Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Botanical Garden

I enjoy walking around Minsk, but I’ve spent most of my time walking around the same few places. A few days ago, I decided to try something new, to get to the Botanical Garden without taking any major streets. I almost succeeded in avoiding big streets, though I had to walk for a few minutes along Platonava Street, where I stopped to visit a couple of very interesting stores: a shop selling a wide selection of traditional Belarusian fabrics and a place specializing in work clothes. I didn’t need anything from either place, but I liked the fabric store a lot. In addition to raw fabrics, they sell bed linens and table linens, so I’m sure I’ll be back.

My busy street led right up to a side door at the Botanical Garden, an entrance I’d never discovered before this. I bought myself a ticket and the lady told me I should without fail go to visit the public greenhouse. As I headed straight over, snow began falling lightly. The light powdery coating decorated what I saw and made me especially glad to be there.

I arrived at the conservatory just as a group of school kids began to leave, and by the time I’d hung up my coat and taken a few steps in, I had the place almost to myself. Noticing bird cages lining the main walkway, I decided to start by walking past the birds, parrots of various kinds. I wondered if any of them talked. Yes, in fact, they do. The chattiest of the birds greeted me as I walked up. “Privet,” he said. (“Hello.”) I answered, and we greeted each other several times before I walked away. A boy and his grandmother walked up to the cage, and the same bird rapped on the cage with is beak and asked, “Kto tam?” (“Who’s there?”) The boy rapped back, and the bird asked again, “Who’s there?” The next bird answered, something about a crocodile. Alla said they were almost quoting a cartoon dialog involving a character called Crocodile Gena.

Of course the birds served simply as extra decorations in a building dedicated to flowers and plants. Touring the building, I stopped especially to admire the plants in flower and the cactus. Near the cactus garden, I noticed a door I’d ignored on my previous visits. It turns out there’s a cafĂ© here, with reasonable prices and nice-looking food, though I didn’t stay to eat because I wanted to have lunch at home. I figured I could walk down the central pathway and out the main gate, right near a subway station.

Imagine my disappointment at the main gate then, when I discovered it locked and unattended. Apparently they use only the side entrance during the winter, and I had to walk all the way back and then retrace my steps outside the long wall so I could get to the subway. The two gates are far apart, and I got pretty hungry by the time I reached home, but enjoyed a great walk and a beautiful opportunity to see the Botanical Garden in winter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Poetry show

Zarina got invited to participate in a poetry event at the factory where she works. Nearly everybody at the factory is visually disabled in some way, and it’s a group of people I’m gradually getting to know as a volunteer guide. Because they’re dependent on each other from time to time, they’ve got a special group dynamic that I enjoy seeing and experiencing. I asked if she could get me an invitation to the performance.

Zarina finally confirmed my invitation just before the event. I’d already made other plans for the day, and felt a little bit conflicted about taking the afternoon off, but knew the moment that I walked into the room that I’d made the right choice. In addition to the people I already knew, a variety of new people came in, helping each other with their coats and finding chairs for everybody. I looked around and discovered that everybody had gotten dressed up, and wished that I’d dialed up my own outfit one more step. This show looked to be a big deal.

I knew that I’d gotten my invitation as a special privilege, so when more people arrived I gave up my seat for them and offered to stand at the back of the room. One of the hostesses could see me, and she’d have none of that. She went out with a couple of other people and brought in some more chairs and made me take a seat in the newly-added front row. I felt extra special now.

The show couldn’t have been better. Nearly everybody had memorized their poems, some of which were quite long, during the course of a month. And then they presented them with appropriate amounts of humor, passion and pathos: poems translated from Shakespeare, as well as classic Russian poets, and modern Soviet poets. I understood them well enough to enjoy them, though I found one or two of the poems a little difficult. I also had a really good time watching the teacher and master of ceremonies read a few extra poems from braille. She held her sheaf of papers sideways and strummed the text like a guitar, reading by hand as quickly as she could talk. I’ve never seen anybody read braille before, and I had no idea it could be so efficient.

I’m inspired to try to learn one of the poems myself. I’ve downloaded it and I read it aloud one time to Alla. I had a hard time with the text and need to look up a few of the words, but I’ll practice bit by bit. I wish I’d made a recording from the show, because the reader did an excellent job with this poem’s humor, pacing and inflection. I’d like to learn to approximate that.