Thursday, May 1, 2008

Arrival in Minsk

Alla and I are in Minsk. I was originally going to entitle this post "kakaya gadost," but yesterday's breakfast is long enough ago that I've forgiven and forgotten. That phrase means something like "how disgusting," which was applied to a meal in a movie we saw and I applied it to our breakfast. Otherwise, we had a great day.

I was a little jetlagged and made it about half way through the big museum here before I became a zombie. They had a lot of great stuff, apparently given to them by the Soviet authorities because I'm sure whatever they had before the war was bombed out or stolen. My favorite piece was called "The optimist and the pessimist," by Makovsky. The optimist was poor, with a straw bag and a little stub of a cigarette. He looked perfectly contented. The pessimist had a stack of books and a foul expression on his face. I think he looked financially better off. I remarked to Alla that it was like us. The pessimist had read more thorougly the documentation on the timeshare.

There was a big symphony concert last night, largely sold out, but Alla got us a couple of tickets while I was working out in the gym at our affiliated health club. We really enjoyed the show, especially Berlioz Fantasy. The most amazing thing about it was the price: about $2.50 per ticket. The woman seated beside us comes to Minsk for the music festival every year and stays for a month. Obviously, she's not going broke buying her tickets. We'll make a point of attending some more shows ourselves.

Yesterday's biggest waste of time was our visit to the American Embassy's consular office. They invited us down to learn about the situation between our governments. (It's not so cordial right now.) They went on at great length about stuff I'd mostly read about already on Google news. When Alla and I were sure they were done and we could finally go, they opened the floor to questions. The American expatriots living in Minsk had lots of personal questions about their individual situations, complete with follow-up questions. We waited as long as we could stand because we were sitting in the front row of a small room, but finally found our frustration uncontainable and we bolted for the door. We had much more fun walking around the green area and visiting a memorial to soldiers lost in Afghanistan, and don't feel that we really learned anything useful in our meeting.

In spite of the governments' disagreements and warnings of poor treatment of some Americans in Minsk, we found the people as cordial and open as ever. We really like the folks at our hotel, we've been met by lots of smiles on the streets and stores, and we're having an excellent time. The only wrinkle in the trip was of my own making: I forgot to bring the charger to my Pocket PC so I can't take advantage of the free WiFi in our hotel lobby.

Today is May Day and we're off to a big public music festival at the beautiful State Library. I'll tell you about it later.

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