From Russia With Love: Part 2
Part 2 of ALEX BOWER’s Russian adventure. This time, he talks semi-boiled eggs, hating men, and Russian plumbing.
Click HERE for Alex’s first column from Moscow.
The day starts badly. I oversleep by two hours, and find that Babushka has left me some freezing cold kasha (porridge). It is approaching the consistency of cement. I also find two very, very hard boiled eggs, a yoghurt, and some sandwiches. In Russia, a sandwich is a slab of vacuum-moulded cheese/sausage, which is made of meat of very dubious origin, piled on to bread that you can file your nails with. Yum.
I have no time or desire to eat breakfast, so must think of a way of disposing of 500g of Kasha without Babushka knowing. The bin is strictly off limits and, being on the eighth floor of a garden-less Soviet monolith, I can’t just shove it in the compost. I opt to shovel it down the toilet. In Moscow, putting toilet paper down the toilet isn’t the done thing, as the drainage can’t cope. I don’t want the kasha to resurface after it’s been flushed, or for it to block the drain and instigate some sort of plumbing investigation. Things are not looking good. I decide to flush the toilet twice between each spoonful. There are lots of spoonfuls. There is lots of flushing. Sorry, polar bears.
Later, I return home from a hard day of studying the subjunctive to find babushka seductively sprawled across the sofa, watching the news, and messily eating stodge with jam. Turns out she keeps her underarms au naturel. There’s jam caught in her moustache, and it’s waving about distractingly as she talks. She’s just found out that Elizabeth Taylor has died, and she’s talking about Cleopatra and her lovers. There’s a scary glint in her eye. It’s time to make a sneaky exit.
Upon waking up, I go for a shower. I feel very clean. The cat’s litter is in the bathroom. The cat needs to go while I am in the shower, so it shits outside my door. As luck would have it, the light bulb in the hall chooses to blow this morning, so I don’t see the steaming pile of squelch that awaits me. Naturally, I put my foot right in it.
Breakfast time. Babushka hasn’t managed to boil the pasta properly, but has just made it sticky enough to bake hair into it. No sauce, no cheese, no butter; just hairy pasta, and a sausage.
It is on my Metro journey home, in the wake of a day of lessons about verbal aspects, that I am, for the first time, confronted with Russia’s alcohol problem. All of the men around me are sipping hideously strong beverages, most of which have been topped up with vodka. There is that heavy stench of beer, which I normally associate with the homeless. But, these men are not homeless. They are professionals, returning home from work. I am surrounded by men who are drowning their sorrows before returning to their families and homes.
That evening, Babushka tells me that she doesn’t know the people next door. There’s something deeply soulless about it all. I look at photographs of Babushka’s deceased husband, and I notice a sudden and huge gain in weight as he approaches 40. I broach the topic with her once again: why are there so few men in Moscow?
Alcohol, she tells me. In Russia, it’s unbelievably cheap, and the government still takes a third of its income from it. But, why does everyone drink? She doesn’t know.
This woman is desperately and profoundly lonely. She tells me that her marriage was happy, she travelled a lot, and rarely argued with her husband. They shared passions, raised a child, and loved each other. But still, he turned to drink, and this constant boozing kills all the men here. This culture of alcoholism is the reason that I see this old lady pore over her old photos every night, longingly stroking the glass on the frames, caressing the memory of his face. Her husband abandoned everything he had because of alcohol. But why? What was he looking for?
Today starts off fairly uneventfully. There is the standard getting rid of lots of breakfast scenario. I am forced to dump the unbelievable quantity of porridge she gave me, along with the rancid-tasting meat in the bin outside the Metro. I line my pockets with a plastic bag. Cunning.
Today, it is -10°C, but also very windy, making it minus a lot. For some reason, it’s too cold for the lift to work today, so I’m forced to walk down eight flights of stairs to the bottom of the flat. I am now late. Sprinting to the Metro is impossible, because there’s 50cm of ice on the pavement. Walking on thick ice is just as perilous as walking on thin ice, as I found out when I planted my face on the pavement, right next to a Russian lady who was walking with ease, and at a normal speed, in five inch heels. I think the bag of porridge has just burst. Having to fairy-step on ice when you’re in a rush is a very bizarre, frustrating feeling. It’s like having a car chase in a library or something.
Will Alex ever get the train? Will Babushka finally shave her armpits, and learn to cook pasta? Find out next week.