My Friend Helianthus Annuus
(little Ivan inspects the biography of his hero and lifelong inspiration, Mark Twain)
Today I was taken to the Rayon (regional) museum by a friendly local family. The museum is housed in a nondescript Soviet-style building (who would have thought, really) near the town center, and contains artifacts spanning from the Bronze Age to the modern era. My curiosity about the history of our area had been on the rise since my arrival in town four months ago, so I was excited to learn more. It turned out to be a hands-on museum, but not in the build-your-own-kaleidoscope kind of way. More along the lines of the you-can-take-a-30,000-year-old-Bronze-Age-axehead-off-the-shelf-and-examine-it-to-your-heart’s-content kind of way. This might have been an unintentional benefit to maintaining such a museum, but it kept me interested throughout the three-hour tour (a three-hour tour). The weather stayed fine.
Yesterday I watched Everything is Illuminated for the first time since coming to
Sunflowers. Thanks to this humble plant, I’ve gained a new appreciation for my adopted country on the gastronomical level as well (which is what these blog entries usually devolve into anyway: food). Now I know that they plant thousands of acres of sunflowers for reasons other than aesthetics and photo ops.. The first time I had a Ukrainian salad slathered in sunflower oil, I almost couldn’t keep it down. That’s a lot of sunflower. You really can handle only so much of that seed, as I’ve proven to myself many a time while indulging in a bagful. But much of the country’s diet is laced with it, and virtually all of the country’s cooking oil is derived from it. This gives foods as far-ranging as potatoes and cabbage (kind of a joke there) a ubiquitous ‘sunfloweriness’. It’s also a main ingredient in a national dessert, halva, which resembles, both in appearance and in texture, a soft volcanic bath stone. I couldn’t finish one on my first attempt. Not that a combination of pulverized sugar, sunflower oil, and various nuts isn’t delicious. But man, that’s a lot of sunflower.
Well, getting to the point. Now I don’t even taste the sunfloweriness. I take my tea with delicious halva, cook my eggs with the oil, and occupy myself on the 25-minute walk to school by popping the seeds into my mouth. The latter is, in fact, a national pastime (the seed-eating, not walking to school). Even an art form. I am now learning to flick seeds with the same gusto and accuracy as my students, thanks to their tutelage. Not in class, of course.