Syedyshev Oleg
Syedyshev Oleg

Humorous Essays Based on students' memories

"All have died
except for those who are alive, and those whom we remember"Confucius

Essay 80. A pood∗ of salt

∗pood - a unit of weight used in Russia, equal to 36.1 ponds or 16.39 kilograms (Collins).
When one says good bye to a good friend, it is quite natural to miss him. When after finishing his forth year Peter Kozlov together with some other students left to continue his study at Tomsk Medical Institute at the Military Medicine Department, I as if lost a part of my soul. It looked like Peter also missed Kemerovo, our group and me. Letters from him came regularly, even more often than regularly, and sure enough I answered him. I will tell you honestly, we were writing each other all kinds of nonsense. For us it was important to know that the subscriber was alive and kicking, and in high spirits. I have already written that I used to buy special postal sets with nice colorful paper and envelopes of different shape. They were laughing at me then, saying the envelopes were girlish, but I liked them, and I ignored the jokes. Peter and I not only wrote to each other, we sent each other telegrams. I am still amazed how KGB did not let us have it. We were wiring pure nonsense, which could be easily taken for some kind of code or cipher.

For instance, I was wiring to Petka: "The number of amour-piercing shells, allowed to be stored at the headquarters has been changed. Now one can keep three shells. They are still must not be used". On the very same day Petka answered: "The shells were counted, we did not use them; just threw away spare ones". Now I realize that God did His best to protect the two chumps. Well and how could we not use a prompt from "The Little Golden Calf". Sure enough, we used it, and there also were the cables such as: "Load oranges in barrels" and "The one who will command the parade is me". To put it short, we had as much fun as we could. In spring, in our fifth year, Peter invited me to Tomsk. He did not let me stay in a hotel and from the train station took me directly to a "secret address". Peter, Valera Kaygorodov and a guy from Novosibirsk rented an apartment sharing the rent. They had their places to stay at quarters on the territory of the Military Department. But there was a control post, a check point and all other things characteristic to a military unit; so it was practically impossible to invite a girl for a cup of tea. The "secret address" was necessary for that very purpose; and I was settled there for two nights. Luckily there was a bed there, and bed linen was starched. Because of that Peter and Valera had ongoing argument, as Valera did not like starched sheets, and Peter just loved the linen to crackle because of starch. My visit's program had been thought over in all details. On Friday night there was a party at a "Cedar" restaurant in the downtown of Tomsk. In those old years, and that was in 1971, the restaurant was famous for serving game meals. So, Petka remembered how I had treated him to fried potatoes and smoked meat, and canned Bulgarian bell pepper, and from the menu ordered bear meat cooked according to a special recipe.

First they soak the bear meat in vinegar marinade with various spices, onions and black pepper for four days. Broth is made from bones. Carrots, parsley, celery and an onion are browned. After that bear tenderloin and browned vegetables are added into the broth and marinade, in which the meat was kept, and stewed for five-six hours. Then everything is cooled off, and before serving the meat is cut into one centimeter and a half thick pieces, rolled as usual into flour, eggs and dried breadcrumbs, and fried from both sides in a frying pan in sizzling fat. It comes out incredibly delicious. Even now, so many years after that, I still remember the specific taste of the meat. However that was not all of it. Peter and Valera decided to surprise me completely, and they themselves were quite willing to regale themselves on Siberian white salmon.

This is the most delicious fish ever. For the first time I tried it in the "Cedar" restaurant, and then when I lived in Novosibirsk and was in a position to have it, it was brought for me from the Lower Ob'. So at the party the Siberian white salmon was served baked in sour cream with white mushrooms. This is the kind of dish about which one can say that it melts in one's mouth. To cut it short, the party was a success.
We stayed at the restaurant till its closing hour. After that the guys decided to see me off to the apartment, and then they had to get to the barracks and settle the issue of their so long delay. And it happened so that right one hundred meters away from the apartment we stumbled on a patrol. Petka and Valerka were wearing their uniform, they were in their greatcoats. Nevertheless we were running much faster that the patrol after us. In a block we turned round the corner and came into a yard. That was a yard with a through passage, and the guys who were already experienced, knew all the yards with through passages in the area and used them in similar situations. Generally speaking, even if there was any alcohol in our heads, after running across the yards it was blown away, though it had played its part; we desperately did not want to give up and we did ran away. In five minutes we were at the "secret address", and the guys immediately started to the barracks, and they did that on time.

The patrol chief noticed that Petka and Valera were cadets and they had medical service badges; so he called the Medical Department officer on duty. Luckily there were no mobile phones at that time, and he could make a telephone call only when he reached a pay phone booth. What a scum, he even did not spare two kopeks to report good people. Alas, he was late; Petka and Valera were already at the barracks. Here is the reverse side of military service. I learned about all of that on the next day, when the guys came to pick me up to go to a ball dance contest. I will tell you honestly, not the contest itself was our goal, but a party with some of its girls-participants after it. On that day we did without a restaurant and had the planned party at the "secret address", as the guys called the apartment. The party was a swell. Though, Valerka had to run to the barracks at night, and Petya had his leave pass till lunch time on Sunday, exactly the time when my train was leaving for Kemerovo. Long partings mean a lot of tears. We knew that friendship was not a pitiful little flame to die out during our life apart, as Schiller had said. Of course, Peter and I were a bit sad, but a bottle of wine we had to our parting at a bar smoothed over our sadness. And the main thing was that we knew that the parting would not be a long one. We agreed that Peter would apply for his internship at a tank unit at Otbashakh, which was near Frunze, and in summer two of us would go to the Issyk Kul lake, and then I would be the receiving party. I had described that episode in the essay "Pilau at the Issyk Kul Lake".

In fall of 1971 I received an invitation from Peter to his wedding. The wedding was to be held in Belovo, where Peter and his fiancee, a daughter of a zinc factory director in Belovo, had come from. I did not give it a long thought about what to give as Peter's wedding present. The more so because I could not do better than his father-in-law; as his father-in-law presented keys of a Volga Gaz-21 car at the wedding. That was why I took from my grandmother Praskoviya Mikhailovna a potatoes sack, washed it, of course, and sewed on flaps, like patches, and on a white patch I wrote "16 kg - a pood of salt". I bought 16 kilograms of grained salt in a store.

And I carried the present. When I was on a bus I kept thinking: "Why am I so stupid?" I could have bought salt in Belovo and not carry it from Kemerovo". About all of that I said at the wedding as my toast when presenting the gift. I said about the father-in-law's gift, which could not be surpassed, and about what a blockhead I was, that I had carried the salt from Kemerovo, and that I wished to the newlyweds to eat the pood of salt together. Interesting enough, Peter's father-in-law, a big shot, stood up, gave me a hug and thanked for the special gift. And he sent me back to Kemerovo in his company car, the Volga one. And during the wedding I enjoyed special attention, so that Valera Kaygorodov, who also was at the wedding, became jealous. However Valera and I were shouting: "Now a kiss!" together and louder than anyone else.

4 November, 2011

© Copyright: Oleg Syedyshev, 2012
Publishing licence #21206250383

Translated by Viktoria Potykinato content