Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Day 352: Which Way to Go-Go-Go

Only a week more in Russia. I think…that’s ok. For the weekly wonderful tales I tell, on a day-to-day basis there’s not really enough to keep me occupied, and with the ever-looming stresses of moving back into the US, it feels time to get there and get it done. Doesn’t mean I’m not TOTALLY FREAKED OUT about moving back, especially after another American friend of mine, recently returned from Norway, commented on how he didn’t like moving back very much at all – and he moved back to the relative calm of Seattle (is it relatively calm there? I guess I just assume LA is the most ridiculous place ever), making me wonder how in the world I’m going to deal with the people of Los Angeles.

Although, those that know me better know I don’t actually live in LA at all, but on a farm a bit south of Santa Barbara. Most likely I can handle Ventura. I suppose technically I’m of an age where I don’t live anywhere, but take advantage of my parent’s address while homeless.

But I’ll save the throes of my philosophical waxing for a later date, perhaps nicely told in the environs of a panicked airport stopover. I still have a few days in Canada with a friend, which should provide a decent buffer zone to the heat-shock of CA.

Back to our present local. There’s been a few small adventures the last weeks, which under the pressure of mild hyperbole should be interesting to write about.

When the birder’s were still here, they told me that there was a small lake about 10 minutes walk up the road, which I hadn’t seen before. So I decided to go have a look. About 20 minutes down the road, no lake. I felt like an idiot. Can’t find a lake. So I continued on my way, determined to make an interesting walk of it regardless, and ended up walking all the way to town, swerving south to return along the airport and take the coast back home.

The walk to town is a long dirt road – nothing terribly unusual. When you turn to the airport, the area is filled with the typical junk of the region – weird bits of machinery, old housing, all sorts of random things. By this point I had only seen 3 people, none of which approached or even hardly looked at me, but I still felt as if I was going somewhere I shouldn’t. I can’t really explain that – just shyness on my part, going somewhere I hadn’t seen before? I decided to tough it out and ended up walking through a (currently empty) quarry/construction zone near the airport. The weird thing with these places is that its very hard to tell if they are abandoned or not. I have been scared of out my wits before, coming across piles of random timber that I felt CERTAIN were empty, only to find a family of campers inside.

I often wonder how my impression of “Russian-ness” affects what I see. I had a perfectly lovely walk, saw interesting things, gorgeous view of the river. Coming alongside the field of oil tanks, I noticed a thick wall of barbed wire running hap-hazardly through the forest. I had sudden visions of the KGB jumping out, confiscating my camera, and sending me to jail for eternity. Probably the most ridiculous unlikelihood ever, but I completed my walk as silently as possible.

On another day, I decided to make a more thorough investigation of the satellite dish near the station. This enormous contraption sits unused, a startlingly decrepit display of technology. The dish is about…eh, I’m going to estimate about 10-15meters high off the top of a small building. When I first arrived in Cherskii, Sergei Z drove me home along the dirt road which enters the station alongside the satellite. Stunned to see such an impressive device after driving through the shambles of town, I asked him if it was still used. “Not so much,” he said with a wink, “I use it to talk to God.”

So I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to climb it. Luckily, the popularity of concrete and rebar ensured that the old building wasn’t about to immediately collapse, and I got up to the base of the dish before losing my nerve to my intense fear of heights. (Ironic, I know.) The building was locked up, but I was given an impressive view. Although the building was in disrepair, the dish looks in too good of condition to be abandoned, and I hope they can fix it up.

Later in the week I decided I was going to find that lake. As it turns out, I was supposed to turn off a tiny dirt road/path, which I had not done before due to the presence of a large house on the path. Being more inclined to not be shot for trespassing than to find a lake, I had ignored it the first time, but this time was assured that the house was abandoned. Walking out, I found the house far more fascinating that the potential lake. The building had been coated in a heavy, fuzzy orange foam-material. It was the most bizarre thing, as through someone had sprayed the house down in this…foam, and meant for it to seal the place up. You could see the dim outline of windows and doors under the foam.

I didn’t know what to think. Was it merely a method to keep the neighborhood hooligans out? Or was there some kind of…who knows, gas leak, or viral plague, locked up inside? I found a door not covered by orange foam and tried to get inside. Inside THAT door was another heavily padlocked door with a sign written in large Russian letters saying something very firmly with lots of exclamation points. I decided it was time to leave.

The lake, although reported to have an accessible Arctic tern nest, was almost completely intolerable due to mosquitoes. The path to the edge, as so many paths in this area, was defined by the trail of completely random garbage, including a baking tray, a car muffler, a bale of wire, and about a million cans of mackerel.

