The Good Days… and the Bad…

Share

We wake up late in the morning and Don and Lari head off home to get changed while I potter around the apartment with Elven Nastya. I ask her,
“What was happening with you yesterday in the park? You looked like you were on a different planet to the rest of us. And when we got back you were pretty strange”. She smiles shyly before speaking with a soft passion,
“This park has been a part of my life since I was a very little girl and it always makes me feel happy and relaxed. The reason I was so determined to get everyone moving early yesterday was so I could enjoy visiting the places that are most special for me.”
“Oh when did you manage that? I would’ve liked to see them too!”, I wish aloud.
“I went in the afternoon by myself when all of you were resting. Maybe next time. It is so much better in winter, so clean and crisp, the ice brings the rocks to life.”
This is at least the third time I’ve had a local tell me winter is very beautiful and it starts to dawn on me that I really will have to come back and experience what they mean. I’m not sure about spending a winter in minus twenty degree temperatures, but it feels like something I have to experience to understand.

Hard at work making a CS Book

Hard at work making a CS Book

Elven Nastya wants me to write down the recipe for the noodles I cooked on Friday night and after I finish writing it she wants somewhere to keep stuff from her Couchsurfing guests. I look around the house and end up spending an hour making it for her from a shoebox and some plastic paddle pop sticks… I write ‘CS Book’, in Russian, on the front of it for good measure. As I’m finishing it, yesterday’s crew arrive for the photo sharing session. Don and Lari are late because they went shopping with their hosts. Don is staring wildly and vowing he will not be eating cucumber and tomato for a year after returning to Australia. They had been looking around in a supermarket for what to get for dinner and they couldn’t find any cucumbers; a strange moment in a Russian supermarket. Then they turn to find their host standing in front of a shopping trolley absolutely packed full of cucumbers – and he’s holding a huge bag of tomatoes. Their host notices them and says kindly,
“Don’t worry about cucumbers; we still have a few kilograms at home.”
The pair of them break into sudden smiles at this very Russian moment. Their host turns away; happy that his guests are reassured by the cucumber situation.

Natalya the pommy rower

Natalya the pommy rower

Mehmet the seppo

Mehmet the seppo

Don’s story reminds Elven Nastya that we have a lot of leftover tomato and cucumber in the fridge, which she produces and everyone except Don immediately has some with bread and ham. I remember I have some more vegemite and offer it to everyone to try with the bread and margarine. Once again almost everyone enjoys it and I’m starting to think it’s because it’s so salty. We all enjoy checking out the vast array of photos and make arrangements for Pasha to give us copies of his collection on a couple of CDs. I’m talking about the summer party culture in Australia and Irina looks at me pointedly,
“You know Pasha wanted to move to Australia last year?”
I turn to look at him and smile broadly.
“No?! Good choice though!… So what happened?”
He looks confused and shy before Irina answers for him.
“He wanted to move there with Yulia, they were a couple then.”
“Oh…Ah….Well, just ask if you need any help moving there anyway”, I volunteer, “you’ll have a fantastic time in sunny Oz!”

Masha and Pasha

Masha and Pasha

We do very little except sit around Elven Nastya’s loungeroom chatting about the world in general. Then I remember that Mehmet and Natasha will leave the next day and I retrieve my family scarf to begin a lengthy photo session with everyone in the room.
After everyone leaves, I ask Elven Nastya,
“How do I say ‘definitely’ in Russian?”
She looks thoughtful for a moment then replies,
“How do you mean definitely?”
“As in, when I’m sitting here and you’re all talking quickly in Russian that I can’t follow at all and you kind of look at me like I should say something. I’d like to say ‘definitely’ to agree with whatever you’re talking about.”
She laughs and says,
“Tochna. That’s the best word.”
“Torchna, To-chnar” I experiment with pronunciation.
“No, ‘Toe-ch-na’”, she confirms.
I practise a few more times until she’s happy with it. Before we sleep she tells me that she only has one key to her apartment, so I must leave with her early in the morning and can’t get back in until she finishes work. That works out fins, since we three Australians have plans to explore the city again during the day. I’m mostly happy just to slip into blissful sleep before ten at night.

