Alla, without an accent, is not a grammatical mistake in Spanish but Liza’s mom our host. Upon entering, she asks us to take off our shoes and put on the two pairs of carefully prepared slippers. After settling into our room, we make our way to the kitchen and sit at a small round table covered in a yellow plastic tablecloth decorated with flower pots (describe more: cold, dark room, dirty curtains blocking the sunlight, traces of extinguished cigarettes on the table cloth)
Alla places an aluminium kettle on the stovetop. “Tea, coffee?” she asks in English. I could do with just a glass of water, but it seems imprudent to refuse. “Do you have any coffee?” I ask her. “Yes, of course,” and she without a moment to spare takes out an aluminium pot (or was it copper?) from the oven. She shuts the oven door so hard that the kitchen walls seems to crumble. She takes a plastic container from a small, dark wooden cabinet behind the table, and tosses two heaped teaspoons of ground coffee in the pot. Then, with the care of someone watering grass, she pours some of the boiling water from the kettle into the pot, and puts it over the already lit burner. Turkish coffee, it will be black and bitter strong. Elona helps herself to a teabag of Early Grey from the tin on the table.
We have just arrived, and the apartment on –
“Elona, what was the name of street where we stayed in Saint Petersburg?”
Monday 15 June, 5 AM. Black birds. Small black birds swooping in and out of holes in the walls, through antennas, cables and metal structures that extend from the buildings. Below, dirt streets, potholes, overflowing bins, cars squeezed into the limited space. I raise my eyes and look at the compound; a calm and central courtyard surrounded by a wide concrete outer ring of apartments. Two archways join the space to the city, an open fortress only a block away from Sukhbaatar Square. Strange structures.
A muffled yawn escapes my mouth as I watch the scene from the window on the sixth floor. A man carries a bucket full of water and empties it on some plants. A young couple leaves for work, and a middle-aged man arrives – a night porter perhaps, he wears an unbuttoned white shirt with black striped brown trousers which are too short for his legs, his socks are white. The sun is rising and I can already hear klaxons in the nearby streets. Slowly the city awakens. Soon, the now familiar music of the rubbish truck will join the soundscape. An inaudible sigh flows from my eyes. Nostalgia. I don’t know when, or if I will be back. This view, these sounds, will not be repeated. Every window is unique. So I record the language of the birds with their city. Ulaanbaatar.
Jueves 4 de junio, pasado el mediodía. Saliendo de Omsk
Alla sin acento, no es un error de ortografía en castellano sino la mamá de Liza, nuestra anfitriona. La vieja nos pide que nos saquemos las zapatillas y nos pongamos las pantuflas que están en la entrada. Después de ver nuestro cuarto y dejar las mochilas, pasamos a la cocina y nos sentamos en una mesa redonda cubierta con un mantel de plástico amarillo con dibujos de flores en macetas (describir más: cuarto frío, oscuro, cortina sucia tapa la luz, agujeritos de cigarrillo apagados sobre el mantel).
Alla pone una pava de aluminio a calentar. “¿Tea, coffee?” nos pregunta en inglés. Con un vaso de agua me bastaría, pero parece imprudente decirle que no. “¿Café tiene?” le pregunto. “Sí, claro,” y ahí no más saca un jarro de aluminio (o era cobre?) de dentro del horno. Cierra el horno con tanta fuerza que parece que la cocina se derrumba. De un mueblecito de madera oscuro saca un envase de plástico y echa dos cucharadas de café molido y, con el cuidado de alguien que riega el pasto, vierte un poco del agua de la olla al jarro y lo pone a calentar. Café al estilo turco, y seguro que me lo da negro y sin azúcar. Elona se contenta con un saquito de EarlGrey de la cajita de lata sobre la mesa. Acabamos de llegar, y el apartamento sobre la calle-
“Elona, ¿cuál era el nombre de la calle del apartamento en San Petersburgo?”
Wednesday 3 June. Past Perm, on the way to Yekaterinburg
Arms resting on the frame of the corridor window, I see it pass. Bright, gigantic sphere, it shines through the branches. In vain, porous clouds try to conceal its splendour but its light seeps through their cloak, bathing the forest in a grey, almost ghostly halo. The night is so clear that it is possible to distinguish the different greens of bushes and pine trees. I carefully peer out, just enough to see the tip of the train taking a curve. Gulps of fresh air hit my face, stuffing my nose. Tireless, the machine pulls its wagons, lighting the way, its beams long swords perforating the Siberian night. On it goes, with its green metallic body, like a giant caterpillar in its untiring march towards the East. It does not go fast, it cannot, and even slows at times, weary of the worn tracks. But it is enough to leave the moon behind, slowly moving towards the right side of the window. Someone passes behind me, I get distracted, and there it is again peering in from the South East.