One of Khanty-Mansiysk’s main attractions is its nature.
(Apparently I’m not the only one to notice this.) I’ve been here for two weekends and so far, my best memories have consistently been those that occur in the nearby woods. On Sunday, Marina, one of the women I met in the woods at that hyper-perfect family picnic, called me up and invited me to go mushroom picking!
From the day we learned the expression “собирать грибы” (to collect mushrooms) in Russ051, I’ve dreamed of idyllic moments of strolling through the forest, elegantly swooping down on unsuspecting mushrooms like a hawk in a pristine spring dress, harvesting absurd quantities of mushrooms and pickling them as expertly as the organs in Peter the Great’s museum of curiosities. It turned out exactly like this, only I found about a quarter as many mushrooms as Marina, my sneakers and pants were soaked and caked with mud and sap, and the pickling job afterwards was haphazard at best and I am already feeling the pleasant tingle of the warm onslaught of botulism.
The trivialities of reality aside, though, it was dazzling. An infinite forest of birch trees, mushroom clusters as adorable as a litter of golden retriever puppies, nature’s buffet of delicious berries and nuts and seeds, and my delightful companion Marina leading me safely through it all. Also, I think I scored some major “Russian Soul Points” (RSP, for future reference) when I compared my getting better at finding mushrooms with Levin’s improvement wielding a scythe during harvesting – when you stop over-thinking it, things come more naturally. Anyway, it was an absolute treat and I savored every moment of it.
Once it grew dark, we stopped at a place that has the best bread in the city and got some yeasty treatsies and she invited me home for dinner. We enjoyed tasty fish cutlets and her husband, Volodya, and I became engaged in a spirited bout over the use of knives with dinner. Apparently, Russians don’t often use knives, and here I was clearly (and embarrassingly) having difficulties getting things on my fork without one. In an act of comic solidarity, Marina and Volodya both began eating with knives and from that day forth we all lived happily ever after. …And then Marina came over and helped me marinate some mushrooms and steam/fry/cook/[prepare somehow] then freeze the other ones. It was all so splendid.