A new vignette from the “Perils of Boris & Natasha (Bob & Carol).” This fancy bit occurred last Thursday in the wind-down of Boris’ activity in Kineshma at the plant called Avtoagretat.
Yes, all good things must come to an end, and last week was my final chapter at the village on the Volga. This has been my business home since May 1996. I had spent many weeks in Kineshma prior to August 1995 as well, so you can even feel the emotion I express in announcing my departure.
During that time, I had spent weekends in our flat in Moscow, taking the Midnight train (about 10.5 hours) Sunday nights from Moscow, then returning Thursday night from Kineshma. So, my routine was two nights on the train, two nights in Moscow, three nights in the company hostel in Kineshma. Can’t you see how this has emotionally grabbed me through these months?
The train ride at night is usually restful, with the sway of the train car and the rattle of the tracks to help lull a body to sleep. Particularly if the work schedule has been routinely filled and sleep a rare commodity. However, during the hot summer months the air is stifling and tough to get much rest unless you get a rare compartment where the window will go down. The reverse is the case in the bitter winter, when you pray for no air leaks and/or a functional compartment heater.
Kineshma is 400 km north of Moscow, maybe a 5 or 6 hour car drive, but the train stops at every hamlet and village to take on & put off passengers, who take their wares to the city to sell at flea markets. Thus, the 10+ hour journey.
There are usually one or two Russian Synchroner’s on the train who live in Moscow and work with me in Kineshma, and we have a routine. On the ride from Kineshma to Moscow, we board the train at 6pm. At nine, the train stops in Ivanovo which is the major city in the Ivanovo region, of which Kineshma is a part. The stop is for one hour, right? So we lock our cabin door, walk from the train to the large train depot, walk out the front into the public square, and buy an ice cream (moroshenoe) cone, look the scenery over, talk about the goods & bads of the past weeks activities, then mosey around a bit and finally 30 minutes or so back to the train, where we wait for the departure in another 20 minutes or so. The city of Ivanovo was the scene of the first Soviet in the country’s history. This was the start of the activity that culminated in the 1917 revolution.
In the square is a very large black iron cast sculpture of a woman’s head, with her hair blown back and up, her with a very angry look on her face. This must be 20 feet high, the face, on a pedestal probably 60 feet in the air. On the top of the 12 story building across the square, big letters in Russian declaring Ivanovo to be the first Soviet city. This area is the heart of Russia’s textile industry, so many women textile workers during the height of Russia’s glory days that the government placed a very large military base outside the city to balance nature. Today all the textile mills are shut down, it is a terribly depressed area.
So, back to my story; On this Thursday, I was honored by a small meeting in our office by the Synchron team and three Avtoagregat guys who we have worked with all this time. They brought out a bottle of champagne and each had quite a large glass. Leonid Bosloviak, about my best friend in the group, asked me, “Bob, can’t you break the law just once?” I thanked him but declined, drinking Dr. Pepper with the toasts. That was about 3:30, so they wrapped that little ceremony up with a very nice hand painted traditional Russian wooden box with a chocolate candy bar, and then they took me to the General Director’s office where Smyshlaev and a few of his deputies had me sit down to listen to more boasts and toasts (vodka this time).
The general director, Smyshlaev, said that they are turning more and more of the responsibility for moving forward to younger people at the plant. He said that they would indeed be shipping products to the world market and that the first step was the work we had done together there. Smyshlaev then presented me with a beautiful oil painting of the village of Kineshma as viewed from the Volga river that was painted just last year by a noted Kineshma artist whose themes are only about Kineshma. He also gave me a document that will allow me to take the painting out of the country when we finally leave. Big hand shakes and serious heart tugs. I told them I would never remember pistons when I think about Kineshma, but I would think about the people that I have shared troubles and joys with these past years, people who I consider part of my family. (…actually I will forever see pistons in my nightmares with cancer causing ingredients in the plating)
The office team then walked with me to the hostel from the plant where we sat together for dinner and had yet a third round of boasts & toasts, vodka no less, me with my soft drink. They each said good and flattering things. I told them that I wished my mother could have heard what they all said, that she would have believed them. It was a heart-tugging time, these are really a good bunch to work with. They often don’t respond in traditional expected ways, taking longer to do things with different priorities and expectations, but time must be an important ally in making this transformation. It is clear that they’ve just read from a different book than we have.
The office team got us all in two cars for the trip to the train station (vogzal) where they found a guy with a camera who took pictures of the group, then Victor Shishkin & I departed for our routine trip to Moscow at 6pm. I had my clothes & stuff, computer, scanner, zip, printer, plus a bunch of paraphernalia that had accumulated through the months. Additionally, I had this beautiful oil painting as my remembrance gift from the Avtoagregat plant. And away we went.
So, on schedule, we stopped in Ivanovo at 9pm. After our first moroshenoe we had wasted fifteen minutes, so we had another, and took a slow walk around the angry lady. At the 40 minute point, we slowly walked through the train station to stand on the platform where…, there was no train! Oh, my! No clothes & stuff, computer, scanner, zip, printer, paraphernalia or picture. Gone. I looked at Victor, he looked at me, then he ran to the office in the station to find out what happened! It seems that on this day, this very day, they changed the train schedule for only a 20 minute stop, not the one hour of old.
He explained the situation, they got on the phone to call Moscow & alert of the difficulty. It turned out we weren’t the only ones caught in the bind. The train arranged for a bus going to Moscow to be routed by the station and several of us took empty seats and started the long journey by about 11pm. It was very crowded, completely full after we got on. They had seats that reclined but you couldn’t sit straight if the person in front had his seat reclined, so they were all tightly reclined. They had a fairly large TV screen at the front of the bus which had Russian music videos on pretty loudly. A couple of guys were smoking two seats in front of us. This was not a lot of fun. All this time I’m thinking, “I’ll never see any of my things again…”
We arrived at a different train station in Moscow than where we were to have arrived on our train. It was about 5am, and the train wasn’t supposed to arrive til 5:30 so we thought we might be able to get there when it arrived to get on and get our stuff before it drifted off into oblivion. We caught a taxi where we got off the bus, got us as close as possible to the train station, then ran as fast as possible to the platform where the train was to have arrived. And there it was, with people just starting to get off. Viola! We ran to the very end but there was no car number 6??? Well, the train we were on arrived 30 minutes ago, since it didn’t wait so long in Ivanovo. This was a different train.
Suspicions confirmed. We would never see our stuff.
Victor made his way to the train security police office, up three flights of stairs, down a very long corridor, then down three flights of stairs to the office. It was filled with important looking guys in uniforms. After heavy dialog, Victor was let into a closet where, low & behold, there were all of our bags, everything except the picture. They said that it was in another train station, where the train went after its earlier arrival. They said that we would have to wait a while but it would be brought to us.
Alexei, our driver, had arrived to pick me up, and he assessed the situation. We would wait, Victor could go on to his home. Alexei said, “Bob, this is very bad, waiting. You won’t see your picture again.”
We waited, nonetheless, for almost two hours. Alexei said the shift of security police changed at 8am and if we hadn’t got the picture by then, it was a dead issue. But just before eight, a young man in uniform came from down the street with the picture and a grin. I tried to pay him 100,000 rubles ($20.00) as a reward, but he refused with his grin, and went on his way.
Alexei said, “Bob, this has been a very good day for both of us. For you, because you got all your things back, for me because I know that all things in Russia are not bad.”
Amen to that. I am now looking forward to my next assignment.