The Yak Exam
What do you do if you are promised a Boeing 737 and get a Yak (Yakalev) 42-D? Yes the venerable Yak is still flying and we took our life in our hands to make the journey from Yekaterinburg to Moscow after our Sky Express flight was scratched. The Yak is in the fleet of Tartarstan Airlines – the only game in town if you are from Tartarstan. They apparently were flying the same time as the Sky Express flight but nearly empty. The Yak 42-D is a virtual carbon copy of the old and long ago retired 727-100. There were a scant 185 of all Yak models manufactured from 1979 until 2002 – so it is a relatively young fleet but a very old design. It holds about 120 passengers very uncomfortably witness my getting stuck in a center seat; I found my legs in a position not unlike a woman experiences during a ObGyn exam – I call it the “Yak Exam”! The seat pitch is a skimpy 29 inches with most modern aircraft sporting 33 inch pitch for greater comfort. For a guy my size it was very uncomfortable being spread-eagle for two hours, but such is the Yak Exam. We endured and made the trip safely, though our ears were fried from the high pitch engine sound after the two hour trip.
Apartment with a View
We made the journey to Moscow for the annual meeting of Sophie’s employer International Finance Corporation. I was along as Nanny-in-charge of Master Thomas. We lived at #10 New Arbaht a fully furnished and nicely appointed apartment located in a 24-story, 30+ year-old apartment building. It was about 4 blocks from the Kremlin and even closer to Sophie’s office. New Arbaht Boulevard is an un-delightful combination of a strip mall and New York’s Times Square; and the thoroughfare itself is like a freeway except when the official motorcades of Putin or Medvedev are coming or going from the Kremlin. I experienced absolute silence on Wednesday around 11 am as one of the ruling elite sped past comfortably in their Mercedes 600 limo at 80 mph. Muscovites dutifully pulled over for their royalty to pass unobstructed. I can imagine how Washingtonians feel with similar White House excursions.
This was my first time back in Moscow since 1996. I didn’t like it then and I don’t now. Too big and noisy, too glitzy for my taste and the city like the rest of Russia is overwhelmed by cars without sufficient roads and parking being developed to keep up with demand. They have however done a very good job of maintaining and upgrading many of the old 3-7 story buildings in the center of the city. These all have a nice human scale, not as big and impersonal as many of the new high rise buildings.
After her second day of meetings, Sophie and I loaded Thomas up in the stroller and found a lovely out-of-the-way Japanese restaurant on a quiet residential street. We had ordered and while we waited for the first course, in staggered our dinner companions. Two intoxicated fellows Alosha and Gherik (he called himself Garry Potter – like “Harry Potter”, I know not why except he was pretty drunk. Garry was fascinated to watch as Thomas had his dinner ahead of Sophie and me – I’m talking breast feeding here. He raised his glass in toast to Russian Motherhood and to our stout son and the magic elixir that is Russian mother’s milk! Alosha chimed in that he was sure that Thomas would be on the Russian National Football team in future years. Garry meantime kept making reference to Russian women providing the best milk in the world for babies – he surely was a boob man! He decided to call Sophie “Tanya” – maybe an old flame from his past whom maybe had been breast feeding as well.
Sophie and I maintained our composure and smiled at each other. I tried to keep quiet as I usually do not want to attract attention as a foreigner. Finally Aloshya mustered courage and tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from; they had talked between themselves and though I was either Czech or Hungarian. Alosha did his first “genuflect” when I told him I was from the U.S.; he literally got down on one knee, grabbing my hand and was pumping it wildly while congratulating Sophie on getting a rich American – I want to give Aloshya my bills! We then pinpointed that we had come from Denver, Colorado and genuflect # 2 in honor of Patrick Rau and Joe Sackic and the Colorado Avalanche! He was a fan of American NHL hockey and had only great things to say about the Avs. We finished dinner and walked away having a good laugh over the encounter. Good luck gentlemen – I hope you both find nice “Tanyas” of your own.
Mini-Vacation to Novo-Pokrov
Business concluded and Saturday morning we are off for a four-day getaway. We took an inter-urban train north of Moscow two hours to Mazheisk and then on to Novo-Pokrov by car to visit one of Sophie’s friends she had worked with in Kazakhstan. Marianna, her husband Andre and two boys Kolya and Petr live in this small village of Novo-Pokrov some 50 km from Mazheisk. I’m not sure that you would find it on a map. Marianna just finished an MBA through The Higher School of Economics and now what to do? She and her husband live a rather idyllic life in a old log cabin "dacha" house from May to October. Andre commutes for his work and Marianna enjoys the country life. Temperatures are moderate in the winter no more than 15 to 20 below Celsius. Their boys are living the Tom and Huck life, so she’s not sure if she will even use this new degree she’s just acquired.
Areas around Mazheisk and Novo-Pokrov are hallowed ground. During WWII there were trenches dug particularly around Novo-Pokrov to hide Russian soldiers until the advancing Germans that were trying to reach Moscow, were in close range to shoot. This was a major battle zone with Russian troops trying to stem the advance of the Germans in 1941-42. The Russian military was generally unprepared for the Germans betrayal of the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact; thus the high loss of life, mostly inexperienced young conscripts were thrown to the early test. But by March of ’42 the Russians were pushing the Germans back.
Novo-Pokrov may not be for everyone but the life here seems “connected” enough. The village embraces a cluster of 42 houses. Most people practice the Orthodox faith in a new church – the center piece of the village. A modest two story monastery is nearby. The house lots are very large with plenty of room to grow and expand. We are talking 1, 2 and 3 acre plots which is very different from my in law’s small dacha plot outside of Yekaterinburg. People make the drive to Mazheisk to shop. And, the world is only an internet/satellite uplink away. Novo-Pokrov grows on you.
On Monday we had a wonderful banya. Andre has a nice 8 person banya with adjacent relaxation area. The second story is being developed for entertaining after banya. Our banya included some ever-clear with wild strawberry jam mixed in. Great way to “calm” the ever-clear’s hi-octane hotness.
The Moscow River is nearby – a wonderful swimm’en hole. In the winter I’m told, the fields are great for cross country skiing.
The hospitality of Marianna and Andre will long be remembered. Wonderful host and hostess in their beautiful cabin home.