Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Facebook Manual (for Aunt Kiefie)

The fundamental principle for using Facebook successfully is knowing its purpose. Facebook is simply a way for you to entertain your friends and acquaintances. Remember that it’s more for them than for you, and everything else I tell you will follow naturally.

Messaging is your key means of communication if you want to say something to one person. Your dance friends probably don’t care that you congratulate somebody on the arrival of their grandchild, but that grandmother cares a lot. Send Grandma a private message.

Wall Posts are available to the general public, but Facebook doesn’t automatically show all of our posts to all of your friends. It will show a new post first to a few people who seem especially interested in you, people who read most of your recent posts already. It may also show a post about lemonade to your other friends who post about lemonade, but don’t imagine that everybody is going to see a new post right away. But if those first friends like your post and/or comment on it, then Facebook will begin showing that one to more people.

Since wall posts are public and you probably have a diverse group of friends, you should be judicious about what you put there. If something is interesting only to a subset of your friends, you’d be better off posting it in a group that you all belong to, so it won’t get broadcast to people who aren’t interested. You can even create a group for that special set of friends, if there isn’t one already.

Try to be sensitive about the volume of your wall posts. [This isn’t relevant to Aunt Kiefie, who posts only seldom.] Since your close friends will see every one of your posts in their feed, they might feel overwhelmed and change the settings so they see only “important” posts from you. Or, worst case, they might “unfollow” you. If you want to entertain a lot of people, you need to be judicious about it and post only stuff that a lot of people will want to read about. [And I should take my own advice.]

Comments on posts are a little more private than the posts themselves, because people have to do a little work to see them. This is a good place to put your reaction to the post, and it’s probably even OK sometimes if your reaction is, “Wow, Annie, I haven’t seen you in a long time!” If, however, you want to invite Annie to lunch, you should consider taking that back to Messaging.

Replies to comments are almost private, because only the person whose comment elicited the reply will see what you said without clicking on something. Be as personal as you want there, and that would even be an OK place to invite Annie to lunch if you’re replying to her comment that she hasn’t seen you in a long time.

Naming names helps to make sure that certain people see a post. If you mention somebody in a post or in a comment, Facebook will definitely bring that to their attention. You can also tag people in a post, but it’s generally not cool to tag an inanimate object with a person’s name unless that person gave the object to you or will relate very strongly to it.

Posting on somebody else’s wall is very problematic. You can do it, but remember that it’s a Wall Post, and everybody gets a chance to see it. Your friend may be uncomfortable about presenting your conversation about lunch plans to the whole world. Your friend may even be uncomfortable about advertising your passion for oatmeal cookies. The only time you should post on a friend’s wall is when you are confident that your post will be interesting to your friend’s friends, because basically you’re taking control of their space.

If somebody else, like your nephew Steve in Belarus, puts something on your wall and you don’t want it there, feel free to delete it. It’s your wall.

Now that you’re good at all this stuff, you’ll be able to entertain your friends and acquaintances successfully and get a lot of “likes.” That’s fun, of course, but since you remember that your primary focus is on entertaining them, rather than yourself, you don’t need to count the “likes” several times a day. Just check often enough to learn what kinds of things are especially entertaining for your friends, and stick with real life. If you don’t actually live your life, you won’t have anything to say on Facebook!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hairy Lake

The cleanest lakes in this area are named, if I were to do a direct translation, “Upper and Lower Hairs.” For readability, let’s use the Russian name, Volosi. There’s a popular beach at the spot where the two lakes join, and last year I discovered a footpath to the southern tip of the lower lake, where there’s a picnic table, a fire pit, and clear access to the water in a pathway between the reeds that generally line the shore.

I described this place to Alla last year, and even showed her pictures. I was eager to go back this year, principally because it’s a nice walk, but also because I like swimming in the clear water, where I can see the bottom however far it is from the surface. Since we’re leaving tomorrow, today would be our last chance. Alla agreed to come, knowing we’d be passing the cheese lady along the way. We decided to start right after breakfast because the weather still looked pretty good but the forecast didn’t promise much more sunshine.

