Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What a difference a day makes, reflections on fog and Russian gangsters

I woke up in the wee hours of this morning and took a look outside on returning from taking some aspirin. The 78 degree temperature in my room was in conflict with the beer I had with dinner and my head was developing a split down the center. Looking over at the boat yards, a large container ship had taken a place along one of the slips. Kleig lights were illuminating the unloading process and creating a eerie sight - the ship and the harbor were masked by a giant donut of fog.

By my rising time of 6, the fog and grown and enveloped everything, even the second tower of the hotel. The two pictures below, taken about the same time of day, one on Monday and one today show you what I am talking about. Pea soup at its finest. It lasted all the way out of town to work, some 40 kilometers away.














As always, work days do not produce many grand and interesting stories, but if you keep your eyes open and your wits about you, some things pop into view. For example, the notion of "driver."

We're not allowed to drive here for a variety of reasons, most of them valid. So we get drivers. Generally we're in boring minivans, but on occasion we go out with an expat in their personal car, some sort of black sedan. You see these all over town and sometimes they're foreigners, sometimes they're well-heeled locals and sometimes they're party officials.

Today we went to lunch at a small place in the DDA, I drove over with Lin in his black Buick. Our driver pulled us into a courtyard and up on the sidewalk, exiting to hold the door for us. The restaurant was empty and we sat by the window with a good view of the outside. Sitting there, another black sedan pulled up and four other men, all westerners (probably more Germans) slid out and headed our way. Ironically they were all dressed in Euro-black duds and were a little scruffy. A few moments later, along came another black car with three similar guys. The drivers pulled the sedans over to the side, next to each other and stood there smoking and laughing. We all sat inside looking like bad guys eating our Italian food. The one and only thing that popped into my mind was that we all looked like a bunch of gangsters, Russian probably, out for a tete-a-tete in some local cafe, away from the prying eyes of the public and law enforcement.

Two more little moments piled onto that vision. I waited a long time for my Pizza Margherita and when it finally came, it was plain cheese. I pointed this out to the waiter who barely understood me, I didn't really care but I didn't want someone else's lunch. They were very slow today, what with all the gangsters to serve. He did that head-shaking big smile grin thing and went and grabbed the menu. He opened it up and pointed to the Margherita and pointed saying "yes, yes, yes." This despite the fact that the photo in the menu looked absolutely nothing like what I had in front of me. I nodded, smiled and just ate it.

The last thing worth mentioning was the neighborhood cat that came to sit on the ledge outside the window. Pretty good looking and fat, sort of a Russian Blue, it was enjoying the sunny spot. One of the cooks came out of the back and stooped down to pet it. And then did the most unusual things - she grabbed both front legs in her left hand and both back legs in her right hand and picked the cat up. I'm thinking if I did this to my cat, I'd have a bad case of bloody shreds instead of skin. But the cat just sort of mellowly took it. The woman bent the cat back and forth and up and down and finally sat it down on the step where it stretched back out for a nap. Most amazing cat, not sure if it was being sized up for the dinner course of it it was just the local mascot.

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