Tuesday, September 21, 2004


so, again no real luck at the history department because we misread the schedule and the class we wanted to sit in on had already started. i'm glad to report that we did however successfully order and eat a tasty lunch at the cafe across the street.

i should clarify the dates/times a bit, if only my sake. we went to the dacha around noon on sunday and then went mushroom hunting at a different dacha at 9 am monday. the dacha. there aren't really 'suburbs' in any american sense in russia, so far as i can tell. there are outskirts of the city, which still look like a city, and there are dachas. the idea of a dacha is sort of difficult to translate then, because they're not really 'summer houses' although they more or less function as such. many more russians have family dachas, and they're for the most part very modest...something along the lines of a hut/cabin/camp i guess. they're all fairly packed in together on little plots of land which are primarily vegetable gardens, (although i'd imagine the further you drive from the city, the more spacious the dachas. we took a tram and it was only a 20 or 30 minute drive, tops, which considering the 1.5 hours for mushrooms, isn't too far). the whole scene is very charming because all the dachas are relatively different looking, but if you look over the fences you can find old women digging up potatoes and beets at each of them.

for a few hours in the afternoon we all rolled up our sleeves and worked in the garden. a lot of weeding/turning over soil, and the girls very diligently gathered berries or something. at worst apples. as a former gardener i was surprised to see how the whole thing took place - when we arrived the whole garden looked entirely overrun because most of the garden had already been dug (only the carrots and beets i think were still in the ground). so it looked like a giant field of weeds that hadn't seen any attention in quite a long time. i expected that we'd be pulling it all and then maybe turning the soil or something, but the woman who owned the dacha just went over each patch and hacked off everything from the soil up with a machete. then she had us dig up and turn over the soil with all the roots and a lot of the weeds still in the soil. i know that dead plant matter is good to leave in the soil to replentish the nitrogen and all of that, but there was clearly no problem with this's just going to be growing more weeds.

so anyway i just minded my own business and gardened as i was asked to. it's amazing how many carrots and potatoes and beets (not to mention apples and cherry-things, and berries) can be grown on a small plot of land - obviously she's doing something right. this dacha method, it seems to me, is a significantly more productive than mushroom hunting, although maybe the mushrooms are better and closer in some cities.

the better part of the evening was spent relaxing, eating, drinking, and building a number of fires, at least of few of which, i'm sure, were completely unnecessary. the whole experience was great - i really love digging and gardening and earthworms, and it's always strangely pleasing to look at a freshly weeded and well turned patch of dirt. taken in its totality (that is, after a good night's rest back home and a morning of rehydration), it's a really relaxing experience and a great break from the city. the people we were with were tremendously hospitable, and (it seemed to me) glad to have the help and the company. i've only seen the pictures of larisa anatolievna's dacha, but it seemed more or the less same - probably a bit larger. much of what i've even so far, especially the soups and stews, are almost exclusively from things she personally grew at her dacha. she also makes a couple of really good jams, and (for russia) she grows some good looking apples.

i'll save the idea of russian apples for a later post.