Kalinka Malinka

Every time I leave the house, let alone on vacation, my mission gets hijacked.  When we got back on the hydrofoil from Bolshie Koty on the shore of Lake Baikal, I made Dave buy a map which is too big for the poster tube that we are carrying with us.  The map is lovely and cost ten dollars and we are going to spend the rest of the trip trying to find a poster tube, which will probably cost more than the map, so that it can make it back to California undamaged.  It will arrive in shreds anyway.  Or else folded up when I get mad and give up.

It was drizzling in Krasnoyarsk but for some reason we took the map with us instead of leaving it at Left Luggage.  So the first thing we had to do was find a plastic bag to cover the map, let alone a tube.  Since it was Monday, all the museums were closed, so I treated the malls as museums (this works remarkably well) and we went from store to store looking for tubes and being impressed by the variety of shoes that are available to Russians.

We came close on the tube project once.  Well twice; for 600 rubles we could have bought a flimsy plastic telescoping tube that was made to hold a tripod or some other artifact that could fend for itself more than a rolled up map.

But the first failure was instructive.  On the third floor of a not purely shoe mall (but they had a floor devoted to them) was the wrapping department and there were a lot of stiff cardboard rolls holding scraps of wrapping paper, any one of which would have been suitable, but the girl there wouldn’t give us one.  It wasn’t a language difficulty.  It was a social failure.

She didn’t realize that she had the personal power to take the cardboard tube out of the center of a roll of wrapping paper and give it to us, leaving the wrapping paper to stand free in its tub with all the other tubed and untubed papers until it was used up.  She offered to sell us the last two square meters of wrapping paper for more twice what the two square meter map cost, which gives you an idea of how modern society values relatively, appearance versus information.

Maybe her boss really would have sent her to Siberia, I don’t know.  She was already in Siberia.

It’s a common first world middle class failure.  No African or Senator fails to realize that he has the power to negotiate anything he can lay his hands on.  But people in Safeway don’t bargain.  (Once when the power went out at Piazza’s in Palo Alto and all the cash registers failed, a clerk waved me and my bag through for a twenty dollar bill, but it’s an exception.)

And then there is also the Russian failure to want to help.

No society can be at once a worker’s paradise and a Consumer Paradise.  A worker’s paradise is about keeping everybody at work and a consumer paradise is about keeping everyone on vacation, and the two do not intersect.  Russia is still, at heart, a worker’s paradise.  Nobody outside our guides, have we met yet, who has any other idea than that he is supposed to punch the clock in the morning and in the evening, and spend all the intervening time evading our importuning glances.  The girl in the store — well, enough of this Eisenhower-era propaganda.  Socialized health care in America will be just like this, and it will still be better than what we’ve got.  Pre-existing conditions are a typical American elaboration of the basic mammalian behavior of evading an importuning glance.

It then stopped raining and got hot so we had to carry the raincoats and the tube.

I have heard of this thing called recently a “game face”, which I gather is what used to be called a scowl, that you give to the person opposite in the ring or on the field or during the middle managers’ process reorg meeting.  American Negro spokesmodelsof the H. Rap Brown/Eminem tendency always have such facial expressions during music videos.

People with Asperger’s don’t know how to make a game face, and now that Asperger’s is having its Elvis year, an industry will sprout in teaching them how to act stupid and aggressive; new industry being vital to the economy since manufacturing, information processing, finance, and management have all been outsourced overseas to save money and now everybody is surprised that Americans don’t have any.

Most Russians seem to present “game faces” most of the time.  I don’t know what it is.  I know that the dourness of Russians has been commented on before, and it’s being commented on again.  They don’t seem happy to have you in their town, with the exception of a few punks, in the 1980’s definition before the dour professional Negro culture-makers slapped on a more antisocial definition.  Some kids with streaky hair and pale faces wanted our picture in Irkutsk.

“Russians are snakes,” said the Oregon wrestler on the train to Ulaan Baatar,  “No, they’re survivors.”

There are always nice people, especially the guy who directed us to the coolest restaurant in Krasnoyarsk, Kalinka Malinka.  It is at 56.01076 N 92.85602 E, address Mira 91A, if you are ever in Krasnoyarsk.  We had walked into it earlier and had been turned off by what appeared to be steam-table tired old food, but the guy we met later that day insisted, so we gave it a second chance.  There are rooms behind the front counter.  We were seated and given menus, each page of which had a preparation time on it, so then we knew we’d be getting food made to order.

Malinka is the Krasnoyarsky version of Walzwerk, the restaurant in the Mission district that features East German cooking and East German kitsch.  Malinka’s walls have Soviet propaganda on them and the food is great.  Also, the menu is in pictures if you are Russian challenged.  There isn’t much English out here in Siberia.  We’re using the various iPhone translation apps quite a bit.  Siberia is the only place I’ve been in the last twenty years where it was genuinely difficult to find someone around who speaks English.

Or maybe there are English speakers and they just don’t feel like helping.  People don’t jump in here, grabbing you by the arm and taking you to the place you were looking for like the Japanese, or practising their English like the Chinese, or offering you a tour of town for a few thousand CFA Francs or their sister for a few thousand baht.  How do you deal with being a tourist in a place where people don’t want your money?  Maybe they all have a special kind of game face Asperger’s.  Maybe they are hung over.

You may gather we didn’t have that great a time in Krasnoyarsk.  It was problematic.  Usually the problem of finding restaurants is left to the guidebook, but Lonely Planet guides for Mongolia and for Russia have been kind of striking out, listing restaurants which in fact aren’t actually there anymore.

Very few people asked to take our picture.  In the movie version this is how you first know that we are dead.

The last young guy who wanted to take our photo told us about Malinka.  I had soljanka.  Totally different from Walzwerk and totally good.  Dave had latkes, whatever they are called here.  We took the wrong bus, got off when it became obvious we weren’t going in the right direction (even without a city map loaded, the GPS can help a lot) and walked to the train station and got our luggage back —

n.b. to those in the Krasnoyarsk train station.  The left luggage room is only open once in a while.  The luggage handlers are also insolent and idle but they have the decorative body types that come with hauling luggage and you don’t mind just looking at them lounging around.  Saki made a similar argument about cats.

Then there is the automatic luggage locker section, which also has a lady watching it and requesting your passport, which makes it less than automatic, and she’s not open after 1830 but you go to the other room then and — imagine a city of a million people without a 24 hour left luggage room!

You don’t have to.  America is full of cities of a million people that don’t even have train service.