by Don  

What an interesting day! I had the opportunity to go two Russian dachas, which are like summer houses. Those Russians who can afford them spend as much of their summertime there as possible, and usually they have a garden as well where they grow a significant number of vegetables and flowers.

The first dacha was in a little area that is essentially an island in the Volga not far from Kazan, just off the main highway that leads from Kazan to Sviyazhsk. This was a wealthy family. Like many dachas, it was not connected to a sewage system, so right next door there is a small outhouse. Despite that lack, they also had a personal crane on the riverside to lower their small private boat into the water. We were there about five in the afternoon, and the temperature was nearly 100°, so naturally our hostess offered us hot tea, which of course I accepted. She also carved up a cold watermelon, and we gnoshed on it along with squash pancakes and chocolates. Here's a picture of me and my host, Ivan Ruslanovich, at the dacha with the Volga river in the background.

After that we went to the dacha of my host which is located in another area not far away, and we arrived by six o'clock. The dacha itself is a small wooden two story cabin:

Water lines go into the house, but there is no sewer connection, so there is an outhouse next to it. Here's a picture of the shed that stores firewood and the outhouse next to it:

His wife Nelya and daughter Lena were also there, and I can hardly tell you how marvelous their hospitality was. Once you are inside a Russian home, there is no end to their kindness. They also have a separate sauna building, a separate small wading pool, and a large-ish garden, and a little arbour the call a беседка 'chatting place' where we had dinner. Here are Nelya and Ivan:

I wish I had photographed the table. We had raw tomatoes and parsley and cucumbers, the first two of which were grown in the garden. Nelya served chicken breast cutlets and also wings and thighs, black bread, a carrot salad that had surprising little sour cream in it, very tasty, along with three different types of mustard and also horseradish for condiments. This was later complemented by mashed pototoes and a carrot and tilapia stew, very tasty, which might actually get me to start eating tilapia back in the States.

We ate our meal in the arbour, and essentially we ate and drank together for about six hours. Oddly enough, there was no vodka at all. All three in their family sing, and IR tried to coerce his daughter Lena into singing, although she was a bit bashful. So I started the singing process with an old Appalachian tune I had learned from a singer in Missouri. That was followed by IR singing the old Soviet National Anthem, and the wife singing 80's love songs, and the daughter singing Russian folks songs, and me following up with "16 tons." Of course, that was all a capella since no one had brought a guitar. As the evening went on, the family stories and the humor and the occasional side-track into serious topics made for non-stop conversation, and of course the very persistent kitty-cat, who is ten years old but acts ten weeks old, distracted us as well... and then later in the evening the mosquitoes also distracted us. These mosquitoes apparently don't use anesthetic when they stab you, because half a dozen times I felt like I had been jabbed with a syringe. We had been joined by Lena's husband around nine or so, and as midnight rolled around, things wound down and we headed back to the city. I arrived home very pleased. I had really enjoyed his wife and daughter and son-in-law. The conversation had flowed easily and delightfully, and all in all you could not have a more perfect cross-cultural evening. Earlier in the summer IR and I had rubbed each other the wrong way. This evening mended everything. I am very grateful.

And now for a few last photos. Here is the entrance to the arbour where the dinner table is:

Here is the sauna:

And here we have some shots from the garden. (The garden is much browner than normal because of the atypically hot summer.)

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