Sasha

Sasha

Supermodel Nastya

Supermodel Nastya

I lurch awake to the sounds of a seriously crazy Russian song and the feeling of water being sprayed on my face. I realise this is how I woke up on Saturday morning as well, when Nastya wanted us to leave for Deer Streams as early as possible. A rich baritone voice is singing at me in Russian. There is a fast paced orchestral accompaniment with a driving bassline that gets bigger when the whole choir joins in the song. Not only is it impossible to sleep, but now I need to raise an army and take over the world.
(If you want to hear it, type ‘lenin takoi molodoi’ into youtube. There’s a few there. The real song name is И вновь продолжается бой ‘..and the battle continues again’) I still play this song when I want to give myself some energy. Elven Nastya smiles and tells me I’ve got about fifteen minutes to be ready to go. I leap into the shower and wonder how I will actually take over the world today; the song drives you into this crazy mood when you wake up with it. We decide that cucumbers, tomatoes, processed meat and cheese will make a good breakfast mixed with a little day old bread. I give her a wave goodbye as she heads off to work and I look around and decided to walk through the shade of the garden at the centre of the apartment blocks to make my way towards the city centre to meet Don and Lari.

The oasis of calm in Yekaterinburg

The oasis of calm in Yekaterinburg

I emerge onto the street and notice for the first time that there seems to be some kind of park directly across the road. It has a lake in it and comes complete with what looks like a small, greek columned temple on an island. I figure there’s a chance for some good photos and cross over the road to search for a gate. The whole park has a high, spiked iron fence around it, which lends a somewhat forbidding presence, but only promises this natural paradise is simply one gate away from where I stand. I finally find the gate and wander in, loving the tree lined pathways that lead me gradually around the lake. I notice there are a couple of people fishing from it and wonder what kind of fish would be growing in this clearly artificial lake right near the very centre of the sprawling metropolis. I wonder if they even have a hook on the fishing line, maybe they just come here to sit and enjoy the oasis of natural calm.

Relaxing morning time...

Relaxing morning time...

This is when I first become aware that there’s trouble in paradise. I know in this moment that I have about five minutes to find a toilet, because my intestines are squirming in a way that means a foul brown sludge is on its way out of my body. I look around in nervous urgency. Parks are often good for a toilet in Russia, normally near entrances you’ll find a little building with a person sitting behind a window between two toilet cubicles. They want fifteen roubles for this service and you get to use the generally good facilities. These thoughts crowd my suddenly agitated mind as I scout around for one. There are no exits or toilets to be seen. I start walking faster to the far end of the park and up a gentle hill. The gentle, placid surroundings of aged trees, spreading their leaves in the warm summer light, now become obstacles to my increasingly desperate situation. There’s a couple of small pavement shop buildings. Yes, one is the right size for a toilet, gotta get around in front of it. I start fumbling for money out of my money belt to make a quick transaction and relieve the building pressure.

It’s a shop. My eyes glaze in terror. I turn around and head back into the park and start heading for the only corner I haven’t investigated yet. There’s not many people in the park at this time of the morning and nobody at this end of the park. This is the moment when it becomes apparent that I’m going to be caught short and in the near future I’m going to be adding to the fertilizer for some of the plants. I look around for a sufficiently private spot and wonder what gods of travel I have offended that are punishing me in this way. I was fine yesterday, only on my first day in Moscow did I have this problem before and one of my travelan tablets fixed it in half a day. Even when I left the apartment I was fine, but now my insides have turned suddenly and completely to leave me walking up a gentle grassy slope looking for a nice big tree to hide behind. There aren’t any. I have walked into a small copse that was clearly used by a small group of people as an open air cafe at some point in the last few nights. There are beer cans and plastic bags around here. I’m now looking for any kind of paper products. I normally have a small packet of tissues with me at all times, since most Russian toilets have no paper. Except today, I didn’t put them in my jacket. I can picture exactly where they are, inside my bag locked safely inside the apartment.

