Where bananas are cold and green

Posted: February 5, 2010 in Иркутск
Tags: , , , , , ,

The somatic triggers of late-winter rain’s smell and the gymnastics of skipping over the slush-puddles of Prague got spring on my mind a few weeks ago.

The disappointing irony of the fact is that I’ve returned to the hard freeze of winter in Irkutsk. Night temps are comfortably below -30 deg. C. and not going anywhere.

By chance, my host mom, perhaps also suffering the same mid-winter lassitude as I, has been bringing home the taste of the tropics lately: hard-to-peel oranges and green bananas fill our evening table most nights now.

Ah, yes. Green bananas.

The back story: during the Soviet union, the central committee was hardly concerned with managing the import of bananas from good-willed buddy nation Cuba. As a rule, the Committee had bigger problems on their plate.

Consequently, bananas entered into the ranks of high-valued, rare goods from abroad: Levi’s jeans, Marlboro cigarettes, records and cassettes from the West.

Now, either this was actually a reality for every Soviet child, or it was romantically portrayed in a popular film scene that everyone has seen and attributed to personal memory, but I’ve heard the following vignette from at least four different babushki. Regardless, bananas seem to retain a part of the national spirit as such.

Whenever a parent would get their hands on (dostat’) a banana or two, they would secretly hide the tough, green fruits in the highest shelf in the kitchen to ripen. By happy fate, snooping children “stumbled” onto such discoveries and couldn’t help but open the under-matured banana and gulp it down in a few bites.

Yellow bananas, it seemed, remained outside the Russian gastronomic vocabulary until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But, the Russian palette preserves its loyalties. Mayonnaise and ketchup virtually occupy the entirety of the spectrum of possible–and obligatory–condiment options in soups, with noodles, on Mexican, Italian, and Chinese alike.

Little surprise is it, then, that my host mom offers bananas, still slightly greened, balcony-chilled, and no more than a day old, purchased from the fruit stand at the bus stop that, perhaps to no one’s but my foreign notice, is now overflowing with the delights of vegetation of a warmer place.

. . . .
Spotty Web access and too many awesome days to count during the last two weeks of my trip, followed by a week and a half full of skating around Irkutsk and prepping job apps, are to blame for my recent silence. Stay tuned this week for the complete update.

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