We had a nice walk, and I found the place with only a little difficulty where the path led through a recently-mowed field and it was hard to distinguish the path from tractor tracks. At last, we walked down a narrow grassy clearing and I knew we’d almost arrived. The clearing widened into space to park and turn around a couple of cars. A path to our right led through the trees to the picnic table and fire pit. Grass grew in lush abundance despite the shade. We had the place to ourselves, and the last visitors had done a pretty good job of cleaning up after themselves.

“Here it is,” I exulted.

“This isn’t it,” Alla contradicted. She somehow imagined we’d be at a sunny and sandy beach, not at a shaded picnic table in the grass. She remembered the public swimming area where the two lakes met and hadn’t anticipated the reeds at the shore.

As I changed into my swimsuit, Alla sat down, dejected. “I’m not going,” she said. She didn’t want to walk into the water because the bottom looked dirty to her. This is the same blue clay she smeared all over her body at the public beach, but she would have none of it today.

As I walked out over the clay, it bounced under my feet, supported in a network of soft reed roots. Presently, the water got deeper and I launched myself to swim and to drink the sparkling water. I swam lazy laps where I could keep my eye on that opening in the reeds and occasionally encourage Alla to come out for a swim. She likes swimming, but she wouldn’t budge. After a while, I thought I’d better come back because she didn’t appear to be having a good time.

As we walked home, Alla thought about our friend Viktor, who keeps running for President of Belarus but never gets very far. “Poor Viktor,” she said, “he just wants to make life better for the people of Belarus but they have no use for anything new.”

I’ve heard Alla describe today’s beach a couple of times now, once to the cheese lady, whom we visited on our way home, and once to our friends after we got back. To her, it was a dirty-muddy place with no reasonable access to the water. To me, it was a beautiful spot where I could swim as far as I wanted and eat lunch at a rustic picnic table. I considered it a pleasant change from our shallow swimming hole in a less-transparent river. We rushed back, however, 8 km or so to our spot on the river so Alla might go swimming if the sun comes out again. Right now, that doesn’t seem likely.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Long walks

We’re in Ust'e, in the Braslav Lakes region of Belarus. We’ve had a mix of rain and sun, but the weather hasn’t limited our fun in any way. I’ve been catching up on reading and taking walks when I can’t go swimming. Day before yesterday I took only a short walk because I knew it would rain some more. I wandered over to a neighboring cottage and made friends with the family who owns it. I ended up spending upwards of an hour in their living room, talking life and politics beside a pleasant fire, while another storm passed overhead.

Yesterday I made an excursion to Slabodka, a small town about 4 km from here. On the way, I caught up with a group of Belgians also looking for groceries. None of them speaks Russian, so I helped them with some of their shopping before I went off to another store to buy some soap. The second shopkeeper asked if I were Belgian. She hadn't seen the Belgians yet, but I don’t think there are a lot of secrets around here. Shopping in Slabodka is like shopping at Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon: “If we don’t have it, you can probably get by without it anyway.” I came home with most of what I wanted and called it enough.

We did better at shopping today. We walked 4 km in another direction, to pick up some homemade farmer cheese. (Cottage cheese, sort of.) We took a cross-country route to our destination and a different cross-country route back. Along the way, we enjoyed a riot of wildflowers, green vistas, a few cows and horses, and a few very nice people. We decided along the way that we needed some eggs, so Alla started paying attention to see who has chickens.

As we approached the cheese lady’s place, we passed a home with two chickens in the yard. Alla asked if they could sell us a couple tens of eggs. (Dozens are apparently an English affectation. Ten is the number here.) The householder readily agreed, though she only had 16 to sell. That’s OK, because we made good use of the empty sockets in our second egg carton later on.

Leaving the village by a back road, we passed a family I’d met last year when I needed water, and then bumped into a guy named Joseph, who said he could sell us tomatoes, cheese and butter. We didn’t need any more cheese, but we’re sure glad about the tomatoes. They’re amazing. Then, along the path to our village, I noticed something spherical and white on the ground. Alla explained that it’s a rain mushroom, and they’re edible when fresh. They look like the spherical mushrooms everybody raves about in New England, but which I’ve never tried. They taste delicious. I ate a couple of them and we heaped the rest into the empty space in our second egg carton.

I’m enjoying the little challenges of getting by without a car and without any big stores nearby.

For more pictures, please see 2016-08 Belarus.