By: Marty Leipzig Re: More tales from the warped side. Hello, again, All. If for the fact

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By: Marty Leipzig Re: More tales from the warped side. Hello, again, All. If for the fact of nothing else to do (the kids and wife are off on some sort of Xmas-tine adventure in which I was thankfully exempt) and the fact that it's been 5 days since my return and my biochronos refuse to adjust back to CST; I thought that it might be entertaining and cathartic to relate yet another EtOH-filled adventure of Geologists in Paradise (i.e., Western Siberia...which says a lot about my chosen profession and geologists in general.) Although I had precious little R&R time during my last contract, there were some moments that will still serve to warm the cockles of even this travel-wizened old rocknocker. Such is the case in point. It seems that I was soon to polish off my requisite 38 days of indentured servitude and would be returning to that land which we call "The West" [a.k.a., "The Further Adventures of the Indigent Rich."]. Such being the case, I was feted in true Siberian style to a near all night Bacchanalia called "the Banya". Russians, it seems, aside from their penchant for really awful cigarettes and copious amounts of vodka (any reason why I chose Russia now?); that a national mania, aside from eating everything with sour cream and they're predilection for a fish stew called "Ukha"; is their love of the sauna. Every Friday night, it was Banya night for all the men (yes, chauvinism is alive and well on the other side of the world, although certain concessions, like the Tuesday night Women's Banya, have been ceded), and the various geologists, surveyors, administrators, geophysicists, drillers, journeymen and other forms of societal flotsam and jetsam; would gather in the "Sports Complex" to collectively sweat their brains out, drink themselves silly and revel in a group joie-de-vivre the likes of which haven't been seen since the fall of the Julius Caesar. Typically, being the chaste and ...sober... fellow that I am, I would beg off of the evening's festivities, complaining of an intolerable workload and pressing matters of management. Truth be told, I was still a relative newcomer here and still quite haven't got the Bering's Strait on my managerial and societal compass. Alas. This was all in vain. This was a night in my honor (having spawned numerous local sightings of the local version of Bigfoot and generating legends of the "Westerner from The Far Side" ), and there was absolutely no way the I was going to be allowed to forego the evening's folderol. Grudgingly, I accepted the invitation to the evening at "The Pearl"; the local sports complex. I was told to arrive by 9:00 pm, and transport from the event would be arranged. I asked if there was anything that I should bring. "Nyet, nyet, nyet. All will be taken care of." I wondered if I should worry. I negated that, and in retrospect, should not have. As the sports palace was 2.5 clicks distant, I wandered off at 7:30 pm, smoking an absolutely huge cigar and aimed generally westward, toward the arena. Either my sense of direction was dead-on or my pace had brightened during the last month of charging between buildings in the -40C temperature; I had arrived at the sports complex a full hour early. I schmoozed around, chatting with the locals (and dispensing cigars [Hey. I _am_ my country's ambassador here...] and small talk), only to wander around the back to see a Waz pickup truck, laden with comestibles and imbibables, being unloaded into the Banya area. "...some damn bolshoi SOB tonight, Sergai." "Bigger than last time? Call the construction brigade. We'll need a front-end loader to get 'em all home." Sounded like my kind of evening. The appointed hour come, and we all shuffled into the cloakroom where all clothing was discarded and was swapped for a (in my case, rather inadequate and somewhat frayed) towel. After a few toasts, a smattering of smoked piscine nibbly bits and some general derision directed at the guest of honor ("I traveled 15,000 km for this?"), we entered the upper flat of Dante's. Or, so it seemed. In comparison to the chill night air of outside, I had, in the last 10 minutes, experienced a thermal gradient of at least 90 degrees Celsius. This place was absolutely purgatorial. Through the fog and haze (a considerable amount of that, at this point, being internal), I could see a table simply groaning with perhaps the most bizarre and wonderful cacophony of eatables and drinkables I have ever gandered. Everyone in the Banya was quickly in the process of helping themselves to vast amounts of black bread, ekra (caviar), butter (an endangered species, given the clime), fruits, vegetables, fish, meat (I have this special partiality to pickled reindeer tongue [really; it's quite tasty]), and, of course, potables. Vodka, cognac, (no scotch, thanking whatever deity, or lack thereof, was involved in that decision), champanskii, piva (beer) and a little number that travels under the simply unpretentious moniker of "White Dynamite". I have a bottle of the latter that travels with me where ever I go, particularly on Aeroflot. If we should ever run out of jet fuel, this stuff will certainly fill the gap. The sauna is just an experience like the Super Bowl is a just football game. There are certain rules and procedures that must be adhered to if one is to enjoy the full apperceive of the event. First, one must forego all semblance of hierarchy. Gaugers ply the bar with top brass, techs rub elbows with Directors, drivers and translators are exact equivalents of the Deputy Generals; a true classless society (in more than one definition of the term). Secondly, one must endure the small talk, comestibles and outpourings of very, very warm rocks without complaint. Thirdly, one can only leave the room to gasp for breath or fetch even more vodka, piva and cognac for the beleaguered larders. Finally, only after 2 or 3 hours of this Russian version of a microwave may one pour the water to the rocks to generate enough steam to obscure the already parched eyeballs of the participants. The rocks were summarily doused, most of us were summarily soused, when Alexa eased up to my side and in an alcoholic vibrato began to belt out a rendition of "Dark Eyes" that didn't leave a dry (albeit well glazed) eye in the place. Suddenly, the entire place was gripped with a frenzy of backslapping and joie-de-vivre that I still marvel at. In that large and foggy room, we had representatives of at least 15 different time zones and not a single one of them was going to be bested by