SOVIET HOSPITALITY Part 13
This is the beginning of a section that is too long for one part as it covers several days in the Tatar republic with Rabfail’s family, starting with the journey there.
Today we took it easy.. While I slept and breakfasted peacefully Rabfail went to return our tickets, send telegrams and buy tickets to go to his brother’s place. In the afternoon we went to the cinema and saw a children’s film – Beauty and the Beast. The beast / monster of the forest or wonder from the sea, was wonderful, sprouting all over with moss, ferns and twigs. In Russian it is called the Red Flower as all disasters follow the girl asking her father to bring her a flower redder than anything in the world. Could there be a motto here? Actually in ancient Russian the word for red and beautiful is the same.
In the evening we set off for the station. Rosa accompanied us part of the way until we were on the first train. To be sure she’d seen the last of us? We made it to the station with an hour to spare. The waiting hall (definitely not a waiting room) is splendid – enormous, spotlessly clean with a marble floor, mosaics on the walls and great potted palm trees in groups. Warm, of course, as is everywhere indoors in USSR. We caught our train with ease and settled ourselves into a four berth compartment with a pleasant couple returning from a trip to the town. This train did not have tea on tap, probably because it was already bedtime so we made up our beds with the linen provided. This was damp, a not unusual state of affairs. I suspect the turnover of linen is too fast to allow for airing but everyone seems to survive this. The train was also by Russian standards cold so I curled up in all my clothes, being very glad I’d travelled in tracksuit bottoms. I’d packed my skirt, however, as ladies do certainly not wear trousers in public in the Tatar countryside. Rosa was very definite about this. Apparently they don’t smoke either. At one bus stop the next day I had occasion to use the public loo – very public; no divisions and hardly the pleasantest of surroundings. The only other occupant was a well-dressed woman having a quiet smoke.
We got up and alighted at 5 am. In Bugolma. From there we were lucky to get a bus quite quickly and travelled in four hours to Наберехные Челны (Naberyezhny Chelny) where we caught a second bus to Семекеyево. By this time I had the beginnings of a migraine so we got some fizzy mineral water from a machine to take tablets *. At the bus station the place was seething with people and for once indoor facilities were inadequate. This was because it is a small town and some years back they built a big lorry factory (to make homes where the fumes will not kill the driver if he sleeps in his vehicle with the engine running so as not to freeze. This gave rise tio lots of subsidiary factories and the town grew to half the size of Ufa. The number of buses increased accordingly but not the bus station. Out in the yard a woman was selling sunflower seeds from a big sack. She just emptied her measure into the pockets of her customers. All bus stations in the countryside are marked by scatterings of sunflower husks that people spit out and pidgeons who make sure there is no wastage.
*I gather that where we drank was just a short stop. After that I slept off my medication and saw very little till we arrived at the village. Semyeyevo is actually a kolkhoz (collective farm) of 3.000 hectares. The kolkhozniks (people who live and work there) keep their own sheep, cows and geese. A tractor driver earns about 125 roubles a month and pays 30 roubles for half an acre a year. For his house (log cabin) he does not pay rent but pays 75 roubles a year insurance ie. For all possessions and stock and one rouble a month for electricity. Water is fetched from a stream and poured into their own ingenious plumbing including a wonderful wooden bath-house. Loos are outside and primitive. Houses are of wood, heated by extremely economic stoves which burn wood and whose chimneys have for 50 years twisted about to retain heat in the way our modern Scandinavian wood-burning stoves do. The houses are wonderfully warm. Most consist of two big rooms plus a kitchen. Beds are in curtained alcoves and convertible sofas are also used for guests if not for the residents; this depends on the size of the family.