Siberia part II and why I came home early…

I guess I left the big question unanswered cause everyone is asking – why did you come home early? Well, lets say, sometimes, it is just time to come home.

This was quite a difficult decision for me to make and by no means was I able to make such a choice without great consideration. I did not WANT to give up the opportunities at my feet – spending 3 weeks in the Siberian wilderness with friends and people I trust and who love me, venturing east into China at a pivotal time in history, and returning home over the Pacific, thereby circumnavigating the globe. It is quite sad for me to let go of these experiences, but for the present time, this was the right choice for me. It was time for me to take a rest from pushing constantly onward.

Back to Siberia:

When we arrived at the airport in Abakan on July 1, we were greeted by 3 locals – Sergey Charkov, the drum maker (whose beautiful drums you can view on my website on the DRUMS page), Sergey the translator, whom we had hired to serve as our interpretor for the festival and film that Barbara Borden is making, and Olesya of Theater Skazka, who was the organizer of all non-Russian festival participants in Tchir Tchayan. It was about 8:30 in the morning (15 hours ahead of California time), the sun was shining and we were warmly embraced by all. When I flew out of Abakan 2 years ago, Sergey the drum maker was also there to see me off. This time he had fresh reasons for welcoming us – that I had assisted in the sale and import of more than 35 of his drums to the US, something which neither of us planned, expected or even foresaw coming. This business has made a tremendous impact on his family life, for example, he is currently in the process of building a large workshop, warehouse and home for his family just outside of Abakan. When he took me to see the property and his work in progress, I could feel the great joy and satisfaction that he found in this opportunity. After living in a small apartment with a family of 5 for so many years, and working out of a temporary workshop in one of the cities academy’s, he is just so happy to be able to design his own workspace, and build a house that he can call home. More about Sergey the drum maker later.

Sergey the translator became our newest friend and hero almost instantly. Though he is native Russian, born and raised in Abakan, he speaks English close to perfectly and he has a particular affinity for American culture and American English. His English studies and experience had been in the US, and now he is a professional English teacher, runs a private English academy in Abakan and interprets for such guests as the Discovery Chanel and other film/TV/media teams, among other things. So he became our ticket to communication for everything from negotiating hotel rooms, to ordering food, to getting us through our sound check, to translating for all interviews we did on camera. But he was so much more than just a translator. He had a van, and he also became our band driver, taking us to and from events, giving us a special tour of the city and bringing us to lakes for a swim on our time off, to all the local hot spots, inviting us to experience the Russian “banya”, which is my second favorite thing in Russia, next to yurts. “Banya” is most simply described as a steam bath, but it involves particular ritual procedures. First, it is always part of a larger bath house, with a changing room, a lounging/resting room, a shower with either a cold bucket rinse or a cold plunge pool, and the wooden banya room, which resembles a dry sauna, aside from the hot rocks which are heated over permanent, plastered-in-place stones. You undress completely and wrap yourself in a sheet if you don’t want to be naked, and put a thick wool cap on, sometimew with horns (just for laughs). The wool cap insulates your head and actually keeps your brain cooler, so you can trick yourself into taking more heat. Our bodies can really withstand more than we can handle mentally, so this is the trick to dealing with the weak minded. Inside the hot banya, you pour water over the rocks and as the steam fills the air, you are overwhelmed with the sensation that the temperature is rising. But it is only the humidity which goes up and you loose track quickly of whether you are drenched in sweat or just condensed steam. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. Then, you take turns slapping eachother with a wet bunch of birch leaf branches and this is supposed to remove the toxins from your body. It probably does more than just that, and just before you can’t take the heat or the slapping anymore, you run out and plunge or drench yourself in icy cold water. And it feels soooooooo freakin wonderful!!!!!!!! I think one day I must have a banya and a yurt as part of my homestead. In the meantime, I will just take regular trips to Russia ; )

Sergey also took us out one night to experience the Abakan nightlife. In Russia, night clubs are called “Picnic” so you say to your friends, “Let’s go for a picnic tonight,” and that means to the club. As innocent as it sounds, we learned quite early on into the night, that the Russians don’t hold back in their clubs. Plenty of beer and vodka is served, to be expected, and the DJ pumps the music, mostly Russian techno and pop hits, such as the one we heard over and over during our trip – “Moscow Never Sleeps” or various hits by the Russian pop group “Viagra” composed of 3 sexy females, one of each different hair color. But what we didn’t expect was that every hour or so, there would be some entertainment thrown into the mix, and this normally means a female stripper. A woman with a body like a barbie and braided blonde extensions down past her waist came onto the dance floor in super pump heels, a g-string, a little white nurses jacket and a stethoscope around her neck. She did a dance, went around to take the heart beat of a few vulnerable men, and then took it all off except for the floss-sized g-string. She must have sensed that it was Bram (one of the members of Fools Gold who is 23 and was sitting next to me)’s first experience with a stripper, for she came over to our table and did a dance on the table top until he folded some cash into her floss. Later in the evening, she came out as little red riding hood, but again, who was missing her bottoms. It was all pretty funny. Especially when they announced that there were 2 Americans in the club – one from New York (Bram) and one from San Francisco – and then they played “The Hotel California” in my honor. So we really appreciated Sergey the translator, for all the logistical help he provided, but also all the fun. He even got on stage with us during our big concert to translate our comments between songs. He loved our music so much that not only was he dancing to each number, but at the end of each song, he would yell “Fools Gold!!!!!!” like a cheerleading broadcaster for a sports team or something. We told him we wanted to hire him as the band manager. He was thrilled and his response was, “Just call me Batman!”

Amongst 200 artisits in the Tchir Tchayan festival I was unable to attend all the concerts, presentations and events, but there was one group that totally stood out for me. A dance troup from Chukotka, the far northeast penninsula of Russian Siberia (see that was made of 4 women and 4 men, all of whom were exceptional dancers, singers and drummers. They looked and dressed very much like Eskimos, and I guess they are Eskimos of Russia. Their costumes were just gorgeous – seal skin pants and dresses, lined with thick fur, all sorts of shell, bead and painted decoration. They drummed and sang acoustic traditional chants and songs, some which had dancing and some without. And then they used some recordings to do very powerful dances and these recordings were the most effective mix of natural and animal sounds (such as ocean sounds, gulls, birds, seals and maybe even whales) mixed with traditional singing techniques and rhythms but expressed using modern sound technology and the influence of hip hop. It was like tribal Eskimo hip hop. It was fresh and hot!!!! Check them out on YouTube:
It was just like the best of their indigenous culture had embraced the best of modern music and hip hop dance and the two just brough each other higher. Very good energy, thrilling, really!!

More to come….

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