Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Slice of Siberia

© 2013 Ben CookeThe landscape was changing again. River crossings became wider and more frequent. Villages spread out and everything felt more remote. Azov was our last checkpoint of the evening. The road guard kept the barrier down and would not let us pass. He didn’t lift it until he was sure we understood we had to go to the local police station to check in. When we got there, Guy, Geordie, and Pat had already arrived and were busy warming up. Between the three of them they had managed to replicate every daft thing Zaya and I had done over the past week, only they did it in in a matter of minutes earlier in the day. Pat and Guy had failed to crest a steep riverbank and duly slid backwards into a snowdrift. As they dug out Geordie spent his time practicing doughnuts on the ice. In his final attempt at a 540 spin he disastrously caught a wheel. His bike reared up and over and crashed on top of him. Luckily he was unhurt even though he knocked a big dent in the fuel tank with his knee.
© 2013 Ben Cooke

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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment