Monday, July 27, 2015

There's always something

I like working out at the little public gym at Hockey Club Yunost Minsk. It’s a friendly place with an array of good equipment but almost nothing in duplicate. After I’d been going there for a while, I donated a wall clock because theirs had long ago disappeared and I thought we’d all like to know when it’s time to go home. Later I donated some audio cables and connected the TV to the room’s audio system. Still, there’s always something else to fix and the repairs are generally out of my reach.

One time I walked in and discovered that the benches were missing from all the exercise machines and all but one of the movable benches were missing the padded tops from their frames. Somebody had decided that it was time to re-cover them all and simply took them away. They came back after a few days, looking not much different from the way they had looked before they disappeared.

The showers present a special set of problems. One time somebody replaced an ordinary shower head with one of those hose-mounted showers, but they didn’t install a bracket to hold the head in place. We had to hold the head in one hand while washing with the other. I thought about donating a replacement showerhead, but worried that doing a repair that required me to bring my own wrench might be perceived as intrusive. Instead, I put a big rubber band in my bag and attached the showerhead to the hose at a comfortable height every time I took a shower. This was much better than the previous situation, when water shot out of the pipe with no head attached at all.

Sometimes there’s no hot water, and once there was no water at all. Frequently there’s no soap. I carry my own soap and I bathe in cold water when required. In Belarus, we adapt.

Today when I checked in, there were no keys at the front desk. Nastya told me that they were downstairs in the locker room, so I went down and walked in. Oops. The locker room was filled with women who had just left an aerobics class. Apparently, something bad had happened in their locker room, something that left them with a flood, so we had to share. More accurately, the guys had to wait their turn. I changed behind a door in the hallway and got on with my workout.

There’s more, but you get the idea already. In closing, let me leave you with a picture of the floor in the aerobics room. Most of the nails are lined up in a row, but at this spot, it appears that the workman had taken too big a toot on whatever he was drinking. I love it:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Two hours in Frankfurt

I arrived in Minsk yesterday, by way of Frankfurt. Flying from Boston to Frankfurt, I met an interesting Muslim woman named Rawda. She was on her way to Cairo to attend her sister’s wedding, and shared with me her perspectives on a number of things. We ended up talking much of the flight, and I enjoyed her blend of sincerity and buoyant enthusiasm. She promised to take me into the mosque in Cambridge when I return and teach me about how Muslims pray, something I’ve wanted to understand for a long time.

Rawda had a plan. She had a four-hour layover in Frankfurt and thought she should go downtown and see something of Europe. I had a slightly longer layover and knew something about getting around Frankfurt, so I suggested that we go together and look for an interesting place to have breakfast. She worried that she’d be singled out for super-scrutiny because she wore a hijab, but I was the one who got grilled at passport control. The agent wanted to know where I was going and I told him that we were just going for breakfast and returning for flights just after ten a.m. He looked alarmed and I asked him if this were crazy. He said yes, but then admitted that downtown is close and the trains run every fifteen minutes. We proceeded.

I don’t have any pictures to show you of what we encountered when we emerged from the Frankfurt train station just after six a.m. As we climbed the staircase from the underground station-plaza to street level, we passed three derelicts struggling to stand up. One was kneeling on the stairs, facing a bloody needle a few steps up. I hustled Rawda past them and out onto the street without stopping to get out my phone. Shortly after I explained why I’d hustled her up the staircase, she pointed over her shoulder to another group and commented that the guy on the ground was at that moment giving himself an injection into his ankle.

We found a hotel and begged a map, and then set out to take our walk. We started out in Taunusanlage Park, which wasn’t completely empty but most of the people there didn’t appear to have any place to go. Things got a lot better when we walked down to the riverside parkway along the bank of the River Main. Joggers jogged, cyclists cycled, and we walked; particularly enjoying an alley of lush plane trees. Near where we intended to turn away from this riverside walkway, we found an excellent climbing structure. I’ve always been a sucker for such things, so I had to climb on it. This looked like so much fun to Rawda that she climbed a little way up as well.

After breakfast at the train station, we returned to the airport where, once again, Rawda sailed right through security and I had a hard time. I was wearing an anti-heat shirt with some Velcro vent closures, and the Velcro tabs always show up on those new x-ray body scanners. Usually this just means that somebody pats me on the tabs and sends me on my way. The German guy found it necessary to give me a full-body rubdown, twice on the front and twice on the back. Then he made me take off my shoes and he took out my shoe inserts. I had rent money stashed under the inserts, and I think it almost disappeared when I glanced up to see what was going on with my computer, sitting unattended in a bin on the conveyor belt after passing through the luggage scanner. When I looked back at his disappearing hand, he made a point of wrinkling the money and then put it back into my shoe. I can’t guess why I received such a thorough examination at all, unless it was so I’d have something to talk about in my blog.

Anyway, I enjoyed the walk and the conversation but Frankfurt didn’t endear itself to me this time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beantown Dance Camp

I’ve spent the last week dancing and having a very good time. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but various factors prevented me. Soon after I started dancing Lindy hop, I heard about a famous dance camp in Sweden called Herrang. Everybody agrees that it’s a splendid way to improve one’s dancing, but nobody says anything encouraging about the accommodations. Beantown, on the other hand, shares a stellar reputation for quality, and offers much better accommodations. I chose Beantown.

As usual, when I got there I realized that I don’t know anything. I expected this. Dancers joke about how every time they move up a level they discover a world of much better dancers and amazing new possibilities. In case I missed the point, an instructor told me in an advanced class on the first evening that my swingouts needed work. That’s bad news, because the swingout is central to Lindy. I reported the next day, and almost every day following, to the practice sessions, where I enjoyed the guidance of a private instructor who gave me some pointers each time and then sent me off to practice with whatever followers might be hanging around. I got a lot better, but understand that I still need to work at it.

Every evening we had dance parties, almost entirely to live music. I enjoy dancing with almost everybody. I like dancing with the new dancers because it’s fun to welcome them to the world of Lindy. In addition, I certainly like dancing with the experienced dancers because they open my eyes to new possibilities and help with the collaborative process of interpreting the music. I did plenty of both, along with a little watching, listening and admiring. Finally, all day every day I enjoyed spending time with dancers. We had a very friendly group of interesting people from around the world.

The class tracks during the day included materials on technique, musicality, specialty styles, routines and much more. Most of the instructors impressed me, and some of them impressed me a lot. Not wanting to miss anything, I tried to go to classes more or less all day long every day and then go to the evening dances. People warned me in advance that this would be a bad idea, nearly impossible to complete, and I did have to cut corners. Mostly I cut corners at night, going back to my dorm room soon after midnight. My morning classes generally began by 9:00 or 9:30 and I needed to get some sleep.

Speaking of the dorm room, this is not what I expected at all. I got a large and bright room with a private bathroom, air conditioning, and pleasant view. Endicott College, the venue for the camp, has a gorgeous campus with private beaches, wooded paths, fountains, numerous excellent dance floors and an expansive dining hall run by Marriott. The excellent food surprised me even more than the nice dorm room. I don’t know what kind of education the kids get at Endicott College, but it’s sure a great place to hang out for a summer dance camp.

I highly recommend Beantown and I’d love to go back.