Roads, Partings and Port Wine–Destinies of Russian Intelligentsia (Letter from Moscow) (Personal Account)
I was genetically predisposed to be thin, round-shouldered and short-sighted but, thanks to canoeing with my uncle, two years of military service, and–from 1977 to 1988–construction and forestry work during holidays, I was in such good form that some girls took me for an athlete. My last construction job was helping to finish a stadium in a city near the Arctic circle, north of St Petersburg. Temporary workers were taken on because of the short construction period, for which the regular staff did not suffice. We worked on average 16 hours a day without holidays. We levelled the surfaces, laid concrete here and there, and put kerbstones into position. The concrete was carried in a barrow by two men, and the 90 kg kerbstones on crowbars. A kerbstone can be carried on one’s own, embraced as a beloved woman, but not so captivating. When the work was nearly finished, a new watchman appeared on the scene. Ludmila was a young lady with a technical education and a small son. She came to work at an industrial complex, but someone did not keep his promise, and she had to take the temporary job of night watchman at the stadium. The boy stayed at home in Saransk (capital city of the Mordovian autonomic territory to the south-east of Moscow; the Mordovians are a Finno-Ugric people in central Russia). She chose me probably on the principle of the attraction of extremes: she was a tall and strong girl. ‘Come for a cup of tea after work,’ she suggested to me while I was digging in a trench.