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#7 - JRL 7020
From: "Peter Calder" <petercalder1944@ozemail.com.au>
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2003
Subject: Lost but not Found

Peter Calder
Freelance
Moscow
petercalder@mtu-net.ru

Lost but not Found.

As a general rule, in Russian, each and every letter in a word is afforded some small recognition when it comes to the pronunciation bit. Of course there is usually one syllable that may get added attention. Move that stress away from its proper place and you could end up well and truly lost, both grammatically and geographically.

One of the things that I have always found hard to get accustomed to in the Northern Hemisphere is the rapidity with which the daylight fades into the winter night. It can be dark by 3 p.m. and where I come from, this could never happen, not even in the middle of winter. Not even if the Prime Minister and all of his nodding cabinet decreed otherwise.

If you want to experience complete aloneness; if you wish to savour the joy of being far removed from the maddingness of the crowd; if you desire to be at one with nature, then get yourself upon a set of cross country skis and plunge into a Slavic forest in mid winter. Be sure to pick your season well, as it doesnt work so well in summer.

I set off into that Russian forest at about 2 p.m. The temperature was an invigorating minus 12 degrees C. The snow was freshly and heavily fallen, almost knee deep, undisturbed by either man or beast. I wanted to etch tracks through this tall timbered landscape, alone and uninhibited by either caution or care. After all, I knew this forest; I had walked its every track and path in summer, and I prided myself with an innate sense of direction, just like the Aborigines back home.

There is nothing like the silence of a place amongst the snow-laden larch and birch. The snow muffles all sound. Faraway noises lose their directional meaning and the silence is all pervading and absolute. Its almost akin to something spiritual.

I went afield on cheap but entirely functional skis, made for a few dollars in a Moscow suburban factory. I got the hang of it almost immediately and plunged deeper and directionless, into the interior. I imagined myself in the middle of the Siberian Taiga, I was as free as the nomads of some far distant Inuit tribe, it was just me and the white wilderness. How could I possibly become lost, a mere 18 miles from where Lenin was reposing in his Mausoleum? How could I be so bloody stupid? After all, they had said to me, come out of the park before it gets dark. Then suddenly the light faded away and I was lost. I was at one with nature alright, but nature knew exactly where it was whereas I had not the slightest clue as to my whereabouts.

Fear has many manifestations and sometimes takes away both reason and balance.

For me the over riding consideration was the shame and embarrassment of being both lost and having compared my abilities to those of the Aborigines. What aboriginal has ever become mislaid in a Russian park within smoke signalling distance of the Kremlin?

Its when you realise that you are going around in circles that it really gets to erode your marrow. Its when you see the same park bench twice within 15 minutes that certain things occur to you. Overnight temperatures in mid winter Moscow can fall into the high twenties. Once the alcohol in the veins goes over about 1mgms/ 100mls and the temperature in the glass below minus 13, the municipal authorities start collecting the drunken dead from the streets next morning. I was fully sober but I could feel the cold getting colder and the lostness getting greater. Would the authorities ever find me out here? Maybe next spring there would be a paragraph in the Moscow Times, beginning in smallish print man with walking dog, finds body of non-aborigine under trees in suburban park police deny involvement.

Moscow is dotted with parks. The one of which I write is about 500 acres in area and as far as I am aware no one has ever perished in it in either winter or summer, but back there last winter, I was thinking that there is always a first time for everything. What would my daughters say? Probably, Just bloody like Dad. Does anyone know if he ever made a will?

Then I saw them. Humans. They just strolled out of a side-track, side by side, pulling a small sledge that contained a bundled mass of childs clothing sprouting mittened hands and booted feet. My relief was immense. I was saved, snatched from the cold shroud of death, by parents with child in tow. I blundered towards them, my exhilaration forcing great clouds of steam ahead of me. That was when the pronunciation problem surfaced. These simple folk, probably modern day peasants, had never heard of Volokolamskoe Shosse. Nor did they know of the famous Bolnitza MPS, a prominent landmark in that region. As noted earlier, leave out a few letters, put the stress in the wrong place, and you are liable to stay lost.

These Russians were not from some remote Siberian tribe, they were not a part of an organised rescue team, they were twilight, suburban strollers, but they had no realisation that they were in a position to save my life. They did not greet me with unrestrained exuberance or visible relief at having found me. They appeared mildly bemused to be accosted by this strange foreigner speaking in some primitive Slavic dialect. Perhaps they thought that I was a peasant, or maybe a member of the Inuit tribe of my earlier fantasies. I was found, but still lost, and these people were unmoved by either my ordeal or their discovery.

Soon after this I met a pensioner who was also lost, but only in his own mind, he ignored me completely. Then there was a man that had been drinking, followed by one that hadnt. I knew instinctively that I was getting closer to civilisation. There were far off lights from street lamps. I could hear the noise of traffic. I fancied I sensed the distant angels singing.

Bravely I shouldered my skis and walked back into the world.

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