and white athletic warm-up suit. When we're done at our window, he cuts his conversation
off—never buying a ticket to go anywhere—and abruptly walks away.
“Our friend,” I mutter under my breath.
Sure enough, as we walk out of the station, we see that young man and another look at
us, then quickly look away, then get into a car and wait. Sergei and I find a taxi and are on
our way, and we can spot the guys in the car following a good distance behind us.
We try to ignore them as best we can and enjoy the drive out of Izhevsk and into rural
Udmurtia. Russia is predominantly Slavic, but there is a dizzying mix of clans and ethni-
cities, large and small. The Udmurts are a people who live in this leafy part of southern-
central Russia, on the western edge of the Ural Mountains, which divide European from
Asian Russia. The Udmurts are known for their red hair and round faces, their own distinct
language, and their traditional clothing that, for women, often includes colorful patterned
We are en route to Uva, a resort town of sorts in the forest. There is a famous sanatoriy ,
a health complex that probably compares best, though not perfectly, to the old resorts in the
Catskills beloved by Jewish families from New York and immortalized in the movie Dirty
Dancing . We heard that the “babushkas of Buranovo,” an inspiring female singing group,
were on a five-day vacation here, and they agreed to let us drop by the next morning.
Being followed by people can get into your head and make you paranoid. Sergei and I
find a hotel a short walk from the sanatoriy and check in. The place is small, wooden, and
drab, with just six small rooms. It seems entirely empty, but as we walk across the creaky
wooden floors and back toward our rooms, a man walks out of another room and immedi-
ately introduces himself.
“My name Vasily,” he says in broken English.
I extend a hand to shake.
“Ochen priatno, menia sovut David [Nice to meet you, my name is David].”
We carry on a simple conversation in a mix of basic Russian and English. Vasily learns
that I am a journalist from America working on a book. I learn that Vasily is a doctor on
business in Uva. Vasily says we are the only people staying at the hotel.
“Banya!” he suddenly says, motioning outside. There is evidently a banya, a traditional
Russian bathhouse, attached to the hotel. Vasily is proposing we join him there.
“Sevodgnia vecherom [Tonight]?” he says. I give a nod that I hope agrees to nothing
more than maybe.
Here is a moment when I want to believe this is Russia giveth but fear it's taketh, and I
am caught in between.
Vasily seems as unthreatening as you can imagine—a short, unassuming friendly guy
in his fifties with thinning hair and a bushy little mustache. He probably just wants a few