Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Suburban Minsk

I think I know where the president lives.

There’s some folklore going around about President Lukashenko. One person told me that he lives in an apartment just like everybody else. Another person told me that nobody knows where the president lives. Both of these stories seemed implausible to me, but I enjoyed knowing a little about the mystery surrounding the man.

Well, today I may have penetrated the mystery. I started my day with an early bike ride. My delightful route began along a riverside bike path and continued past a monument on the edge of the congested area; past an exposition center with tanks, tractors and heavy equipment on display; and into a suburban area at the edge of a huge park.

I explored the residential area, violated the rules by riding my bike on a fantastic 5-K rollerblade path, and explored peripheral paths in the parkland. Birds were chirping, the sunlight drenched the open areas and blasted into the wooded areas, and the air was perfectly cool and fresh for riding. When I felt that I had seen all I could in the park I found a bridge across the river and I set out to find a way home on the other side of the river.

I really enjoyed all the roads out in this area because they were completely uncongested. Unfortunately, I felt like I was riding perpendicular to the river and I wanted to turn right. Presently, I reached a T intersection. The street sign and the paint on the road indicated that traffic should all turn left, but the street to my right looked perfectly good so I took it. After about a mile, I saw a serious-looking gate ahead of me.

The gate didn’t completely block the street, and I could have ridden my bike through a gap to the right of the gate. I slowed down as I approached this to ascertain whether a cyclist might be allowed even though cars could not. Before I even reached the opening, however, an especially-crisp military guy jumped out to stop me. I asked him if the property were closed and he replied “Nil zya,” which might be translated “No way.” OK. I turned around.

As I turned back I noticed that the concrete fence to my right was topped with unspooled razor wire and that there were TV cameras every 100 meters or so. A black car with heavily-tinted windows exited the compound and passed me. I figured it was best not to try to look into the car, but it looked to me like the same car by which President Lukashenko left the Monument of Victory after speaking to the people on May 9. This time, as at the monument, there was no motorcade. But I think it’s possible that I saw the president’s limo this morning for the second time.
I rode all the way around the perimeter of the compound. It’s beautifully located, a heavenly camp within a beautiful park. At the back of the compound the wall turns away from the road and the road leads to a typically delightful Belarusian village. I’ll be back to explore the village at another time.

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