The streets are big in Minsk, clean, the side walks wide, the buildings grand and people well dressed. There is not the typical noice you hear in many other huge cities of the world, less horn honking and repetitious music blasting and speed is not as urgent from the vehicles surfacing the black tar along the avenues. There are many beautiful women, thin and nicely decorated unlike the america’s new over-weight sloppy tattooed pierced trend, a refreshing glimpse into a past where bodies were still pure skin and healthy without the sometimes blasphemous over abundance of cartooned ink upon toxic fat skin and metal driven thru flesh and fluorescent post modern painted hair. The men are very short haired, also thin and congenially dressed. Even the older folk dress modest and simple compared to the holly-world western space .
A feel of dignity still prevails though i notice often an endless stare into your eyes unless you stare back until one or the other breaks, i don’t break usually but look with a soft stare into the often deep disturbed eyes.
Since there is a prohibition on drugs of any sort, by default alcohol is the intoxicant. In a world where people are investigating alternative realities, in this respect Belarus is left in some dark age and yet with the toy of the future, the internet and its social addictive apps. You can smell the disgusting scent of cigarette smoke in many locations, restaurants, outside cafes, in the streets; ten years behind the west. Kids still play outside, the games of the virtual world has not got them by the balls nearly as much as in the west, but it’s on its way. There is good there is bad, the world moves on. The country is flat, poor, segregated from the west under a democratic communist facist form; minds confined. A lot of bureaucracy everywhere, foolish laws to keep the system in order and the people under thumbs.
The poor from the smaller towns and villages live well if they work their fingers to the bones, they eat organic food, slightly tainted with western chemicals, they spend time talking at the kitchen table, Jesus is on their walls. The country folk as everywhere have people that care from the heart.
There is a sense of rudeness in the city streets by many, a touch of disrespect for the other, for the different, for the wild west. They do what they know but the window of the internet is spilling into their every move. It has got the world on its knees. It is changing things daily, by the hour, the second, it is everywhere, the big brothers of business are loving us, connecting us, controlling us.
Now, at the moment, i am in a small country cabin, no electricity, no running water, an out house toilet, a wood oven stove. A river on the other side of a short walk thru a magical pine and birch forest, the swimming hole, the shower, the beauty and life from a vein of mother earth. A distance from the madness in the streets, the glamour, the dreams, i write slow, with silence.
The world over, people are lost, from the privileged in the west, the east, the poor in the streets, the saved in the cults, the craftsmen in the art scene, the musicians lost in their groove, politicians, business people, families and scientists ‘working on a future’, alternative intelligence sneaking their views into the brains of humanity. It’s all a part of gods plan, many are determined to believe.
The autumn night is cool and the air is awake with no answers floating easy thru my mind. I am fine with this uncertainty, this refreshing breath of calm spirit holding me close to its heart. I have no desire to bother you, to invite you into my mind, to convince you of anything. Love is nothing but a shelter from the storm for most, hate is completely insane for the few, beauty is all that matters and it is everywhere, in the arguments at the table, the sliver of moon thru the pines, the tea as it soothes my throat and the whole world is at my mercy and i have nothing that needs to be done. I care about nothing, the future luring itself to me with a ‘now’, life is glorious in moments and treacherous at times but beauty is always there presenting itself for nothing but a whisper of faith; what is and will be just is, take it as it comes and honour your mind with its presence. That is all, so easy and yet so incredibly difficult to perform, this act of life, as it is.
I am in a little village as some of the greatest writers we know had lived, the Russian people, their hard walk thru the blizzards of life, Dostoevsky, my first read, the Brothers and Notes from an Underground, Mayakovsky’s poems that kept me alive, ‘past one o’clock’, Yevtushenko’s ‘monologue’ walked my youth into the world and Malevich with his warning paints against a future canvas, a sage, the great uncle of a few of my closest friends……….how did it all shape itself into this ; and now Sasha, my Belarusian wife, here with me in her homeland with family i write of the world, the people, their things that i can not do justice to, my words fail miserably admits such giants of the mind.
