Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here I am in Minsk

Things are different here in Minsk. We arrived about a week ago, and the first thing I did was go out the next morning for a haircut. I walked because it’s not all that far and I was really glad to be on my feet. I enjoyed looking at the people coming and going around me, struck by how they suddenly looked so foreign to me. I don’t remember noticing this before, but most likely I just forgot noticing. I get used to my surroundings and then I’m surprised to see how different things are in the other place. Sometimes when I return to the USA I’m excited to see the variety of faces we enjoy in Boston. Here in Minsk I was surprised to notice how generally everybody appears to belong to one big family.

On my way back from the hair salon I asked a woman’s permission to pet her dog. She told me that I speak with an accent and she wanted to know where I was from. As we chatted a little further, she told me that she’d noticed me right away because my face is different. So there you have it: As I was noticing the familiar similarities of faces here, she was noticing that mine stands out.

We had dinner with our friends Elena and Sasha and I told a story from childhood involving a two-dollar bill. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d seen one, so Elena opened up her wallet and produced one. She has it with her wherever she goes. I imagine a huge percentage of Americans has never even seen one, but Elena's friends in Belarus can see one just by asking.

Today I walked to the big marketplace to buy some fruits, nuts and vegetables. It’s really cold out, so hardly anybody bothered opening stalls in the outdoor area, but I did get help from a hardy dried-fruit and nut vendor. The lady who keeps the salads in the heated box didn’t show up at the market today, but her box stood at her station so I imagine I’ll see here next time. Indoors, people working near the doors kept their hats on. I found the croissant people and the olive oil lady, who was glad to see me, and I looked all over for somebody selling fruits and vegetables. I did not find many at all. The meat, poultry and dairy people are still in business, but the produce people have mostly disappeared. I’d say there are half as many of them this winter as last, so I didn’t do much comparison shopping. That’s OK. The most beautiful of all vendors, the one favored by every male produce-buyer in Minsk, had relocated indoors along with her big smile. Naturally I bought vast amounts of lettuce, herbs, mandarins and tomatoes.

On the way home I found a fence where the snow is slumping out of masonry latticework. It has formed into rows of little cornices, like hands reaching out of the fence. Cool!

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