About a month ago I went to Sasha’s 55th B- day party. You've seen the movie clip. The last two summers Sasha taught me and other students sculpture in his studio. He teaches with a humble gentle humor provides a much needed counter point to the harsh tactics of the professors at the academy. Despite the demands on my time I have started working with him outside the academy on the weekends.
The party was in his studio and it really strengthened my resolve to stay in Saint Pete. His friends are all artists and while they are accomplished in their fields they have no airs, no condescension, which unfortunately is the norm at the academy. They are fun loving genuine hard working people with bad teeth and wide smiles. No pretense, no glamour, all humor and love. Some of them have been struggling through together for some 40 odd years and its heartening to see them supporting and enjoying each other so much after so much time. The group included a couple of other sculptors along with some painters, some theater designers, an accordion player and his wife a singer. The musicians were the last to come and while we waited, people drank and Sasha opened gifts. His first gift was a set of fake ears. The whole night Sasha wore these gremlin ears and it gave him an impish look as he tore through wrapping paper and danced and sang. Most people brought artwork as gifts. A landscape depicting an autumn day with an impressionistic painterly hand, a couple of poems about Sasha which I hope to understand one day because they had people weeping with laughter, a sculpture of him and his wife as a sailor and virgin (which got a big laugh), a pair of binoculars wrapped in a box made to look like huge binoculars, and enormous merriment. When the musicians showed up the party really got in motion. The woman’s voice was powerful. When she hit the strong high notes and held them I could see her tongue vibrate in sink with the muscles in her high cheekbones. The studio isn’t large and the sound waves she created were enough for a large auditorium. I could feel them reverberate in my chest as well as hers. Her husband was extremely theatrical as he sang and played. Though he walked around the room more and more, his wine glass remained balanced on his accordion as he forced the air through the instrument’s lungs. There was a lot of dancing too. Some stomping sort of river dance that came from Moldova with many slow tongue and cheek pirouettes.
I understand about 1 in ten words now and I do a lot of guesswork, but when your clapping and swaying arm in arm with a group who is pretending to be on a sea ship as they sing there isn’t much to be translated. At one point the accordion player emitted a huge steamboat sound from his instrument, which added to the fantasy. With red noses and twinkling eyes we laughed and stomped and swayed and sang. It was quite a night for basking in the glow of our tenth round of vodka. I managed not to get sick though because of the food.
The table was spilling over with it. Hot buttery mashed potatoes. Two large plates of hard and soft salami cut in ovals and layered in circles on the borders of the dish. At the center of the salami was what I first though was sliced cheese in a circular array. I thought of the Jewish Russians I’d been with the week before who didn’t mix meat and dairy and mentioned it to Lena. She said with a laugh not to worry the whole plate was meat. It wasn’t cheese at all, but the star attraction – pig lard from Sasha’s mother’s pig at the farm. On closer inspection I saw that it was atop ham. The center included such soft succulent ham encrusted with pickled garlic – almost unbearably delicious. These high fat content dishes were not only delectable but also necessary. I soon realized that my vodka intake had to be balanced by meat in order to keep up with the Russians. There was also a kind of gelatin with pork and cabbage eaten with very spicy horseradish – my mouth is watering as I describe this. They had a layered dish with potatoes and herring, which I loved too. Also Pickles! Pickled cucumbers, pickled tomatoes, pickled cabbage, and pickled garlic –pickle heaven. Lena asked if I wanted salad. I thought good some roughage to work all this meat and fish and lard through. It turned out to be a salad of small cubes of meat, potatoes, mayo, croutons and who knows what else. There was anther “green” salad, which consisted of some lettuce drowned in cheese dressing. I was glad to get my roughage though. When I was in high school one teacher always called me slim Jim. I’d like to see him again after a couple of years of this.