Has anyone ever seen “Solaris”? Not the George Clooney one but the original Russian one. I was walking along the river the other day and was very tripped out to see that the surface of the water looked EXACTLY like the surface of the mystery liquid in the original Solaris. Weirrrrd.

Another mini-adventure: I took another walk out down our dirt road and turned up another small dirt path. I determined that if I was going to come across someone’s actual home, I could see it far enough in advance to turn away. I did see a building in the distance, but it looked to be abandoned. When I finally reached it, it certainly was – the thin, scarred ravages of large metallic building that had been oddly ripped to shreds. There is something very bizarre about sitting on a hill, in the midst of a massive forest, walking among the remains of destroyed building, as the wind whistles in odd ways off the metal, and the heat of the sun makes the panels pop like foot steps. Small signs of the life that used to be here – a rusted boiler, an ancient “no smoking” sign, patches of molding wallpaper – give a sad life to the place.

One of the things I had been hoping to learn more about in Cherskii was the gulag that existed here decades ago. Cherskii was in fact home to one of the most infamous gulags, or work/concentration camps, during the time where prisoners where sent to Siberia to work out their lives and in all likelihood die of cold, starvation, or disease. Today, however, there is nothing left of the “gulag” – it is not some huge old building, but rather this location, where small wooden huts would have housed piles of cramped prisoners as they worked in the mines, or in cutting timber, or other hard labor. So, while I cannot show anything directly in photographs, I often wonder about the junk I find in the forest – in all likelihood, some amount of it is left over not from the greater days of Cherskii, but the remnants of the gulag station.

Two days ago, having been quite restless, I went for a walk at 2am to get some interesting light – “sunrise”, to the nearest sense, as the sun is slightly below the horizon at midnight now. There is nothing exciting to tell about this experience, beyond the calm of that dawn light – the pleasant windless silence, as the sun darts between the trees to the north. It feels like autumn, and home.

The weather has been quite strange this week – rain for the last two days straight. Sergei Z’s son is supposed to come today with his wife and fresh baby – Sergei and Gaya’s first grandchild. I wonder if the weather will delay their helicopter. They will move into the house with the computer I use for the internet, so I will not be so free to use it when I please. I hope to send out at least one more Russian post before leaving next Tuesday. I wanted to get this text out before they came, and will try to post photos soon as well, if there is time.

To part: a visual that I will not be supplying photographs for. Sergei Z’s most favorite outfit, apparently, is an old t-shirt and bright, flowered boxer shorts. The first time I saw this outfit, I had come in their house to do my laundry and he and Gaya were sitting having breakfast – perfectly content to invite me in. I quickly ran out again, deeply chagrinned that I had caught him in his pajamas. No. The next day I saw him, utterly unconcerned, outside fixing a flat tire in the same ensemble. Later in the week, in the same outfit, he came in my house and raided my refrigerator (which holds some of their leftovers as well as my food). There is nothing lewd about this display beyond the utterly bizarre experience of watching a gruff old Russian scientist go about his business in slippers and flowered boxers, and who’s only words are “I AM HUNGRY, YES. GOODBYE.”


Anonymous said...

"with his wife and fresh baby"

mmmmmmmm... i love fresh baby...

Anonymous said...

It's been a year and I will love to have you home, but even I am very sad that your amazing adventure is reaching an end! Will I recognize you?


liylak said...


sam said...

I saw the original "solaris" last summer, and I have to admit, it was spoiled for me by too many modern effects-laden blockbusters. Instead of feeling the psychological tension of solitude, I kept tensing up, expecting like aliens to explode out of the ventilation system, something to pop and make everyone in the audience flinch. I felt like the subtlety and craft of the film was lost on me (and probably a lot of contemporary viewers).

On another note, it seems like you're reasonably close to Alaska right now, which is reasonably close to Cali. But I have a bad feeling that you'll have to fly west to get back home, via yakutsk and moscow to london or new york or chicago. Have you made the arrangements to get home yet?

Jón Magnús said...

i can´t even believe you are going home! how insane?!? i just remember when you were here with us, and we talked about the things we missed from the states like mmm...food, and what else, oh yeah! food, and one more thing...food! oh well, have a great time, and enjoy your last days!


Laurel said...

Yes, I know what you mean (about Solaris). I was expecting explode-y aliens too. And there was a good part of it where I just didn’t know what was going on. But I think it helps to watch it more than once.

As for my travel plans…I’ll post about that soon. Your fears are correct.