I kept living in my scary house in Tomsk until December 27th. On this day, I wanted to write, but it was too cold in my poorly-heated house to do so. So, I called Pavel, the forty-year-old motorcyclist, who had long since been inviting me to live with him.
I went to his apartment that frosty evening, following my final day of work in Tomsk. While in Tomsk, though a bad businessman and never more than a part-time worker, I'd managed to restore my finances to their pre-Russia level. I had over ten thousand ruble's ($400)! I was going to be ready to leave Tomsk after the New Year holidays.
In the subsequent mornings, Pavel practiced yoga, then cooked us sweet oatmeal with raisins. He was ever asking if there wasn't anything I needed, anything he could do for me. He frequently suggested fun activities we could do together. Even so, I celebrated New Year's Eve with other friends, whom I'd known longer.
On this night, I had my last, new December experience.
Russians celebrate New Year's Eve like Americans and Europeans celebrate Christmas. "Merry New Year, readers!" They have unique traditions, though.
A few Russians even wear costumes.
Orange-skinned Tanya from the Xakasia region, my friend, wore a black skirt and dressed as a sexy punk. She cooked a lot of food, in her students' dorm room in the Medical University.
Curly-haired Sasha, who has a chubby kid's face and who loves joking and giggling, wore a viking's bra, blond pigtails, and a viking's helmet. She played me in Russian Scrabble, while we ate.
Russian tradition also states that your next year will go similarly to how you enter it.
"Ty budesh vxodit v Novym Gode, kak luzer!" I yelled in Sasha's face. (You're gonna enter the New Year as a loser!) I spelled, "KNYAZ", for a big 33 points, then ridiculed Sasha.
But, she grabbed her viking's sword and held it against my throat, pushing me backwards off my chair. She stood over me and laughed. My stomach was so full of chicken and salad and pizza and juice that, for a minute, I was helpless to get up.
When I did get up, I held onto a 255-253 victory. 2008 isn't the year to be a viking.
The New Year approached. President Vladimir Putin spoke on the television. Bells chimed twelve times to signify midnight. Tradition says that, while these bells chime, you should write your wishes for the next year on paper, light that paper on fire, throw the ashes in your drink, and then drink your drink. Sasha and I tried this, but we weren't quick enough. And we burnt our fingers.
By one a.m., we were outside for a walk. Tiny specks of falling snow filled the air, and we couldn't breath without inhaling them. It didn't seem that cold. Whenever you're accompanied by friends when you go outside in Siberia, it seems less cold.
On the white sidewalk, many people walked and had fun. People ran, yelling, Happy New Year!; three people rode in a shopping cart, and got pushed 'til they fell; people lay together on the ground; rough guys laughed and hooted at Sasha and Tanya. Russia is crazy!
Fun Sasha led us to the "gorki" (slides). And I saw one of the most dangerous-looking scenes of my life.
Every winter, Russians build "gorki". Using wooden boards, they build steps up to a platform. Wooden boards form a wide slide, down from the platform. Water is thrown on the slide, which freezes, making it icy and slippery.
On this night, the "gorki" were crowded. Sasha and I climbed up, sat down and grabbed strangers' backs, and slid down. At the bottom of the slide, people piled up. Many times, pedestrians tried to walk in front of the slide, and speeding sliders plowed into them. When I saw this, I involuntarily yelled, "Ooh!", delighted.
We slid down in standing position, also. Guys in full Santa Claus (in Russia: "Father Frost") costumes slid down in standing position, which looked cool. Once, Sasha and I reached the end without falling, and a guy came speeding towards us. "Derzi!" he yelled. (Hold on!) I held onto Sasha, and none of us fell. "Krasivets!" he said. (You're a beauty!)
I smiled at Sasha and involuntarily yelled, "Yes!" But, she was busy moving her jaw around with her hand, because the guy had hit her hard there. She would soon be smiling and healthy, though.
