Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Big following

[Russian version русская версия]

Saturday was City Day, when we celebrated 949 years since the founding of Minsk. My friend Zarina suggested that we might form an entourage of her visually-impaired friends and go downtown for the festivities. She assembled a delightful group, including her boyfriend Zhenya. It was important to have Zhenya with us, because he can see well enough to lead blind people as long as he knows where he’s going. If I get more than a few meters away from him, however, he can’t find me; so I have to pay attention. The rest of the group couldn’t see anything.

When we arrived at the Palace of Sport, the Ministry of Emergency Situations was demonstrating their skills at rescuing people from burning buildings, beating through obstacles and being generally heroic. They had lots of equipment with them, including fireproof suits, oxygen tanks, fancy vehicles and other things I imagined would be interesting to touch.

I took my group over to one of their vehicles, where we paused for a photo, and then I asked one of the guys if we could touch some of their gear. He had to get permission, and disappeared. His request went up the chain of command, and finally one of the big shots invited us to meet him over by their newest fire engine, where he told a fireman to show us around. Dressing up in all that gear probably doubles a man’s weight, and we handled most of it a piece at a time.

From the Emergency Situations area, we went off to fool around at a craft fair nearby. Craftspeople had set up booths in a large area, where we wandered from booth to booth and played various touching games. My favorite was at a display of antiques, where I handed people things and asked them to guess what I’d handed them. We especially liked the beautiful brass iron, with the removable ingots inside. The user could have one ingot warming on the stove while ironing fabric with the heat from another ingot.

I think my followers probably got a bigger charge out of a guy who makes Belarusian souvenirs in whimsical shapes and prices them for easy purchase. In addition, they bought some stuffed animals, but Anzhela didn’t buy anything there and the vendor rushed over as we left to gave her a rabbit as a gift. In fact, several of the vendors gave them gifts. It was indeed touching to see my friends discussing various items, handing them back and forth for discovery.

Speaking of touching, Vova got into trouble late in the day when I told him I was introducing the group to a bunch of dolls. He caught up to Tanya and ran his hand down her head, over her shoulder, onto her left breast. Realizing that he’d gotten confused, I teased him, “Vova! Don’t touch! You’ve already got a wife of your own!” (Anzhela is Vova’s wife.) Embarrassed, Vova didn’t even want to touch the dolls after that. He wouldn’t touch anything more at all until his embarrassment subsided.

We got lucky, running out of things to explore about an hour before the concert would start on City Square, where we’d ended the day. I suggested that we stop for tea at an outdoor restaurant on the edge of the plaza, and we got the last table. It couldn’t have worked out better. We relaxed over tea and snacks until the music started, and we got to listen to the concert seated. The group, Pesnyary, was at one time a Soviet supergroup, and they’re still beloved here since they sing in Belarusian. I didn’t like their music the first time I heard them, six or seven years ago, but they’ve grown on me and I enjoyed the concert too.

Altogether, we enjoyed an excellent day of companionship, friendship and discovery. Everything worked out great, all the way down to finding a shashleek (sheesh-kebob) stand with almost no line and fresh meat right off the grill. Finding a table at which to eat it proved to be a momentary challenge, but somebody noticed our plight and led us over to a table where they were just finishing. I hadn’t imagined it would be so easy to lead around such a big entourage of people all relying on me at once, but our cooperative effort proved to be pure delight.

My photo sharing site has changed its rules, and you can't see this month's pictures in the usual place. Here's a link to the album including pictures of today's excursion.

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