22 March 2004

The Russians

What an afternoon yesterday was! After watching Justine and Roger win the championships in the Pacific Life Open, I went out shopping on the Segway down to 24th Street. I was trying to run the battery completely down because this extends its life if done periodically, but I cut it pretty fine because I ran out of juice about ten yards short of the summit at 21st Street on the way home. So I let it rest for a minute and then made it over the top and down to my door. Wanting to completely exhaust the battery, I rode back up to the crest and practiced turns in the flat space at the top of the hill, mostly just emergency swerves.

As I whirled around, a couple of pedestrians crested the hill from 24th and stood watching me. Somewhat self-conscious, I explained to them that I was trying to run the battery down, and we got to talking since it was immediately obvious that they were tourists and I do love tourists. As we chatted, I tried to figure out where they were from but couldn’t place the accent and neither made grammar errors that gave anything away. Finally, I broke down and asked. Boston, they replied. Oh please. That accent wasn’t “pahk the cah in Haavahd Yahd.”

After a while, it finally seemed appropriate to ask where they were from before they were from Boston, and by that time they had lost enough reserve to tell me that they were originally from Russia. It came out that they hadn’t come here until 1991 when we were talking about Solzhenitsyn’s works and they spoke of reading them in samizdat. Yow! And the difficulty when your copy was the tenth carbon and you could see only about half the letters and yet you had the social obligation to pass the manuscript on in 24 hours. At least the pressure to figure out the words and get it read kept your mind off visits by the NKVD.

Before that we’d talked about tennis, and their take on Safin is the same as mine: if he gets his head together he will slaughter everyone else. Ha! I got points by knowing that Irakli Labadze was, like Joseph Vissarionovich, from Georgia. Actually, that’s how we made the segue from tennis to literature. For some reason I’d quoted them a line (and I think also a chapter title) from The First Circle “Give us back capital punishment, Joseph Vissarionovich!” Igor also loved it that I remembered the last line from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: “The extra three were for the leap years.” If you don’t remember the novel, you’ll need to know that the penultimate line was something to the effect that there were 3,653 days like this one in Ivan’s ten-year sentence.

My problem with Russian (well, one of my problems with Russian) is that I can read lots of Russian nouns but can pronounce only a certain percentage of them well enough to be understood by, say, a Russian.

At some point in the conversation (well before Solzhenitsyn), I’d invited them for coffee. Like everyone does, they loved the view out back, but what thrilled Nina even more was my collection of Haworthias, which was at its peak then.

Here’s the ones on the dining room coffee table:


She reached into her purse and pulled out this teeny little camera and leaned over until it was a couple or three inches from the leaves and took closeups. I’d never seen a camera that would take such closeups, and it was love at first sight.

Thanks to the combined efforts a couple of weeks later of my friend Jim and the Nikon Rep we blundered onto at Best Buy, I am now the proud owner of a little toy camera that will fit into my pocket, a Nikon Coolpix 3200.

Here’s my first halfway decent pic, the inflorescence on the Pachyveria nelii on the balconette.  The photos before this one are retrofits:

Pachyveria nelii

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