The house where we had lunch was actually Masha’s parents’ house. They weren’t there because they mostly live in Moscow now but Masha and Marat stay there some weekends with their little boy.
We spent a few hours doing something I haven’t done for far too long. The four of us sat around the kitchen table while Masha assembled our meal, and we ate and we talked. Just talked. For three solid hours. While we ate borscht, traditional Russian potato salad with horse meat, Russian black bread and cheese, we talked more about Masha’s experience of growing up in the village, about our own travels, about how Masha and Marat met, about her time studying in Norway…we covered a lot. To be honest, I can’t tell you now half of what we found to talk about but it was the most relaxing and simultaneously stimulating afternoon I’ve had in years. It was all down the Masha and Marat.
Not only were they extremely kind and hospitable to us in their home, there was also an easy intimacy between them that captivated me. Of course, I had only met them a few hours before, but as I observed their interactions in Masha’s parents’ kitchen, I thought to myself that this was what a marriage relationship should look like to onlookers. I can’t quite put my finger on it to explain it to you guys but there was nothing artificial about them. They were easy with each other and with us, and there was no tension or undercurrents. Even if they disagreed on a point, it was done with fond exasperation and respect, not snide remarks or putdowns. They were just who they are and part of that was who they are to each other. It was really nice to be around that kind of relationship because I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed one like it, not genuinely.
Anyway, the borscht was hands down the best I’ve had since I’ve been here; it was positively delicious. I also had raw horse liver for the first time. Being city-bred, Marat asserted that it was a barbaric practice but Masha laughed and said she was a Yakutian country girl and she liked it, and I wanted to try it; new experiences and all that, plus I love liver. Raw liver is eaten in the same was as stroganina – shaved off in slivers and dipped in a salt and black pepper mixture. As much as he said it’s a barbaric practice, Marat shaved some slivers for us off the chunk of meat that Masha had in the freezer of a porch at the front of the house. That wasn’t a typo. Seriously, the freezer items just sit out on the porch during winter because who needs a freezer when it’s below -40⁰C outside? Anyway, I didn’t love the raw liver but I liked it better than I did stroganina. My companion only had one piece but Masha and I had three or 4 pieces each. I’d try it again.
Just before we started getting ready to leave, Masha opened the cellar door in the kitchen floor and showed us a small room filled with potatoes. She and Marat, as well as her brothers, keep their winter stores there.
We left the house just around 3 pm. On the walk to the car, I kicked a tree in the yard, because that’s what you do in Yakutia in the winter. Stand under a tree, kick it and enjoy the snow falling off the tree and onto you. I laughed like a maniac while the snow showered down on me. Don’t worry, Masha didn’t mind me kicking a tree in her yard. I had asked her while we were still sitting at the kitchen table if I could and she said she thought the trees outside were too skinny. I kicked one by the front porch because it didn’t look too skinny to me. Happily, I was right.
By the way, I learned about this tree-kicking thing from a teacher at school. One evening on the walk back from the mayor’s office, where I had gone with a small delegation from the Khomus Museum for Day of Khomus, she told me about tree kicking. I kicked one, then she kicked one and you’d be surprised how much fun it is to kick a skinny, snow-laden tree.
Anyway, back to Tulagino. By the time we drove away from Masha’s parents’ house, the sun had already started to set. Just up the road, we came across a small herd of horses that a man was watering at a hole in the ice. I asked Marat to stop the car and I got out and took a picture. I had tried to wind down the car window and take the picture but Masha told me that the windows are frozen shut until spring. Life in Yakutia, people.
We were back home before 4 pm. In all, we were out for about six hours; it seemed much longer but in a good way. At the same time, it was over too quickly. We left Masha and Marat with promises to let us know if they would do a similar excursion during the New Year holidays because we would definitely be interested in going with them again.
My companion and I agreed that it was a superlative afternoon spent in the Yakutian countryside and a good time was had by all.