It has been a while since I have written here. Everything has slipped back into the pre-Christmas routine. Some of my more complicated lessons/transitions have disappeared from my schedule (probably temporarily) so it is easy enough right now to keep myself up to date and planned and prepared for each of my lessons.
My Russian lessons have been going very well, there was a moment in my last lesson when I was reading a text of 8 or 9 sentences and I was understanding it without having to think about it, and pronouncing it all without having to think about it, and then I started thinking “hey, I’m making progress here!” But then we started talking about cases and I realised I have a long, long way to go. But I have started looking at my own phrase books again, and started preparing little word cards to keep useful vocabulary fresh in my mind, so the inklings of motivation are bubbling up again.
We had the completely unofficial holiday of Old New Year (Stari-Novi-God). The Russian Church still observes the Julian calendar, so Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January and New Year on the 13th. Of course New New Year is a big thing in its own right now (being the officially sanctioned holiday throughout the Soviet period), so Old New Year has become a sort of quirky anachronism, that people celebrate in a jokey, ironic way, and it has developed its own set of traditions and customs. I am told these involve drinking lots of vodka, and discussing the meaning of life in a banya (a Russian bath-house), or at least watching a movie about people doing that.
The snow took a long time to melt, but melt it did – for a couple of days every pavement in Volgograd was deadly, although remarkably I have managed to get through the whole of this mini-ice-age without falling over once. I have done the sliding-waving-my-arms-around-trying-not-to-fall-over thing many times, but the grip on my new shoes has been true and my balance has been restored.
And it seems to have been snowing non-stop again for the last couple of days. It hasn’t been heavy but it has been so continuous that the pavements and roads have whitened up again. And it was in this new snow that I saw a body today.
I’ve seen many people walking unsteadily due to the effects of alcohol, so it’s not at all surprising that someone might drink a few too many, lose their footing, and fall down face first on the pavement. The “Magnet” shop next to my building has a little store which to the best of my observation sells dead fish and draught beer. It’s effectively a fishmonger bar. And you can buy cheap alcohol from the Magnet supermarket itself, and this district seems to have a lot of people who have nothing else to do during their day but drink.
This is the second body I have seen but on balance the first one, I think, was just sleeping rough, when the weather was warmer. I may simply be trying to reassure myself, but he was thoughtfully lying in a verge so as not to block the thoroughfare. Today’s body was right in the middle of the pavement. There were a couple of people standing about 10 metres beyond him, looking concerned. There were two cars parked by the side of the road, again about 10 metres away, with more people standing there looking concerned. No one was approaching the body or trying to help him. Perhaps they already knew he was beyond help.
I don’t wish to be the kind of person who will walk past a body and pretend it isn’t there. I slowed down as I got closer and tried to ascertain what was going on. It was a middle-aged man with a military-style haircut, dressed in dark clothes. Rather half-heartedly, I asked the body, in English “are you ok?” I knew he wasn’t ok, and I knew it didn’t matter that I was speaking in English. He didn’t answer. I looked at the handful of people keeping their 10m distance. One of them gestured for me to walk on. Without any useful Russian words, I figured it was all I could really do. The man who gestured said something to me. I don’t know what, I think he mimed a telephone. I just shrugged the “I don’t really know what this is all about or what you’re saying to me” shrug, and carried on. I looked back a couple of times, the body didn’t move, the people didn’t move, perhaps they were waiting for the authorities. Perhaps the man was saying they had called an ambulance. I reached my block and could still see the body. I turned off the main street to the entrance areas.
Perhaps he was just unconscious and I am reading too much into the curiously distant bystanders. Perhaps an ambulance came and revived him and took him to hospital where he is receiving appropriate treatment. It would be nice to think so. But I fear this is a hopelessly optimistic interpretation of what I saw.