SOVIET HOSPITALITY Part 10
A bit more and will try not to let any mistaked ellude me.
A word about buses. Bus and trolley fares are either 5 or 6 kopeks however far you travel. Trolleybus tickets are bought from kiosks and general shops and also from the drivers. One boards the trolleybus and slides th ticket into a punch attached to the inner side of the trolleybus. One then presses a lever and the number of the trolleybus is stamped in holes on it. If in the crush one cannot get near the punch, one passes the ticket along and someone nearer does it and passes i back.
On buses the procedure has more variations as money is used. There is a box in the bus with a slot at the top with a handle at the side. You put 5k in the slot and turn the handle till you can tear off your ticket or, for that matter, you pull out and tear off however many you require and put in the required money. If you don’t have change you can put in trolleybus tickets and take bus tickets. Not everyone pays but most seem to. Again, if you can’t get near, you pass along your money and your tickets come back from hand to hand along the bus. What I found fascinating was watching the person sitting or standing nearest to the box. He becomes a more of less voluntary ticket vendor. He puts people’s money in, dishes out tickets, giving various people change out of other people’s fares. Suddenly he’s look at some cash someone has just given him, and say, ‘Someone needs three kopeks, yes?’ A voice calls, ‘Yes’, and three kopeks are past down the bus. Kopecks are very small value and fares cheap but Russians seem to hand over small change to strangers on request. One lady was just receiving her change which included two shiny new kopeks. Rabfail, who is collecting new coins for me because he thinks I should have one set purely on account of that being on the list of what one is allowed to export, said, ‘Give me two kopeks,’ and swopped them.
When we were rushing to catch the train to Ufa, Rabfail installed me on the train and rushed back to get our luggage without taking the money from his coat pocket to retrieve it. He just caught the train and told me there had been a hitch as he’d left his cash in his coat. I asked how he got the luggage from the machine. He said, ‘I got the money from a friend who was standing nearby. I asked him who the ‘friend’ was and it was no one he knew, a strange, a товарищ (comrade). The dictionary meaning of товарищ is (or used to be) comrade but is also friend / mate etc. In Soviet times it was the normal way to address someone you didn’t know. Some years ago while I still had my Russian blog I asked someone on iy what form of address would be used now in post Soviet times. He said one would need a whole academic treatise to answer the question now.
Today Rabfail called me to get up as we had to be at the telegram office to await our ‘peregovor’ with Sergei. I could hardly communicate at all by phone so Rabfail did most of the talking. Sergei will be working the day we’ll be near Sevastopol but he’ll try to fix something. Also he wants an invitation as he’ll be free in the summer. We were lucky; we only waited 5 minutes. One can wait up to an hour for a line. I was most relieved as I was in need of breakfast. Rosa and Rabfail are at last convinced that I need only bread and tea for breakfast and am now allowed to decline kolbas and big bowls of soup.
In the afternoon we went to visit the Bashkir teacher from the junior school. Гумеровна Лидя Гасиевнa (Gumerovna Lidya Gasievn), and her family. Her husband is a doctor who was wounded and still limps. Because of this they were awarded a bigger flat than usual; they have four bedrooms whereas the norm is two. Like all flats it has an big partly glass-fronted cupboards and in theirs stood a wonderful array of pretty china from the DDR and assorted traditional Bashkir objects. She told me they tried to keep up their Bashkir culture but that it was difficult.
Our son is already a Russian,’ she said. All their family, two daughters and a son, are doctors following in Dad’s footsteps. One daughter, whose younger son is with his grandparents all day, came home from work in time to dine with us. The other, who works with Rosa, came home as we were leaving. Also present at the meal was a colleague of Lidia Gasievna’s and her favourite neighbour. The latter said quite rightly that before moving it is more important to choose your neighbours than your flat. Apart from Rabfail, who is a Tatar, everyone present was of Bashkiri nationality with the result that from time to time I was relieved of the responsibility of trying to follow the conversation as they would lapse into Bashkir (Tatar and Bashkiri are mutually comprehensible). The meal in addition to salads, chicken, fish and duck included several traditional Bashkir dishes. There was a delicious meat and potato pie and a drink, buza’ made from wheat and oats fermented with raisins. I viewed large glasses of this thick white liquid with alarm, fearing it might be kusmis (fermented mare’s milk) but it was delicious. Toasts were in cognac mostly (some preferred vodka) until we exhausted the bottle. Then all drank vodka. I was surprised to find I could walk when we left. It was another delicious meal and once again I ate far too much. Our hostess feels that schools have a lot of problems due to lack of money and also a tendency to blame teachers for the sins of society. But the also proclaimed her loyalty to the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) a rather unfashionable position at present. They were all very interested in what England thought about the USSR, perestroika etc. I had to tell them that there was a lot of interest but that most ordinary people only know what our papers and TV say and that is of somewhat doubtful veracity. I seem to have a great rarity value here.
From there we caught a bus to the theatre and met up with Rosa, Lyuba, Venera and Lena at the Philharmonia Theatre to see the Bashkiria National Danc Ensemble. It was really spectacular, beautiful costumes and amazing skill. They presented not only Bashkir dances but also a couple of Russian ones, one from the Ukraine and one from the Tatar Republic. It was astonishing how the same dancers managed to look like typical representatives of each nationality in turn. I think it was the hair styles more than the costumes but all the costumes were incredibly lovely. The programme was very varied and included dances which told a story. One was about a man courting a Bashkir girl who starts out very shy and is gradually won over. At the end she accepts his beads from behind a screening drape as he steals a kiss. The audience demanded an encore so they repeated the end of the act but this time she got the beads and eluded the kiss. One of the most incredible dances was performed with the girls mostly dancing with cups and saucers complete with spoons on their heads. The leading girl had a samovar on her head with its china teapot on top.
At the end of the programme Victor turned up with a request that I write my impressions. He is terribly proud of his niece who is one of the dancers and wanted us to wait and meet her. She, however, did not appear; he, much to his indignation, was not allowed into the ladies dressing room! to look for her) but her husband came. He was one of the best dancers and did the best individual act and played the kurai, a very simple long pipe. It doesn’t have a mouthpiece and the player inserts a tooth (well, that’s what it seems to say in my diary). It has a wistful sound rather like pan pipes. He gave me a signed photo of his act – a lovely souvenir.