shrugs and smiles with mock helplessness,
“If that’s what she wants….”
We all laugh together as the waitress arrives with more menus.  We end up ordering plates of sausages like the ones we’d had in St Petersburg at Tolsti Fraer and we pass the time sipping beer and talking about the last crazy couple of days to bring Vanya up to speed.  He is a calm, smart guy with eyes that betray a vibrant inner life.  It’s normal to catch him running his eyes across Yana’s face and whole body; enjoying the experience afresh every time.  She keeps her best pouts and softest touches for him.  It’s always nice to see a young couple enjoying their time together.

I remember the Siberian rat hunting ferret and ask what it is.
“It’s a Sable, the symbol of Siberia and this area in particular”.  In a flash the memory from Russian history comes back to me; Sable fur was a core trade item from this part of the world for an incredible length of time.  The Russian Tsars used to receive them in abundance and trade them on to the rest of the world at great profit.  Unlike many animals of this kind, the Sable lives in the wild in enough numbers today to be of no concern for conservation.  Most commercial Sable fur today comes from farmed animals; although the wild version is valued more highly.  Not bad going for the Siberian rat hunting ferret.

“Hey, what do you guys think about New Zealand?” I suddenly remember to ask.  Yana’s eyes go blurry as she intones,
“New Zealand”.  I’m ready for the descent into dreaming that this country evokes in Russians and wonder how deep it runs for these Siberians.  They do know it and it is a kind of dreamland nation, but not as strongly as I’ve seen.
“Why New Zealand?” I ask, baffled, “and what do you think is there that’s so good?”
“It’s warm and beautiful and everything grows there and there are so many farms so you can’t be hungry or cold.  Ever”, Yana says with nods of agreement from the other two.
“New Zealand is in so many Russian textbooks as the other example country, after England, the USA and somewhere in Europe have been used”, adds Vortex Yulia.  She draws one of her textbooks from a bag and shows us an example.  I can only assume that there is a secret band of Kiwis hard at work in the Russian education system; spreading this propaganda.
“So all you crazy Russians believe this madness!”  I say, exasperated.
“We’re not Russian”, Vanya corrects me.
“Hey? You do a good impression then!  Where are you from?” I ask.
“We were both born in the Ukraine, but spent more time growing up here”, he explains as Yana nods in confirmation.
“So you consider yourself Ukrainian?”  Don wonders aloud tilting his head to one side.
“Yes!” They both say together and break into laughter.
“So is it true what they say about Ukrainian women?” I prompt, wondering if anyone says anything about them.  Vortex Yulia tips her head thinking about it then looks up as Vanya speaks,
“Oh yes, they are sweeter, more beautiful and more wonderful than any Russian women”, he says, looking deep into Yana’s eyes.
“Oh so what’s the best Ukrainian food then?”  I ask to distract them.
“Ukrainian Borsch is better than Russian”, Yana says defiantly and passionately.
“Ukrainian Solyanka and vodka is definitely better too”, Vanya adds.
“Hmmm…is there some slight bias happening there then?”  I ask pointedly.
“I like them both too”, Yulia agrees.
We finish at the café and decide an early night is a good idea, so we divide and head for the two apartments to try and catch up on some good sleep.  My body has been pushed heavily by the last two days, so it attaches itself to the bed in a way that tells me I’m not moving for quite a while as a dark sleep settles on me.

Lari meets the local ladies...

Is it an add for a local metal band?


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