Thursday, July 19, 2012

To have and have not

[Warning added July 29: This post seems a little long to me today, and it's not my favorite. I won't be offended if you skip it. The ones with the pictures seem to be the most popular. -Steve]

I went shopping this afternoon. I fortified myself in advance by eating smoked salmon on crackers with a side dish of Trader Joe’s almond butter and a huge helping of strawberries from the dacha. Finally, I treated myself to the last morsel of Gruyere cheese from our trip through Switzerland. Alla and I have been rationing the Gruyere and I justified myself in taking the last bite by adding it to my shopping list for the giant grocery store at the end of my odyssey. Thus prepared, I roared off to TSUM and bought a pair of linen pants on sale for about $20. I have no idea what these would have cost in the US, but it seemed like a very good deal to me even if the styling varies a bit from what I’d wear in America. I’m not there anyway.

Next I rode the subway a few stops to GUM, where I discovered an even bigger choice of linen pants supposedly in my size. Buying pants in Belarus is a little less certain than buying pants in the US because the manufacturers haven’t made any effort to agree over what a given size means. At GUM I tried on every pair in the size most likely to fit me among all the sizes I tried on at TSUM. Less than 50% of the pants I put on fit, and I chose a favorite. I also chose a couple pairs of shorts that come below my knees, since my other shorts are seriously out of style. After completing a few other purchases at GUM without adventure, I returned to the subway and rode out to the Korona Hypermart.

I know my way around Korona pretty well and I’ve gotten used to finding what I want there, but I came up dry on a couple of key items today. First, of course, was the Gruyere cheese. I just couldn’t find it, so I asked the lady at the fancy-foods counter if she had any. She’d never heard of it. Confident that since we ALWAYS have this stuff in our refrigerator at home and Korona has all kinds of cheeses I don’t buy, I asked her to talk to somebody else. The next clerk didn’t know anything about this strange cheese either and said I wouldn’t find it at the deli counter. I took another look anyway and then went over to the packaged-cheese area. Finding nothing, I asked the stock clerk about Gruyere. “What’s it like?” she asked.

I told her it was a lot like Emmental without the holes and she showed me where she keeps the Emmental. Having no Gruyere, however, she suggested that I go over to have a look at their wide selection of Belarusian cheeses. I didn’t fall for that trick. Belarus produces a wide variety of cheeses, but as far as we can determine, they all taste exactly the same: white and bland.

Disappointed, I gave up and went off to get some Zip Lock freezer bags. Alla has harvested a huge volume of berries and we’ve been freezing a lot of them to save for winter. We started with bags we brought from Boston, but needed a lot more. In the housewares department I found aluminum foil, plastic wrap and parchment paper, but didn’t see the bags I wanted. Interestingly, you don’t have to buy these roll items inside a box if you don’t want. You have the option of buying just the roll of stuff, which is wonderfully sound environmentally but prevents you from stacking them on a shelf at home. Truthfully, I didn’t find that so interesting at the time because I wanted heavy freezer bags with a zipper top. Ha! No freaking way! The best I could do was to buy some Polish freezer bags about half the thickness of the bags from Boston. I bought them. At home I learned that I should have bought string at the same time because the bags didn’t come with anything to close the ends. We’ll make do. That’s the Belarusian way.

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