SOVIET HOSPITALITY PART 4
Part 4 duly edited for typos and translation done if any Russian cyrillic there.
SATURDAY DAY 3
It’s snowing! Should be pretty. The thaw which they say is very early has made a mess of the writer’s show. It is shoved into vast dirty heaps beside the road. Where the road has been dug out it makes walls which look like stone walls with layers of cleaner and dirtier snow. Some buildings are barely visible under it. The roads and pavements are clean in places but mostly covered in compressed, half melted snow. It’s a good thing I brought my wellies with me.
Rosa went out this morning to her Arabic class. I tried to write this but Rabfail is showing me his entire library and trying to persuade me to take it home with me. I have succumbed to several volumes.
It is now evening and we have been celebrating Rosa’s and her friend’s joint birthday. Again an enormous feast with vodka and champagne., much toasting again in verse and singing. Rosa got a samovar for their garden. I was given a volume of Blok in English. The people are so generous.
Russian joke about English politeness. Two Englishmen are reading newspapers. One says, ‘Sir, I can smell something.’
The other ,’Yes, Sir.’
The first says, ‘I really can smell burning, Sir.’
Finally he says, ‘Sir, your trousers are on fire but I didn’t want to disturb you when you were reading.’
At bedtime Rosa insisted on providing me with a mustard poultice, the Russian equivalent of vick being in ‘дефицит’(deficit ie. There ain’t none) . I stood it for about two minutes and decided that the cure was worse than the illness.
We didn’t go to church but we did go to vote. Voting was in the school sports hall. The list of voters was by address, there were vases of flowers all along the table and pale blue curtains on the voting booths. We all finished in one together. Rabfail asked if I could take a photo but they said, ‘No.’ He thought this was because the place was not up to standard., so I collared the official and told him I only wanted to photograph it because it was so nice. He said, ‘Rules are rules’ and I think firstly that the rules in this case are justified and secondly that they are usual and he was not being difficult. However, I did photograph the children’s dining room which was operating a buffet for voters and the school nurse in her ‘medpunkt’ (sort of nurse’s desk literally medical point). The school is new, opened only in September. They may be short of many things but Ufa has certainly not scrimped on its school accommodation. On the 8th we are invited to see it in operation. Just for polling day some of the kids were practicing free enterprise in the corridor, selling their wares (mostly home-made, even dresses) from tables. I bought a paperback of Tolstoy’s ‘Youth’ and a couple of cards.
After the voting expedition Rosa went home to prepare for Gulya’s birthday guests and we went by taxi to visit a colleague of Rabfail’s. Gulya joined us, attracted by the temptation of playing with our host’s computer. This time we were fed a sumptuous lunch. I’m learning to eat only a little bit of everything. Almira studied English and graduated ten years ago, since when she has worked in a library as she couldn’t get a job as a teacher. Considering she has had no oral practice in ten years she is amazing. Her neighbour, who is an English teacher, came in and told me all about her son, who was in the army in Azerbaizhan during the troubles there and for two months she had not heard from him. Now he is a student again. Since Gorbachov reduced the size of the army all students have had their service time cut short. Artur, as he is called, arrived to talk to me because his mother said he was interested in English. He did indeed talk with me in English but his main reason was that he had heard the English liked dogs. He lost his airdale two years ago and has now fallen in love with an Alsatian while serving with the military police. I have three more pen-friends to find but at least this lot want to write in English. Western visitors are thin on the ground in Ufa so I was a great rarity.
This evening we went to the Narodny Teatre (Narodny People’s) . It has a big comfortable auditorium (one can even stretch one’s legs!), an enormous stage and halls with marble walls. The actual building is called Дворец Нефтяников (the Oil Workers Palace). Palace is an understatement. I thought it was The theatre of the town but it turns out that it is simply one of five such buildings used by amateurs; народний театр (people’s theatre) refers to its use by a circle of amateur societies. It is financed by the petrol worker’s union (Нефт is petrol) and includes big practice halls and a room for every group or choir so that they can all meet there. The production was an Italian period comedy (in Russian fortunately for me) and was very well done, well attended and the sets were sumptuous.
We went by taxi and the driver promptly addressed Rabfail with, ‘Let’s talk about politics.’ And went on to complain that he had an allergy to Raisa Gorbacheva. I asked him if there was a cure for that and he said, yes, he didn’t watch TV. Gulya stayed home to entertain her friends as this was her ‘official’ birthday. I gave here a peach toilet set and I think she and her friends had an extra English practice working out what each bottle contained.