his neighbor east or west. Soon, each was singing an ancient folk song endemic to their particular homeplace. The Tatars started out strong, only to be outdone by the Chuckchi. The Siberians (north, south, traditionals and locals) all joined in (in their own key...most interesting) and held their ground well until the Armenians present began one of their song cycles that is probably still going on. The Pechorans there couldn't resist, and suddenly we were presented with some of the most ribald songs I've ever heard through a translator. I was having a simply delirious time, standing there towel-clad, still puffing an enormous Turkmenistanian double maduro cigar, now entering into yet another of Bacchus' backrooms. When the last native song was sung, the room suddenly got very quiet. Guess who was expected to now fill the silence with a form of song native to my homeland? My mind raced...realizing that I didn't have the voice nor backup band to launch into Pink Floyd, or Pavarotti; I decided that a rendition of some of Dr. Demento's finest would, at this time, certainly fill the bill. Quietly, coarsely and croakedly; I started with a rendering of Frank Zappa's "Titties and Beer". Damned if I could recall the 7'th verse, although judging by their laughter and hoots, the audience didn't seem to care. From that, heartened by the relative success of that number, I pulled out all the stops and went for the classic "Ballad of Biddie McGraw". Picture if you will, the lines "Let me tell you a story that'll give you a shock. And it's all about a murder on a St. John's dock. The woman in question was Biddie McGraw, and she strangled up men with the straps of her bra..." being sung in off- key and probably very slurred English, translated into Russian (and Mongolian, as I later found out) and back for the next chorus. After the traditional volleys of applause, acclaim and approbation; they asked if all Western songs were so whimsical. Not allowing Western interests to be smote by the "Saga of the Iron Men of Tlaga" (a simply stutteringly serious song of solemnity); I (with the help of Alexander, who somehow found and was strumming a balalaika) really went for the jugular with "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". The demeanor of the place instantly went sober as a church (well, as sober as church could be in a distillery). I was asked if that was a true story. I affirmed that it was and it was of special meaning to me as I had a distant relation [true story - Ed.] who was on that fateful trip. I explained that my home state was known as the Badger State not for the small, nasty and vicious mammal nor locals who lived there; but rather the lead miners of the region. This naturally lead to the Mesabi Iron Range of the north (they were really eating this up by this time), where the taconite (enriched hemetite and ilmenite pellets [damned if I won't slip in a geology lesson here and there] is mined and readied for shipment. If there was any question of loyalty up until this point, it immediately disintegrated at the relation of this tale. Truth be told, I was a little querulous of the locals until that point; they seemed somewhat stand-offish and remote. I never realized that a 1.76 m tall and 18 stone Westerner might seem like an other from another planet and could be viewed as an outsider. Bottles were broken out, glasses tipped and brain cells slayed in tribute to all our collective brothers engaged in the rape, pillage and desecration of the land...er...ah...economic geology. In the midst of all the international brotherhood, one could scarcely notice the door being flung open and the cadre of heavily armed militamen, weapons unslung and safetys off, heading, rather noisily, thank you very much, in our general direction. Not realizing the potential predicament, I offered the charger of the Light Brigade a drink. Not a terribly sane thing to do in retrospect; although that's never stopped me before. It seems that in the center stage of all our international amity, one of our number had "borrowed" a vehicle to replenish our dwindling stocks of potables. It further seems that he hadn't asked permission to borrow said vehicle and even further, had been gone over an hour and a half. Needless to say, the driver (not owner) was, understandably, somewhat concerned. A passing mention to one of the local constabulary caused more uproar than had been seen in this particular northern burg for some time (insert A. Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" here). "Due process" is but a collection of two obscure words in this part of the world. We were started to be trundled off, towels and all, into a Waz and zipped off to the local hoosegow. Luckily, in the midst of all this, someone remembered that it was -40C outside and we were all wearing nothing but towels. We were allowed to change (damn, you can hide a number of bottles in those big parkas..) before we set out on a bone jarring and cacophonous ride to the brig. Luckily, during all the assorted absurdity, Igor arrived in the borrowed Lada and was currently challenging the Waz driver to a drag race to the lockup. We all slid in sideways and were escorted into what I thought Al Solzenitzhen would recognize as home. Rather unceremoniously, we were escorted to the desk of the Sergeant on duty to explain ourselves and that of the missing vehicle. Bluster, braggadocio and blathering aside; it was fun to watch the Sergeant turn a perfectly painful shade of purple when the mayor of the city (a member of our party, unbeknownst to me) began to read him the riot act and demand the head, throat and other vital organs of the character(s) in charge of this fiasco. I've never seen a finer display of crawfishing this side of Opelousas. There was more gladhandling and ass-covering than at a revival meeting in a thunderstorm. A true sight to behold. After a few minutes of threats, accusations and denials; the demeanor broke when it was mentioned that this was farewell party for one of "our western colleagues" and that the coterie was disturbed in mid-toast. I've never seen such rebounding this side of a Buck's game. The Sergeant sent two of his minions out to the car that started all the brouhaha to fetch the bounty of the trip to the magazine (i.e., liquor store). That we had a fine party that night in the local lockup is an understatement. That we probably caused a shortage of aspirin for the entire region the next morning is the same. ... Your kindness and generosity will irritate a powerful person nearby. * Origin: A Little Corner in Time BBS (1:106/113.0)

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