Posted by: cousindampier | 15 December 2013

Two Short Stories

The cameraman was urging me to hold the snake closer to the head, and I was frozen enough that I could both understand what he was saying in Russian, and totally incapable of moving.

There is a bar close to my apartment – and what will, sadly, soon be my former apartment – called Totsami.  I’ve been there a few times, most memorably on Halloween night.  Totsami has a dance floor in the evening, but every time I’ve been there, some sort of performance is taking place.  On Halloween, it was a strange, futuristic, modern-dance number with aliens.  On Friday, there was a snake performance.  

I walk in and right past because the only place I could stash my bag was underneath the bar.  The coat check will take coats, but not bags for whatever strange reason.  The lady holding the snake is behind a cage, not that it matters.  The Boa she is holding could escape in a heartbeat if it so desired.  

I think nothing of it.  Just another strange performance at Totsami.  

Later in the night, I’m walking back towards the bar from the toilet.  The cage is open, and there are people taking turns holding the snake or the very large iguana.

This brings me to a stop.  On the list of things to do in the next six years is holding a snake.  There is an opportunity here.

As much as I’d love to claim I thought about it and realized my chance, I didn’t.  I jumped on the small stage and pointed at the snake – not one of the words I know in Russian, apparently – and the woman draped it around my neck.

The snake was heavier than I thought.  The head was near my left hand, and it was probably a bit larger than my wingspan – maybe six or seven feet long.  For some reason, I expected it to be slimey, but it was not.  It was just heavy, and when it flexed, I felt the scales move on my neck.

And then the photographer took a picture and I handed the snake back and wandered around on an adrenaline high for the next twenty minutes.



A  nice British voice wakes me up.  Unfortunately, she is just a voice on the cheap cell phone I bought at the underground market near KIMEP using pointing and the vague bits of numbers I know in Russian.  She also refuses to say anything except for reminding me of the time and that I need to get up.   

I’ve become decent at ignoring her, but I can’t today.  On a rare, free Saturday, I have the opportunity to go hiking.  

Davinia and I are in cul-de-sac of mountains.  Jon was out skiing and Saranna hiked halfway up before turning back to deal with a busy Saturday.  To the north, Almaty sprawls like a lake, low and flat and reaching for the horizon.  In between the trees, to the northeast, we can see the steppe, flat and forever.  We sit on a small rock, maybe 2500 meters up, splitting a Cliff Bar and wishing we suddenly had skis, because descending seems like a daunting task.

We don’t know the peak we’re headed towards – Davinia thinks it is Furmanov, but the name matters less than the idea of standing on top of it.  

Except the sun is moving low in the sky, barely holding itself above the line of peaks to the southwest and as soon as it lets go and drops we will be descending into the dark and at night the city gets cold quickly, much less the mountains, and with one last glance at a peak which is close enough to grab, we put on our jackets and start moving down the powdery ridge.

The view is astonishing.  Though these mountains make the days shorter than necessary, it is a bit like standing on top of the world and seeing it stretch before you.  It is an addicting feeling.

Past the swing set where the family sat, we moved down the mountain.  Davinia moved like a deer, seemingly bounding from place to place.  My boots acted like skis, making it difficult to bound and much easier to slide and fall, which happened just about every 10 minutes.

Downhill is always sad.  Going up holds the anticipation of a view and of something to accomplish.  The only idea warming your heart on the downhill is what you can eat for dinner, which, for whatever reason, I think about a lot when I go hiking.


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