Sunday, May 18, 2008

Touring the Puscha

This morning Alla set out to make a final appeal to the director of the museum, the only authority she had been unable to reach yesterday. We stormed her office shortly after her 9 a.m. arrival. She was ready for us. She offered us a free excursion, leaving immediately. Accepting, we ran to our room to grab our camera. Alla also changed her clothes to be as dressed up as the guide.

When we came out, we discovered that a whole busload of people was waiting for us. The guide shooed the folks from the front row, installed us there, and set out for a tour.

At first I feared that we'd never be allowed outside the bus as we careened past several scenic stops with only a slight tap on the brakes. Finally we understood, when we got to Grandfather Frost's village. All the other passengers were employees and the bus driver was getting them to work late because of us.

After we dropped off the workers we enjoyed a much more leisurely tour all the way to the Polish border. On the way back, we stopped to visit Ded Moroz, a.k.a. Grandfather Frost, a.k.a. Santa Claus. [Aside to the curious: I checked my spelling of Ded Moroz by doing a Google search, which turns up a number of amusing results. Try it!]

The Ded Moroz village encapsulates a number of wonderful Belarusian traditions including architecture, wood carving, straw weaving, medieval costumes, and kitsch. Grandfather Frost himself wore a lavish costume and demonstrated a quick wit and a good heart. His village includes a wide enough variety of hand-made fairy-tale attractions to make this an increasingly popular destination. In the four years since it's been opened, they've had visitors from at least 70 different countries. A Japanese guy offered to buy Grandfather Frost's hat for $1,000 (or was it $10,000?) Grandather Frost quipped to his American visitors that if it had been Euros he might have been tempted.

The most striking thing to me about meeting this man is how clean he keeps his hands. No detail about this place distracted from the pleasure of a childish fantasy.

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