i’ve just moved into a new house.
my landlady is baba tanya. (baba is short for babushka- grandma in russian) when i was introduced to baba tanya, i assumed her to be a medium to heavy drinker in her fifties. turns out she’s a light drinker in her late seventies- the cellar is full to the brim with bottles of homemade raspberry wine and apple cider, which keeps her going. i am assured a neighbouring house has a still producing crystal clear ‘samogon’ – home made vodka, which she doesn’t touch, except on holidays. this is the sort of place where holidays are pretty regular.
my new space is 8 square metres behind a curtain on a wooden verandah built onto a hundred year old log house, sloping about five degrees to the south. to be honest, it smells of cat piss, which i’m trying to address with agrabathi and citronella.
in my ‘space’ (a ‘room’ has four walls and a door- i have three walls, a wardrobe and a curtain.) there is an ancient wooden table, an ancient wooden bed and a thick woolen carpet. the wall is lined with rotting soviet era books and a large tatty oil of a man trying to shoot a constipated bear. rustic is too refined a word.
its costing me 275 euros a month, including cooking and laundry and conversation. a lot of conversation.
although this might seem expensive, average price of land round here is about the same as monaco.
i have to type quietly. on the other side of my curtain a woman, baba lida, is sleeping. she was born here, in this house, 80 years ago. inside the house, baba liza is also sleeping. she was born here 82 years ago. i don’t think baba tanya ever sleeps. she’s too busy arranging the sinister children’s dolls which decorate every corner of the house.
the house itself has full amenities, both inside and out. the inside amenites are perfectly adequate- but the sisters seem keener on the outdoor variants- a brand new ‘fitted’ plastic shower cubicle in a wooden hut at the end of the farmstead, fired by a cast iron stove- surely one of the most remarkable engineering visions of the 21st century. just beyond it is the external ‘summer toilet’, which looks remarkable indian to me.
the half hectare of land baba tanya tends tends to with her octogenarian sisters bears all the potatoes, tomatoes, apples, pears, raspberries, dill, cucumbers, cabbages, peppers and onions that they need to live without having to worry too much about the green grocer.
their ten chickens are in an apparently lazy mood, producing a meagre three to four eggs a day, compared to the 8-10 peak in mid winter. baba tanya’s not too happy about this, but the chickens don’t seem to care.
baba tanya’s not too pleased with pirate either. pirate is a dog- an irish wolfhound. baba tanya saved pirate from being put down as a pup for being a runt (he’s more prince naseem hamed than george foreman), and she doesn’t think her kindness has been repayed in kind.
the problem is pirate likes biting. the first thing to present themselves to me upon arrival were his snarling jaws snapping from under the gate, the teeth of his lower right jaw conspicuous by their absolute absence. i asked baba tanya about this over a glass of red wine (mine) and a slice of salted fish (hers) this evening. she recalled how once a neighbour had bought a new car- a lada zhiguli model seven- and pirate took such dislike to it that he tried biting out its headlights. headlights are made of glass. thus the missing teeth.
baba tanya is almost as angry at the unscrupulous rise in cost of the public transport system in recent years as she is about the unscrupulous rise in compensation demands pirate’s victims have started to make- where once twenty or thirty rubles (up to a dollar) were adequate to hush up a light to gentle mauling, a hundred or even a hundred and fifty (up to five dollars) are now expected- an excellent indicator of the detrimental effect of the capitalist vibe in russia plying pressure on the pockets of pensioners.
this afternoon i gave pirate two sausages, in an advised act of friendship. it worked. now he stands very close and stares at me expectantly, and i’m a little bit worried he’ll bite me if i don’t give him more.
but on the whole, according to baba tanya, life is good. the water is especially good apparently, as it is on the same main as vladimir vladimirovich putin’s palace, the back wall of which dominate’s the view at the end of the short leafy road that constitutes the village- and the local authority is very keen to spare the second president of the russian federation the sort of heavy metal contamination the rest of moscow’s population is said to be exposed to. i didn’t ask why, but i suspect it’s because he’s good at judo.
I’m considering gently introducing them to smack, then switching them to crack as a ‘remedy’, and then rinsing them of their little house. The land’s worth about 2 million.
Do you have a better idea?