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“I'm a doctor of alternative medicine. For animals. I'm here to treat cattle around Uva.
They've been having infections in their hooves.” He then cuts two hunks of horse sausage.
We both chew them and wash them down with beer.
“I have a special honey that I invented that treats ailments. I'll give you some when we
go back to the hotel.”
Vasily and I talk into the night about our jobs, our professions, our countries. “You
know, David, if you and I ran the two countries, there would have been no Cold War!” We
find this funnier than Sergei does, perhaps helped by the beer and vodka. When the three
of us return to our rooms and say good night, I am happy that Sergei and I were careful
with a stranger. I am also happy we kept that banya date, because the memory of that night
remains special. (The same cannot be said for the photo Sergei snapped of me and Vasily,
dripping on each other on that cramped bench.)
The next morning Sergei and I walk up a snow-covered dirt street to the entrance to
the sanatoriy . It's a sprawling two-story tan-brick complex set in front of a frozen lake,
with forest extending to the horizon behind it. Soft music is playing from a set of outdoor
speakers, interrupted every few minutes by a woman's voice announcing the day's activit-
ies (Karaoke! Skiing! Excursion to a museum!), or meal hours at the cafeteria or just gen-
eral messages of warmth (“Welcome to our sanatoriy . Have a nice trip, for those leaving.
We wish everyone a cozy atmosphere, love, and happy days until our next meeting.”)
Personally, this kind of place would be my worst nightmare as a vacation spot. But my
favorite babushkas are here, and I'm anxious to reconnect with them.
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