The Giant Garbage Pit, or The Largest Diamond Mine in the World

The Giant Garbage Pit, or The Largest Diamond Mine in the World – Then, a Robbery and a House on Fire: My Travels in North Siberia: It’s what it sounds like. Writing for Catapult

At the airport, he said, they understood foreigners. They would know what to do. But he wouldn’t stay there and see, he couldn’t help me any more than he had. I shrugged and agreed. I noticed I was speaking in a flat, slow voice. He began to explain himself again, speaking quickly from guilt, looking directly at me over his shoulder as he drove. He added that he could not take me to his home, he was too afraid: If the police learned I had been there, staying with no entry stamp or official permission to stay overnight, it would fall on him in unpredictable ways. He had an apology in his voice. Something like this, I thought, had happened to him before.

Patrick Findler, 1001 Interviews No. 10

Patrick Findler, 1001 Interviews No. 10: Jessica Yen interviewed me for 1001 journal.

I was thinking about nostalgia today. Went to get a sausage at the Polish sausage cart and the woman was wearing a perfume that was very popular on the busses in Moscow in 2001. And I bent my head in to get the full smell as far as I could, just hungry to go back. But then I thought would I really go back and live like that again?


Interview with Mo Daviau

Mo Daviau – Every Anxious Wave: an interview at Late Night Library.

She writes a very amusing anthropological, or expedition report, I guess, and then an email. Her voice comes across extremely strongly, and it’s like I’m almost in a different world from Karl’s world. Her voice is so vivid, and her storytelling is – while her language is very muted, in a way, it was just an interesting fact. Were those parts easier, harder, different to write?

Surrounding terrain

The houses in the town are mainly made of stone, basalt I think, and there is a certain look to the streets I haven’t seen elsewhere. There are long shared walls running along the street, made of stone and mortar, the mortar in many of them shaped in such a way around the stone to give a leopard-skin pattern to the wall.

There are gutters between the streets and the walls, and each house’s wall has metal doors large enough for a car, painted eggshell blue with rectangular or curved gaps near their tops that are decorated with bars in a fan pattern or the pattern of a sunrise, or even one is curled into the shape of an eagle clutching a snake in its talons. When the doors are open you can see in and there are their stairs and balconies, their laundry and their gardens, like a photograph sitting there, or in the mornings sitting around their tea.

The town’s only colors seem to be rock-grey, green, or roof-red. The streets are mainly straight, and they define a downward-sloping, tilting plain of the right bank of the river. Across the river, below downtown, the streets follow the curves of the hills but up above the ground seems unnaturally regular, only the river, running ten meters below the plane of the streets is like a long, curved hole cut in that plane, showing the terrain beneath it like a cross-section. The effect is an illusion that the town is floating some distance above the ground.

Across the river are a series of caves, none of them very shallow. They had been used as dwellings at least since the medieval period, and possibly far earlier, and some of them were used as recently as the Karabakh war. Some are still used, either to keep cattle or for recreation. They are all clearly man-made, with rounded entrances and windows or holes created to cool the cave; some seem to be made for summer use and some for the winter. They look like old teeth coming up from the earth’s green gums, and the caves are cavities rotted into them.

Personnel issues

Over the weekend, the math teacher had been dismissed, and the rest of the faculty only learned on Monday, when the vice principal introduced his replacement. He had written his own resignation, and he insisted to anyone, when he was willing to talk, that it had been his decision. But everyone knew he had been pressured; they only wondered what it was that kept him silent.

His replacement had never taught before, but he dressed better, had more self-confidence, and for once math classes appeared silent and busy. But others began to compare the school’s well-advertised hiring standards to the new teacher’s local college diploma, and wondered how he had such an in.

Then they asked what the old teacher had done. There were only rumors and they were easily denied. There had never been complaints or warnings, his students’ test scores were up to standards, in short nothing had been recorded against him, but he was gone.

Political minds reasoned: if the principal had wanted him removed, he would have prepared the ground and avoided the current morale problem. He never made sudden decisions. Therefore it had to have come from higher up.

Someone found out the new teacher had been tutor to a powerful family, and this fact was eagerly seized upon. Only a tutor is not a strong position. And, telling with an open expression of a late phone call the Saturday before his first day, the new teacher seemed the most bewildered of all.

Conversational method

As you age, you don’t lose the ability to learn altogether, only you lose the the ability to learn things you’ve lost interest in. I’m learning Armenian probably faster than I learned Russian, and certainly faster than I did French. You learn how you learn fastest, and learn that way faster. I’ve never been able to sit down and study and I haven’t learned anything I’ve learned that way.

For me, I need a close relationship with a native speaker to learn a language well. I think I heard the expression learning on the pillow, I think it’s the fastest way. You are close to someone, you understand their trains of thought and the gist of what they are saying more quickly, with less words. Two streams running parallel, one perseveres in the same direction when the other dips underground, and they meet again further along when it returns to the surface. The dark body swimming near you goes along with you, the wet spitting head rejoins you when it returns.

And the other way around, when you go beyond what you can say, when you lose yourself in your speech, the other can extrapolate from their understanding of you and supply the words or figure you need. I don’t know anyone like that yet who speaks that language, or I do know one person, but he lives in a village on the other side of the country and I was only just getting to know him when I left.

Of course given the simplicity of the language I’m able to produce, that I could have a conversation about any interesting topic with him might have misled me into thinking we were closer than we were. We talked about holiness and art, whether there was a relation between them, and what it could be and what it might indicate.

Other than that the most interesting topics I’ve spoken about with people are Georgia and related topics in international politics. From there it’s been a steep drop off to food, fashion, and customs, and there is a weird similarity to these conversations, and then to simple questions of transportation and logistics.

The leap from thought to thought, the seeming leap that you can find the hidden bond behind, that comes from intimacy of thought or a similar cast of mind, is a precious thing and so is often counterfeited. You speak in generalities to avoid knowing that another disagrees, or you are painfully explicit in order to exclude misunderstanding; or you leave gaps, wide gaps, and agree to pretend with another that you both know what belongs in them.

An author imitates it, with a telegraphic style that jumps from topic to topic or scene to scene without indicating their connection; to make the reader feel the author is confident in their intimacy so that the reader can be as well. That’s the irritating thing about this kind of style. It invades your bed and snuggles up against you as if you invited it there, it’s hail-fellow-well-met without being able to remember your name.