SOVIET HOSPITALITY Part 11
For once we ‘отдыхали спокойно а не активно’ (rested peacefully and not actively). I partly packed another suitcase with carefully stowed ill-gotten gains. I shall have to go through the red zone at Harwich and declare my vodka but I’ve managed so far to restrain Rabfail from giving me too many things the export of which is forbidden.
For lunch we had blini with tvarog. I don’t know how long Rosa had meant to make them. She has made blini every morning for three days and we’ve eaten them all with jam. Actually Rabfail ate most of them and he said that Rosa just went on making more because she thought I ate them. He said it was his good luck. Anyway they are very good with tvarog.
After lunch we went shopping and then to Victor’s. Rabfail wanted to take his films for developing and we both felt he’d be quicker without me so he left me at Victor’s a little early. They were not at all put out by this. Nina was cooking and Victor deposited me on the sofa and entertained me with music. Rabfail returned and one friend and one daughter with boyfriend turned up. Meanwhile the table got laid and finally with less than usual formality we all sat down – when enough chairs had been found. For once no one tried to impress me. We had two kinds of salad, both delicious, and then meat wrapped in cabbage leaves.It was nice to be able to come nack for more and eat in a leisurely fashion. Toasts were in vodka or wine or both according to choice and no long speeches. Half way through dinner Victor announced that we should have a concert. This turned out to be a singsong partly accompanied on the guitar by the boyfriend and by the elder daughter, who had meanwhile arrived with a small daughter of her own. Dinner finished with icecream and wild strawberry jam and then tea and cakes. Jam here is delicious, very runny with much less sugar than ours. It is eaten with a spoon in vast quantities along with tea. Victor and Nina both wanted to use their English but not to the exclusion of others. Victor translated all funny anecdotes etc in which ever direction was required and I thought it was a lovely evening. Rabfail afterwards sounded a bit critical of their lack of planning but I really enjoyed it.
We went in search of film. I could not for the life of me why we needed to make a forty minute journey to the town centre to find out what was on when we got there by way of the usual crowded bus. Rabfail left me at the main post office to dealwith the posting of parcels while he went in search of information. Books can be sent abroad as ‘banderola’, that is parcels of less than two kilograms. The tree queue system (as in many shops). First you go to a counter on the ground floor with your books and a girl weighs them and divides them into two kilogram lots. You then take them downstairs and give them to a girl who packs them. If they are not for abroad she wraps them in brown paper, glues it firmly down, ties it with string and then slaps great dobs of sealing wax over the knots and stamps it. If the parcel is for abroad it must be accessible to customs so she only wraps and ties it – no glue, no sealing wax. You pay her 20 kopeks, go back upstairs, address it and give it to the girl who previously weighed it. She now stamps it and it’s on its way.
Rabfail returned triumphant and informed me that there was a Russian film at our local cinela and only American and Indian films in the centre so we resumed our battle with the transport system. Actually the system is excellent; I have no complaints. It’s just that Ufa seems to have half its population on the move at any one time. I was still puzzling over why we had to go so far to fid out what was practically next door, when Rabfail said we should have looked in the paper but he didn’t know where Rosa had put it. This solution had seemed to me so obvious that I hadn’t liked to suggest it. Now I asked if one couldn’t buy a paper locally and he said of course one could but he’d forgotten about that. For such an organised person he can be very scatty – more so even than me.
Rosa and I went to listen to a poetry reading: Tsvetayeva, Blok,. I recorded it but didn’t have enough tape so lost some Blok, but I have enough to enjoy for a long time to come. The audience was small and Rosa’s opinion was that people stayed at home to watch the совет народных депутатов (Soviet parliament session)n. All the same we got home for supper and had time to watch it for several hours. I don’t understand everything but all the same it was enough to be impressed with the reasonableness of the debate the level of participation and, in particular, Gorbachev’s chairmanship. I could almost wish they would give up the idea of a president so that he could continue as chairman. I watched it for quite a long tine till 12.30 when they resumed after a break and I guessed it was going to be a long session and I remembered I had to get up early.