Sunday, 26 September 2010
I'm off quite soon, off to visit my son who lives and works in a remote part of Central Asia.
In the meantime I struggle with Olga and Vladimir.
I need to get to grips with these two, because for some of the time I will be free-range in a very foreign place. I want to be able to wander around and chat to people while my son is at work.
I will take my small-scale sketching things, because I have learned that the way to attract a bit of company is to sit and sketch.
If you want to keep people away you sit and write in your Moleskine notebook, but if you produce a sketch book and a little box of water-colours you have someone sitting beside you in no time at all.
At least, that is what happens in England.
What will happen in Kazakhstan, I wonder?
Which is why I'm working on Olga and Vladimir.
They are Russian, but many people in Kazakhstan speak Russian.
Olga and Vladimir meet at a business conference.
'Hello!' they say to each other,'What is your name?'
They exchange names. They tell each other how nice it is to meet. They agree that Moscow is beautiful. They agree it is time to part. They say goodbye with no apparent qualms.
That is Lesson 1 Part 1 of the multi-disc set of Conversational Russian. It is called Getting to Know People.
I don't feel I am getting to know Olga and Vladimir, but will press on.
Olga and Vladimir meet again. They remember each others' names. They ask each other how they are. They are both well. They part again, but now I sense a lingering regret.
Things begin to warm up. Olga wants to find the way to the Post Office. She wants to buy a stamp. I expect she needs to write home to say she may be away longer than expected.
Now she wants to find the Bolshoi Theatre. Is she going to buy tickets and invite Vladimir?
By Part 2 Valdimir and Olga are in a restaurant; beer, borshch and salad for Vlad, red wine and chips for Olga. Oh, and an omelette. And white wine instead of red. Then coffee with milk and tea with lemon.
They summon the waiters repeatedly. 'Young man!' 'Young woman!' they cry. Olga changes her mind about the chips, the wine, the tea. Vladimir asks for the bill. It's really not promising.
I knew it!
By Part 4 Olga is off to the football stadium and Vladimir? Well, Vladimir is heading for the hospital. He is on the number ten trolleybus, three stops away from the hospital.
They never get it together. They buy samovars and matroshka dolls, but separately.
They make an attempt to go to the Puskin Museum but it is closed on Mondays, and, of course, it happens to be Monday.
Vladimir has a mild dose of man-flu and goes to hospital, but is told to take an aspirin and stop fussing. Olga loses her handbag and is locked out of her room.
The pair of them go to supper with another colleague where they partake of three bread rolls, a half kilo of cheese, tomatoes and three bottles of beer.
One wonders about the quality of the conference as well.
I expect things are different in Kazakhstan.
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
One step outside the garden door, and autumn is there.
It is there in the goose-pimpling air, the heavy cold dew on the lawn. the filaments of cobwebs highlighted by the low level sun.
As the day warms it is there in the blushing tomatoes. the fattening grapes and the competitive scrambling of birds in the thickness of the vine.
The grapes are not good for people.
An enthusiastic friend made wine some years ago. It was awful; bitter, harsh.
I tipped the remainer of the bottle down the sink, where it fizzed and foamed and left the sink sparkling.
Good for stainless steel.
An American friend made grape jelly, but it was so sweet that we might as well have eaten a bag of sugar.
So now the grapes are there only for the birds, and I wait for the Fieldfares to come for their share.
In the meantime starlings, blackbirds and sparrows argue and scamble for fruit, nipping off ripe and unripe indiscriminately.
An athletic-looking cat, new to the neighbourhood, watches from a fence-top.
The blackbirds have spent the summer colonising the garden. They are proprietorial about its contents, spending so much time trying to prevent others from eating that they can hardly feed themselves. They posture and fight - male to male, female to male, father to daughter.
The other birds eat on, noisily, fussily.
Bounty for the sparrow-hawk, too, plummeting into the vine, pinioning a shrieking victim.
The other birds rush panic-striken away and the sparrow-hawk plucks and rips in silence.
Such passion and brutality in a small town garden.
Overhead, on the edge of the hills, a family of buzzards spiral and mew. Two adults with three offspring this year.
Their chance will come.
The sky is empty and silent of the scimitars of martins, swifts and swallows, screaming high in the summer evenings. I try to note the day they vanish, to wish them safety on their perilous, incredible journey back to warmth.
One night soon, if I am very lucky, in the still and chilly dark I will hear autumn in the rush of migrating birds, high, high in the cold starry sky, following flight paths older than Man.
The birds are always ahead of us in their knowledge of winds and weather for their unimaginably vast migrations.
Earth is making its slow tilt again; here towards darkness while the other side receives its share of warmth and light.