17 May 2014

Staying Alert While Leaving for the Village

Another way to stay in touch.

Getting ready to leave the city is more complicated this year. We watch the news to see what's happening, and also to anticipate changes in money supply, prices, and train schedules.

My monthly Social Security and New Jersey teacher pension payments are automatically deposited in US banks.  We use Visa cards issued to our accounts to withdraw in Russia   $300 at a time, at $5 a transaction.  Now we have less confidence that Visa, and even the banks, will fulfill their contracts, and not bend to whatever wind is blowing from Washington.   

I've been wary of Russian banks for years, but now I'm starting to feel our money at times is safer with them.  We have accounts in rubles and dollars.  Whether the ruble or dollar is up or down, the result for us often seems a wash.

When there is a crisis, stores tend to raise prices.  Receipt slip items the past few weeks at our neighborhood Season supermarket are up... but across the way at Pitorichka, one of a  chain of smaller markets, they are about the same as usual.

We have train tickets for June 6... that's right, D Day!.. for Ostashkov, Tverskaya oblast.  I expect this train will be running no matter what.  But as with driving a car, you may control how you drive to an extent, but not  be able to control the car coming towards you... such as what strange thing the US will do next in the current crisis.

We were going to skip TV at the village, but with the current news, we now will bring a small set so we can keep up with what is- and what may- happen.

Our village is quite isolated, which may make us more vulnerable.  We have frquent power failures.  Often after a storm the lines are down for a few hours to a few days.  Some of our neighbors have gas powered electric generators. 

Some people are good about letting Larissa bring food to keep in their refrigerators to save it from spoiling. Russian reflexively assumed that any American they meet is rich and would have a generator and car.  One lady figured we were hiding our money and accused Larissa of being either poor or cheap! 

We have no land line for phones in the village.  Most Russian women love to talk for hours on the phone, so just a cellphone is tragic for Larissa.  Besides cellphone, the last few years the village has had a sort of pay phone, connected by antenna to a nationwide system.  We use a card with charged phone time from the local bank.

The roads to Pena, the next larger town to Zaloze,  are rough.  The unpaved segment can be blocked after a heavy rain, and the log bridge down.  People often swerve to the other side of the paved part to avoid pot holes.  Bad roads, unsafe cars, and erratic, sometimes drunk, drivers make for dangerous highways in Russia.

Pena has a clinic and hospital... and  two ferocious dentists, which seem to mainly pull teeth.  I was there a few years ago.  I waited a long time, watching patient after patient half stagger from the treatment room, gripping their jaws with cotton and gauze, with an upset and surprised look in their eyes.

As is  typical in a Russian public dental clinic there were two dentists working in the same room.  My dentist asked me what I wanted him to do.  I explained I needed a chipped tooth smoothed off.  He did this quickly and well... no charge.  Still, I'm going to my gentle woman platne (pay) dentist to check for cavities before we leave.

We are buying three months of pills.  This is fairly easy because Russia doesn't require the brouhaha of prescriptions unless you need to purchase narcotics or psychotropic medications.  

I will pack around 10 to 16 good paperbacks to keep me happy under the apple tree this summer.  They have to fit in my small backpack, as we're also lugging a suitcase, another large pack, a food carrier, and now a small TV and of course, this computer.

Ten years ago there were two or more trains to and from Pena every week starting in May.  Now there's one a week starting in June, but no train after the first days of September.  Each train ticket is 1504 rubles... $43.12.

The last few years the train only lets us off one station before Pena, at Ostashkov. The road trip from Ostashkov to Zaloze is longer, rougher... and more expensive... costing as much as a train ticket from St Petersburg! 

I'm sorry to see the cutback in train service, as it is still a great way to get around Russia.  Now most of the young have cars.  This trend towards more car drivers will continue, so  it's only natural that train travel will have less priority in future transportation planning.

Be sure to have a good summer, and stop by for supper sometime!

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