I can see the spot, just a few more steps and I’m there. I look around, there is nobody in this corner of the park, I’m spared at least one kind of trouble. Too late. The torrent is unleashed and I realise in the same moment that my boxer shorts are also safely inside the apartment drying after their wash. I feel I must have offended some karmic deity to find myself standing in a park in the middle of Siberia with my shorts rapidly filling with what is a very foul smelling, hot sludgy excrement. I squat automatically and stay that way as my bowels pulsate to rid themselves of whatever offended them so much. I notice a few receipts and pieces of paper within easy reach, I also retrieve a few from my pockets to try and clean the mess from my skin. For some reason I stand up, thinking someone is here. I take a couple of steps forward, looking around. No. There is no one. I return to working through the small pieces of paper and run out of them long before I’ve achieved anything. Which is when I notice someone has left a jumper behind a tuft of grass. I wonder if any normal tourist would consider this an important part of the real experience of living in Russia. There’s something deeply visceral in wiping your poor, quivering behind with the coarse woollen sleeve of someone’s discarded jumper.

I actually stopped to get a picture of this bear in the middle of this madness...

I actually stopped to get a picture of this bear in the middle of this madness...

At least it worked in starting the cleaning process. I remain squatting for another minute trying to clear out the inside of my shorts as much as possible and come to the realisation that I’m going to have to put these shorts back on and walk out of this park in search of a real toilet in order to clean up. There is no way I can get back in the apartment to change without explaining to my host what just happened. I just don’t feel I know her well enough to lay THIS little story on her right now. I wonder if I will even tell my two old friends when I meet them in a couple of hours. I decide that it will be more fun to write about this lovely experience later and let them discover it then. I pull my shorts up and immediately walk away from this place wondering where to search for a toilet. It’s barely nine in the morning and a lot of places don’t open until ten. I decide to try and head towards the city centre, there’s bound to be a public convenience, or a pub, or restaurant that I can use to clean up properly. I’m going to have to wear these shorts for the rest of the day and possibly into the night.

Farewell park of traitorous insides...

Farewell park of traitorous insides...

I drift down streets searching for some sign of an appropriate establishment to help me in my hour of need. There is nothing. Whilst standing at traffic lights waiting to cross with some other people I glance down and notice that trickles have run down both of my legs providing nice little drying brown rivers all the way to my socks. I’m hoping people will assume it’s mud. It must be, the other explanation just doesn’t bear thinking about. I am still walking around town an hour later. Most places just aren’t open. Even a normal public pay toilet is firmly closed. I wonder how long the morning nightmare will continue. I’m walking down a street when I notice a small gazebo style shop that looks somehow familiar. I’ve seen it before and I wonder when. This only lasts a moment before I realise I have somehow managed to circle back to Elven Nastya’s apartment, the gazebo is opposite. Waves of depression pass over me and I turn back down the one street that I know leads to the city centre. After a long walk I see a Russian shopping centre and decide to see if they have a toilet. The security guard at the door tells me in Russian that the shops are closed. I smile at him and walk straight ahead feigning ignorance. It’s just after ten; they should be opening very soon. The nightmare has been going for more than an hour. I spot a glass door with the toilet sign and see a woman sitting at a small table behind it. Ten roubles and this sorry chapter of desperation is over.

I keep walking and glance back at the security guard, he’s watching me still. I turn a corner and stop for a minute. I have no idea why I’m waiting, I’m not doing anything wrong, but in the hysteria of the last hour I just don’t want any attention from anyone. I walk back around the corner and someone is talking to the guard. Relieved I duck into the door and produce a ten rouble note. She tells me in Russian that they are closed. I look at her with desperate, pleading eyes and a mournful face. Please make this experience end. Please help me. She waves me inside and I spend about fifteen minutes washing myself, my shorts, everything using water from the bowl so I don’t have to be outside the safety of the cubicle. She sends in a cleaning guy twice to check up on me. I finally emerge wearing quite wet shorts and a smile of utter relief. I try to hand her the ten rouble note again and she smiles and waves me off. I push it into the money cup, feeling that this is the last thing I must do in order to be released from the morning’s events. I walk back out past the security guard and into the street. I walk almost straight into a Kvas seller on the corner and buy a glass to celebrate the end of the ordeal. Most of the shops have opened now, the city has come to life and I look for somewhere outside, warm and windy to sit for a while and wait for my friends as my shorts dry out. All I can think is that Russian processed meat should carry a label, “Warning: May cause anal leakage”.

Kvas barrel on the street - a common sight

Kvas barrel on the street - a common sight

Share

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>