An old fisherman, Sergey, strode into the police station and impishly charmed his way into our hearts. With shining eyes and a crenelated smile he welcomed us, told stories and insisted we come to his house for dinner. Zaya listened and videoed and translated for us. Once all the other teams had arrived, the police insisted we stay put for the night and sleep in the village hall. We checked out our digs, found the outhouse, and then made our way en masse to supper.
With long confident strokes, and a little theatrics, Sergey first shaved off the frozen fish’s scales. Next, slices of flesh curled and broke in a welcome heap on the cutting board. He pointed at us with the sharp end of his knife, urging us to try this delicacy with a little mustard and salt. And what a treat! Solid fish, rich in oil, melted on your tongue with fiery, spicy mustard to complement its wintery flavor. Mustard with the ability to tickle your nose and bring tears to your eyes, the way it used to be when I was a kid. Snug in the little dining room, the entire group gathered around the table enjoying Sergey’s generosity and playing with his grandchildren. Vodka? Of course! It would be rude not to! здоровья! Good health! We smiled and laughed.
Walking back to our sleeping quarters for the night, my breath instantly condenses and floats beguilingly under the bright white street lights. It was really, really cold.