At three a.m., the girls and I parted. Asiatic Tanya and I kissed. We'd been kissing since September, when she'd joined me in bed, with her thin and light body, round and pert in the right spots. Back then, she was like a cornered mink: biting and scratching, ferociously. Now, my patient and her aggressive kissing styles came together more harmoniously.
She and I probably wouldn't see each other again; I planned to leave on January 5th.
There was still time for the Siberian winter to strike and impress my heart. On January 3rd, Pavel drove us to the countryside for a small excursion.
Whenever it's really, really cold, -20 Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) or below, the air seems so clear. It seems lifeless, breathless, nonexistent above the land.
The exhaust from cars on the road was thick and white and very visible, as if the cars coughed up Casper the Ghosts.
Pavel and I went walking in a cedar forest. I climbed one of the heavy, Siberian cedars, resting in its mighty, magnificent, spiraling branches.
We came to a place where the land looked down on the frozen River Tom. The sun, which is never all that far above the horizon in winter at Tomsk's 57 degrees Northern latitude, shown on the wide river and surrounding deep snow. All the white snow seemed blue. The sky itself didn't seem blue; it seemed pale and frosty. The river far below us seemed silent and nearby, as if there was no air between it and us.
I could've happily meditated here. Pavel, however, was talkative. Unlike me, he didn't wear a scarf over his face, and his skin looked red and uncomfortable. Siberians almost never wear scarves over their faces; when they must, they cover their faces with their gloved hands, which seems rather silly. Pavel and I returned to the car. (And I realized I couldn't have stood outside much longer, either.)
A few words about Pavel:
He always lets his friends walk ahead of him. I also do this, and I know why. I fear and hate being rejected, and I don't expect people will follow me.
Pavel reads about and follows Eastern/Buddhist philosophy. I was surprised, though, that he listens to music very loud, watches television, and drives rather unsafely.
He's divorced. His son lives with his ex-wife.
He believes God is a separate being.
He doesn't drink alcohol nor eat meat. Yet, he thinks sex is a good thing.
He's well-off. Like me, he enjoys many fun activities including travels, and he likes having many friends. He smiles a lot and calls everything "the best". Yet, it's sometimes visible in his eyes that he's tired or sad.
He seems annoyed by his parents, who are simple, countryside Russians.
He often helps people. And he never, as far as I know, turns down guests to his comfortable apartment.
Returning to Tomsk after our countryside walk, we saw that a billboard advertised the temperature as -30-something Celsius. Then began the coldest twenty-four hours of my life.
The windows on the buses (and on wooden houses) frosted over, so that nothing was visible. Only the buses' front windows were defrosted, and I once saw a billboard advertising a -37 Celsius temperature (-35 Fahrenheit). Even with my scarf covering my mouth, my cheekbones felt the cold. I had to walk several city blocks, and I knew I had to hurry!
A white "tuman" (fog) covered the land in the morning.
I readied myself to leave Tomsk the next day - only to ultimately decide I'd stay another ten days.
With my decision already made, I awaited a female visitor of mine who'd come to Pavel's place on the night of the 4th. I had feelings for this sexy, young woman. Pavel joined us.
The girl and Pavel wanted that we converse and drink tea. Pavel wanted that I read to them from my personal "Book of Philosophy".
By the end of the evening, it became clear that the girl was much more interested in spending time with Pavel than with me. In fact, maybe something had happened between them the last time she'd visited me at Pavel's?, though she would tell me nothing. I felt used and deceived. I decided to leave them and go sleep in my beloved, cold wooden house.
On my way out, I asked Pavel if something hadn't happened between him and the girl the last time. At first, he didn't respond, and then he side-stepped the question with ambiguous remarks. If they had been together, why wouldn't they just admit it?
The air had warmed up in time for my late-evening walk to my old house. I was very happy to be back in my beautiful home, which wasn't terribly cold once I moved my desk away from the window.
But, I felt disrespected and low.
Moden Oddyseus ...