Unlucky I suppose, I never reaped the benefits of these great men in cloth but they taught me of things money often shrouds in hollow homes; there is no understanding in misunderstood and expensive love. Blood-awards are not the cure for love but there are no rules where money lives.
I walked thru this world watching the desperate, the weak, the crippled rule while we few slid between the cracks, life like a highway leading to the shore where nothing escapes, we all come we all go and nothing really matters at all, cept the honour of your own walk. Thanks to you ‘russian writers and artists’ that painted light thru the hard dark days, somehow it reverberated in my mind and here i am writing to you with russian-air blowing thru my words like earth and the plow, the rivers, the pure and the blind.
mayakovsky….’in hours as these i write words to the heavens, i have no reason to wake you and as they say the ships of love have smashed into the daily grind. There is no sense in attempting to balance mutual pains, sorrows, or straighten out the crooked lines of fate. When i look up as stars stream across the milky way i can see there is no time left to ask another thing, this day is closed and you and i are quits, so leave yourself from questions of our worth, there is nothing important here, go on your way thru the misery and joys of this world with the knowing that we did exist and leave it at that’.
In the smaller towns many older folk still ride bicycles, not the newer multi-speed bikes but the ones from sixty years ago; one speed, a carriage for groceries, a rat trap for stuff in the trunk. The yards are fenced in with ornate precast lengths of concrete designed and painted uniquely from house to house and town to town. There are gardens in every yard with vegetables, fruit trees and flowers everywhere. The people work hard for less than they’re worth. The system scrapes more than their share for the insiders—the cops to the clergy, but only a special few perched at the very top really reap the majority of the wealth. In that respect the twain of the west and east do really meet. I would say in general that people here are less happy, fake or not, depression hidden close to their heart, a beaten past, a tough perspective difficult to hold, a curse very slowly lifting. The youth want more, as everywhere, and the internet feels like a road to freedom, but it comes with a price. Much of the good of the old will vanish, new trends will appear, tattoos, piercings, fat, sloppiness, arrogance, freedom and toxic chemicals from the kool west is creeping in and the best of the worst is dying out. Here no one smiles at a first glance, and in the west far too many smile from a condition of ‘fake it till you make it’ or as John Lennon said in ‘Working Class Hero’, “first you must learn how to smile as you kill”——his point is clear. Nothing is black and white, there is grey everywhere.
It takes a lot of effort to get someone to smile. Often, even kids suspect something wrong if you attempt to smile for the encouragement for them to smile back. Older people are very suspect and you need to be careful at times not to offend them into looking back at you with troubled hate in their eyes. The best i can do is smile with gentle eyes and if they look long enough sometimes they feel the sincerity and the possibility that it may be safe enough to give a gentle glance back before quickly looking away. It’s complicated and you have to understand the culture, the government, the past, the hard work for little, the internet, the cell phone, the condition of the conditioning. I don’t understand enough, i’m careful, sympathetic. I’m not looking for anything or expecting miracles, suspecting the worst, the best or anything at all, just observing for nothing better to do.
Sasha manages to get thru to some of the people to make them talk and laugh but still unlike the west with the sometimes frenzy of undue emotion for the sake of proof that one does in fact possess happiness and security, it is a challenge, but she has the language on her lips and the culture engrained in her brain.
Everywhere you go the majority of people have in common the tremendous desire to belong, to feel safe, to be comfortable in their beliefs and to act accordingly in some form of freedom, real or not. It is the awareness that this does not exist quite the way one would hope for, and that fact alone makes them react in odd ways with repression and aggression but with a little luck a true simple act of love, an observation of their beauty often opens up the laced curtains to their melting windows of love where all is connected and then things sometimes change in the most peculiar modest manner.
After sitting in the same cafe for a few days you get to notice familiar faces, the one gypsy family, a crippled man, his wife, a grandmother and a 12 year old boy. A number of old ladies with their bikes and a few sexy young chicks. There must be a 6 to 1 ratio of woman to men. I suppose the baby boomers last stance with many of the men dead; gone from rough times. I could be wrong about many of my observations but one thing for certain is this, ‘it is a depressed repressed flat country with a modest dignity’.
