September 01, 2005

To Bathe or Not to Bathe

Our neighbor Kalkan has probably been clean and sober only a dozen times in his life. The last time he bathed in a barrel of water warmed in a wood stove – as is the tradition in our part of the country, where banyas are rare – he came down with a bad cold and vowed never to do it again. We invite him to wash in our banya, but he refuses.

Kalkan – born Vasily Mikhailovich Balakhonov in 1936 – and his wife Maria Ivanovna live in a tumbledown cabin with a leaky roof across the way. Both are avid drinkers. When it rains, the couple crouches under their table to stay dry, rather than fix the roof.

Kalkan wobbles across the way to our house early one morning, swinging each of his long thin legs first out to the side then forward. We are still in bed when Kalkan opens the door. (Knocking is considered rude in the village; only strangers knock.)

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