Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Incredible Adventures of a Polar Bear


Call me crazy, call me a glutton for punishment but yes I did it. I took the plunge yesterday on Kresheniye. I was "rebaptized" so to speak and on this day if you dunk yourself in a body of water, you will not get sick or have pain all year. Really? Then why am I all achy today??
Anyhow, after my morning swim and a lengthy stay in the sauna to warm up, having a lively conversation with the cultured and overly plump Slovakian ambassador as we sweat it out, I walked along the riverbank, looking for the meeting place that Irina and I had agreed on. In this town if you ask different people where the hole in the ice is (proroob) you get a different answer. And rightly so, because there’s more than one it seems. I was just coming along to the Orthodox church’s proroob when Irina called me from the other side of the river. The church guys were busy forming a hole in the shape of a cross out of the thick layer of ice on the Ishim. The procession from the church was to begin in about a half an hour and they were chopping away furiously at the ice, hoping to finish before the throngs of believers came down to the river for their blessing. Apparently, the priest dips his big silver cross into the river and blesses the crowd, flinging cold Ishim water on everybody. Then they all go back to the church with their empty bottles and fill them up with holy water. More about that later.
By the time Irina called me, I was at the river bank watching the guys shovel furiously. A babushka was there too wondering where to get fill up her jar. I said on the other side and off we took, us two, across the frozen river diagonally to where Irina was waiting for me. Halfway across the river, my poor babushka friend, hobbling on her can and wheezing, looked like she wasn’t going to make it. It dawned on me that in my haste to go swimming before the cold windy air changed my mind, I tired out the poor old girl. Taking her big jar, I ran over to the other side to fetch her a pail of water. The poor thing all along; wheezing, holding herself up on her cane, I felt like an idiot. In between swimmers, I filled her jar up and ran back across the ice to deliver the goods. She thanked me and wished me a good swim and good health. I replied the same I vas takzhe. As I ran back to the hole in the ice, Irina already dressing from her quick dip, it dawned on me that this old lady is going to drink water from the Ishim–YICK! Should I go back and pour it out and tell her to go to the church. She was far gone by now hobbling back with her holy water to the side where we first met. They say on Kresheniye that all water is holy so I’m sure any nasty microbes that are in the water the other 364 days, took a day off and own’t harm my 70+ yr old friend.
The sun was shining, hazily and low in the sky. An orange glow behind the haze, it failed to provide any warmth against the wind and the sudden snow shower that came down as I was undressing. A couple came by, he in his winter sports outfit walking the family poodle, she like a female flasher, wrapped up in a big fur lined overcoat. She opened up her coat revealing her portly one piece and demurely yet quickly descended down the ladder into the chilly Ishim. She dipped herself under three times as per tradition Bog lyubit troitsu God loves a Trinity. In moments she was out and drying off, enjoying the post-dip warmth as the blood rushes to the surface to keep the body warm. The family poodle was scurrying about, probably trying to find comfort for his frozen paws. Irina recounted the story of the Mafia boss who arrived before us in his big Land Cruiser, surrounded by his flunkies with towels and a robe. He popped out of his car, in a bathing suit, dipped himself a few times, flunkies surrounding the hole to keep the wind away (and probably any potential assassins), wrapped him in towels as he got out, put him in a robe, back in the car and off they went. She said it took all of 5 mins if that but the whole show was very amusing.
OK, my turn. Here I go. Flip flops out so my feet don’t freeze, off go the pants, long underwear, layers of shirts and sweaters. Clad only in my new Nike swim trunks, I braved the wind and snow as Irina clicked away on my camera (Hell come all this way and not photograph the event??). Dunking yourself in ice cold water has to be done fast and without thought. Once you start thinking about it, you chicken out. Down I went, rung by rung, the bracing water numbing my legs. As well all know getting a man’s family jewels into the water is the hardest part. Instead of hesitating, I just dunked myself right in–One, Two, Three. Oh my God my body was freezing and before I knew it, I was shivering and jumping around, drying myself off with a towel. Before I knew it, my body was breaking out in a sensation of warmth. It felt so wonderful as I hopped back into my clothes, flicking off the snow that gathered into my long underwear and sweater.

We laughed and prided ourselves on our courageous achievement as we crossed the icy river, heading toward a warm up at our favorite haunt Sladkaya Skazka. We fel warm and cozy all bundled up again. The numbness was leaving my feet, the heavy; hand knitted woolen socks nestled in UG boots working fast to circulate the blood. My hands were frozen stiff and tooka bit longer. It was rather painful too. The nerves seemed to sting really hard as they came out of their temporary frozen state, as if to punish me for doing that to them. Irina commented on how great she felt, all her aches and pains were gone. You know my back was feeling pretty good too. So maybe there is something to all this religious lore after all. As we enter the warm cafĂ© for a cup of tea, we watched the religious procession; banners, singing and hundreds of devout believers making their way down to the river for the blessing. "Shall we join them Irina, go swimming again?" I asked. "What are you crazy?" she looked at me astonished. "Of course not, I was just kidding! Let’s go have a cup of tea."

1 comment:

MAandTT said...

Now that is a great documentation effort. Fab-o pics and so fun. Miss you!!!!