SOVIET HOSPITALITY PART 3
This is part 3 Doing it day by day now and hope I’m correcting any typos as can’t see well.
THURSDAY Day 1
I awoke from a lovely sleep to find Rosa and Gulya gone and Rabfail pottering. We had breakfast and I had a Russian lesson till the others came home. While Rosa made lunch Rabfail and Gulya vanished into another room and, as it turned out later, composed a poem for Rosa’s birthday.
In the afternoon Rabfail and I went walkabout first to the local police headquarters to register my arrival and to extend my visa, a much simpler process than in Moscow. Then we wandered around and took photos, one of an enormous statue of Салавет Юляев (Salavyet Yulyayev), who had joined the Pugachov revolt and finished his life in prison in Finland, which was at that time a Russian colony. He sits on his rearing charger over the ravine where flows the river Byelaya. I had to climb on a wall to get both him and his horse in view.
Then we went to the Bashkiria Theatre to get tickets for a musical (with story in Russian since the Bashkir language would certainly defeat me). The theatre is enormous and grand. All performances are in Bashkir and in front of th theatre is an enormous new statue of a Bashkir writer. Wales should be so lucky.
After this we went shopping. The main purpose was to get me a toothbrush and in this we failed. As there is currently a дефицит (deficit) of all kinds in the shops. Many groceries are on points as during our post-war rationing. Apparently some people are storing their most necessary items. Rabfail showed me their kitchen cupboard full of tea! So we didn’t get a toothbrush as the shop lady replied ‘дефицит’ and that was it. However we did get a special kind of Russian accordion (garmon) that Rabfail said he needed and had been longing for and which he felt the presence of a guest would facilitate its introduction to the house. He already has two different ones and said Rosa wouldn’t shout at him if we’d bought it together. This plan worked well.
Dinner was a family party with toasts in assorted vodkas and a formal reading by Rabfail of his poem for Rosa. I gave her the shawl i had made for her. Then Rabfail started playing his other two accordions and then fetched out the new one. Rosa just smiled (he had said she would) and joined him in singing.
Then we sorted out my ’souvenir’ store and we made important decisions about what to give to whom. The social whirl is about to begin. Denis says that Rabfail’s idea of a social whirl is to take off into the Tatar Republic next door. He’s right; today we requested prermission for me to go visiting. We shall go to Краснодарский край and then to Rabfail’s brother who lives in the countryside in the Tatar Republic. I must admit that the latter was with my enthusiastic acquiescence. It costs only a few roubles to fly to Краснодарский Край (Krasnodar Region).
Rosa has chosen the yellow bear which now sits proudly on the table.
At last I have written a few cards. Rabfail writes all the return addresses and stamps them. The stamps are amazing – so beautiful. I shall send a few extra cards home and to Yves.
Rabfail went through all their cupboards to show me everything and it was quite difficult to persuade him not to give me the lot. They have an entire collection of Vladimir Vysotsky – records and printed words. I’m busily copying words and we’re going to record them. My taperecorder now operates from the mains using a transformer. At first it confused us greatly by operating backwards. This turned out to be обратноя полярность (ie ‘return polarity . Rabfail reversed the polarity in the transformer and all was well.
In the evening we were invited to a small dinner party in a flat the other side of town. I was also shown over the next-door flat. The one where we were dining was a two room flat andthe neighbours’ a one room flat. These terms refer to bedrooms. The neighbour is a lady who lives alone. Her flat was very plush- carpets on the walls as well as the floor, satin cushions and lacquered doors. We had to have drinks and pickled mushrooms before we could leave. Our hosts flat is also lovely but the furnishings more modern in style. Also it is unusual in that it consists of two floors.
There is a wide wooden staircase leading up from a big sitting room to the bedrooms. The sitting room has a parquet floor that Kolya made and laid himself. He works in a chemical factory blowing glass and can make glass devils in bottles. I’ve been promised one. Dinner was a feast, blini (Russian pancakes), mushrooms (two kinds), salads (various), beef with chives, brawn, fish. Those present Kolya and Valya Kasyanovy. Valera Zverev, Valya Banikova, Ilyusa ilomava. Valera is an uncontrollable comedian. It was a very lively evening and trying to keep up with the jokes in Russian was exhausting but vodka and champagne helped a lot. Russians have a toast for every refill and these often involve quite lengthy speeches.
After dinner Rabfail played the guitar and we, or rather they, sang Russian songs, those that they sing when walking and are not written down. However, I recorded the whole singsong and Rosa has promised to write down the words. I wish I could have recorded all the conversation or could remember it now. One of the best bits was when we were watching slides of Baikal. Someone explained about a happy group. ‘Вот мы все балдеем’ and I requested a translation. ‘Балдеет,’ said Valerka, ‘is to take it easy in a cultured fashion’. Балдеет значит очень культурно отдыхать.’ Everyone collapsed in fits of laughter and only much later it was explained to me that the real meaning is practically to have an orgy.
When we got home I was packed off to bed with hot milk and honey for my throat.