When it comes to the world of man, nothing is close to perfect, no country, no civilization, only aspects of individual lives with the right amount of moderation for this, and for that, then and only then does a human survive in contentment. One that can be mostly satisfied with ones life no matter what condition, changing what one can and accepting what one cannot change and of course the key attribute, the intelligence to know that difference; some anonymous character said that, “be what you are, be what you are not, and own that”, and i said that.
I watch the people hustle about, the same in South Africa, Argentina, the Duncan Garage Cafe, the world over people are so complicated they have lost the ability to be simple. Simple like living for no reason, being with no purpose, giving for no expectation, receiving for no compliment.
It is mid afternoon, there are more men in the streets, the sun is high, the traffic is steady and quiet, the horn is rarely used, people are orderly, law abiding, conditioned that way. People are tired, it’s mid week, hard life, difficult future; entrepreneuring is not supported, not respected, it’s difficult times but there have been worse, much, much worse. There are no wheel chairs, no motorized wheel chairs, no walkers. People walk, even if they have cars, gas can be expensive. The cane is still the best bet for an aching joint. Over all people here are definitely more healthy, but weary, a contradiction, but true.
Words fall from the ages with syllables of sorrow and joy. Time has come to end all time with but a flinch of an eye. For nothing needs to be said of the pain, all the misery in the world, all the circumstances and all their meaning; the blood, the desperation for love, the beauty of it all. The last night has come, the day is done, no sense in a final attempt to understand, the mystery will prevail, the only certainty we can understand and it will fade also. So know that i did try to find you, to love you, to understand love, to see the beauty in it all. Now, time has come to a slow walk, a crawl and we must depart from this last shore, the infinite sands where the waters will own us, take us, disintegrate us, give us back to the eternal source, the everlasting reflections of mystery. This is the end my friend, no time left to begin…..
In a morning moment from a cafe in Brest
Jokerman hasn’t made his mind up yet, but the streets of hell are over flowing, the great artists have been striving to reach out, give what they can to the ditch of deceit, the river is moving on, the prophets are drowning in their words, love is on the edge. The basement tapes have been digitized into zeros and ones, the kings of the jungle own everything now, right down to the last sip of water, the moon is just another franchise for crazy concepts, the hip are moving in down along the boulevard, prices are skyrocketing; Brest is just another city transforming into a scene of just another holly-world, Belarusian pride is flourishing.
I walk along the streets looking for an image to say it right, everybody is a camera man everywhere in this era of fame for all, there is no moment to hold it all together, the way will have its way, time will just escape along the streets as it always does, with or without me. I see a figure approaching, a cane holding a worn pile of bones, an old lady with dignity moving along in her cage like a saint. My camera clicks in black and white, a flash of a second and she is immortalized, the world is stopped and the street is dead. Her lover in torn war worn clothes enters her simple room on the second floor of a shattered structure in the centre of town, here she walks so many years ahead in a dream she never owned. She lives in and out of this space in solitude and a beautiful sorrow. War tears the winds apart. How could i have known it would happen like this, this street in all its memories moving in and out of time across from the cafe, the new hip K-lab Cafe along a park avenue in Brest. I could be anywhere, war is everywhere, the coffee is smooth and i move out again onto the path and walk with the saints, phantoms, and the modern.
I can see it ain’t what we suppose. It is all beyond our conclusions. What is, is not what is in our minds. For most, life is a series of uncompleted strategies, unfulfilled dreams, rational and acceptable illusions we believe are true. We strive and desire, we want and we lie, we know we are all made up of dreams and for a few of us this is exactly what we love, the fantasy, the unreality of it all, a way to live our lives in harmony with the mystery. This understanding is the knowing that life is much more than what we could possibly think. Thought is just not the utmost tool in the box, the best meal on the menu, the favourite in gods hope chest. Thought has got humanity by the balls. Let it ride. Breathe faith along the trail, the process is love.
This ends my tour of Belarus for this time.
Excerpts and short conclusions and images by Patrick Wey