Minsk, Belarus – June 2014
I have found the people of Minsk. They are here, on the riverside, strolling along in defiance of the gathering storm. The air is still. Muggy. It clings to my skin. Just a few degrees more and it would be unbearable.
It is time for celebration. Music wafts from all directions. A wedding in a restaurant in Trinity Hill. A Russian song with a jubilant beat, reminiscent of those catchy songs you hear at weddings. A woman dressed in a shimmering copper-colored shift dances out to the street. Stiletto heels on cobblestone. Champagne glass in hand and not a drop spilled. I pause to stare in admiration.
Further along, three teenagers in a pedal boat pull up next to a floating bar. The band on the patio plays a blues rock tune. The teenagers stand up and dance. They pump their arms in the air and shake their bodies with desperate enthusiasm. The girl, especially, seems full of pent-up exuberance. People gather around to watch and smile. Summers are so fleeting in this northern land.
And then: the sweet sounds of songs shared with passersby. Not for money, but just because.
Pedal boats glide back and forth. Couples watch the sun’s slothful sink behind the skyline. Nights are so transient now. The solstice is near. I drift off to sleep to the sound of distant thunder and laughter from the wedding. A midsummer lullaby.
In the morning all is silent again. In the early afternoon, I walk along the river, towards the big wheel on the horizon. The clouds have vanished. Just inside the gates of Gorky Park is a small stage. People have gathered to watch a little girl. Her voice screeches out of the speakers. I cringe as I walk by. Who thought it was a good idea to give her a microphone?
The streets of Minsk all lead to Gorky Park, it seems. After days of silence and relative solitude, I’m caught off guard. I grip my camera for comfort and focus on the vintage rides. Like everything in Minsk, they have been painstakingly maintained. Such antiquated rides would be laughable to American children.
This colorful kiddie ride goes up and down and that’s it. But the little ones don’t know when it will start and stop. Their peals of laughter are as clear as crystal. So pure. Was I ever that innocent? A boy has set up his business next to the ride. For a small price, you can have your photo taken with his rabbit.*
In this carnival universe, I am conspicuous and ill at ease. So much sound and color and smell. Angst and happiness. The annoyed sighs of parents. Pouting teenagers. There is a distinct lack of whining, however. I shuffle from ride to ride. Sickly sweet cotton candy, squeaking balloon animals, listless clowns, sizzling sausages, ice cream oozing down hands, strollers blocking the path. A portly man tries over and over to ring the bell on the strongman game. Are these games rigged here, too?
The haze in my brain thickens. I take refuge under the trees near the big wheel. I sit and watch its slow, hypnotic rotation.
Look down there, honey, at all the little people. The little world. Isn’t it funny?
Cross the road. Back down to the river. The midway din recedes. A jogger passes, and then an elderly couple, and then no one. A lone pedal boat’s silent drift. Two teenaged girls laze in the cool shade of a cement gazebo. They speak in low melodic voices. I don’t need to know the language to understand the intonation of secret yearning. Clandestine initials etched in cement. Do you think he likes me? Will you talk to him? No, don’t talk to him! What if he doesn’t like me? The tremor of an ardent heart. Or worse: what if he does?
In the distance, the wheel’s languid rotation. A motion as imperceptible as that of the sun’s.
*I actually didn’t notice the boy and rabbit until I got home and looked at the photos. I always thought I had the world’s strongest rabbit radar. I guess that shows just how frazzled I was.