November 10, 2007 - Saturday afternoon

In Golden Gate Park's Botanical Garden, not too far from the succulents, peacefully reading before being accosted by book curious girl eager to practice her not-so-good Russian.....

I lived in Russia five years ago for a short time and while I was there I noted a favorite activity-- goolyat. The "t" is pronounced with your tongue on the roof of your mouth, stress on the second syllable. It translates "to walk" or "to hangout" and is usually done in parks. It is sometimes done, if you were one of my fifteen-year-old English students, with a can of alcho-pop--watermelon vodka or something like that. The old women didn't usually drink. They sat in clusters on park benches and talked.

I have a strong love for old Russian women, mainly because the ones I knew well made me hot soup and yelled at me for not wearing slippers in the house, but also because their speech is easy to understnad. They talk with purpose. They drive their thoughts forward with such force that their enunciation is exact.

Walking down the well manicured or, in winter, snowy paths behind the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, I would happen upon a group of old women, clustered together on a wooden bench, see their gestures and adamance, their covert location, and be sure they were discussing somthing juicy. I would slow my steps and eavesdrop. More often than not they were discussing the price of bread or the chance of rain next week ....or maybe they just changed their topic when they saw me coming.

This dear woman, and I type dear because she tolerated my speaking to her in Russian...even though she did answer back in English, was not engaged in a heated conversation. She was, instead, with rapt attention, conversing quietly with David Baldacci.

She recommends the Russian classics, though it's been a while since she's read them and, though she claimed she was completely unfamiliar with contemporary writers, raved about Ludmila Ulitskaya when I mentioned her. For my birthday I had received a book of her short stories, entitled Sonechka (the diminutive of my name), and loved it to the point I wanted to pull it out at work when no one was looking.

This is her favorite spot to read, even when it does rain.