Monday, July 26, 2010
The Cucumber Festival
I’m a girl who loves anything quirky. Movies like Amelie, books that have more footnotes than story, people like Zooey Deschannel. If it’s offbeat, I’m going to like it. This includes any kind of festival dedicated to an object. I once dragged my mom to a tomato festival in Camden, New Jersey because I was enamored with the idea that there could be so many booths dedicated to the glory that is the tomato.*
So you can understand why I’ve been talking about the Suzdal Cucumber Festival for months now. An entire festival dedicated to the mighty cucumber. I had to go. I needed to go. My life would be incomplete without a trip to the Cucumber Festival.
Well, my friends, I can tell you that it was cucumber-tastic. And before you start (or finish) judging, let me just say that I am not the only weirdo that loves a good gherkin. There were thousands upon thousand also there to take part in cucumber related festivities. There was so much traffic getting to Suzdal that cops were standing by guiding traffic throughout the town. I’ve been to music festivals where there were less people.
Do you see how many people there are? We're still a half mile away from the fair grounds at this point. All these cucumberophiles! I think I just made that word up.
I was lucky enough to catch a ride there with a fellow American House student, his host brother (Anton) and their random neighbor named Masha, who turned out to be a girl they just met that morning who didn't speak a lick of English.**
We braved the hot weather (97 degrees in the glaring sun, and oh baby was it glaring), the tiny foot bridge (where I saw my life flash before my eyes as I stood on it with 75 other people), the busloads of people from Moscow and made our way over to the Cucumber Festival. Masha, being the true Russian girl that she is, looked enviously at my cap and sighed, "I should have brought something to cover my head." Russians are fastidious about covering their heads in the heat.
It was glorious. There were cucumbers everywhere. People wore cucumber hats, there were cucumber dolls and people lined the roadways selling cucumbers in every fashion you could imagine. I was in quirky heaven.
We came, we saw, we cucumbered. And I got the magnet to prove it.
As you can probably imagine, staring at cucumbers in 97 degree weather does get a little old after a while. We made the group decision to head over to Anton’s family’s dacha which was just about 20 minutes outside of Suzdal.
A dacha, I should explain, is a sort of country home. They are where Russians go in the summer on weekends to escape city life and relax. They’re usually fairly small, with a garden out back. Families go to unwind, chit chat and grill some shashlik (shish kebobs). In all my trips to Russia, I’d never been to a dacha so I pretty excited to go for the rest of the day.
The dacha was fantastic. Anton & his family have built theirs by hand over the years & are still working on it. The garden was beautiful, and I watched as the family made a list of things they needed to make dinner that night & then went around the garden to collect said items. To cool down from the heat of the festival we drank chilled white wine, fresh watermelon and wild cherries. For a minute I felt like a character in a Russian novel.
After a while we started to feel the heat again, and Anton’s entire family decided to take a trip down to the nearby Nerl River for a dip. There was only one problem-I did not bring a swimsuit. At first I insisted I would only wade in up to my knees & that it wouldn’t be a problem, but Anton’s mother insisted that I borrow a pair of swim trunks and an extra t-shirt so that I could properly swim and enjoy the river. I caved to peer pressure and changed clothes.
So a’swimming we went. Despite the fact that the Nerl River was well known a few years ago for a place where farmers rampantly dumped their cow shit, the river seemed surprisingly clean. The river was packed with people, and across the shore we could see beaver working on their damn.
The other student from the American House remarked how amazing it was that we were swimming in a river in Russia, the only Americans around for miles and miles. It made me realize how amazing the past few years have been for me. Swimming in a river in Russia, check. Jumping off of cliffs in Croatia, check. Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, check. Riding a camel in Morocco, check. I sometimes forget that I didn’t start traveling abroad until 2003, and somehow since then I’ve been to 25 different countries not counting repeat trips. It’s been amazing. I was in Russia! In a river! After being a cucumber festival! I floated on the river and let the whole experience sink in.
About 15 minutes later storm clouds started to roll in, and the family decided to head back to the dacha to finish grilling the shashlik. As I got out of the water feeling all zen from all that deep thinking I was doing, Anton called out my name.***
“Hey Jill,” he said in his heavily accented English, “You look like one of those, what do you say the phrase is, Wet T-Shirt Contest!”
I looked down and saw that the grey t-shirt I was wearing was not nearly as dark as I had originally hoped. I scowled at Anton and made a dash (and yet I hope noble) for my towel. “Thanks for telling me,” I grumbled at him.
“Yes, I thought I should probably be a gentleman and hand you a towel, but then I say no, I’d rather stare.”
My zen moment of appreciating the differences in the world was completely destroyed then as I realized no matter where I go, boys will always be boys.
*For the record it was about as tomato-y as you’d expect a tomato festival in Camden to be. We lasted 15 minutes after we saw more police officers than tomatoes.
**I'd like to sum up Masha's experience for the day by saying Poor Masha. The girl had a deer in the headlights look to her all day when she realized she'd gotten into a car with three people who spoke English. She spent a lot of the day wide eyed and whispering to me in Russian.
**Also for the record, I’m about as deep as a plate of Jell-o. On average, I spend more time wondering about what I’m going to wear tomorrow than I do about anything zen or self-help related.