Sergei and I walk into the lobby and tell a receptionist that we are here for a scheduled
meeting with the Buranovskiye babushki . The man says we must see Marina. I did not yet
realize the impact of his directive.
Marina is the exuberant, overhelpful activities director for the complex. Think annoying
tour director whom you want desperately to scream at, but you can't because he or she so
innocently thinks he or she is being sweet and helpful.
Thing is, there are a lot of Marinas in Russia. For so long, life here was bleak, days
were monotonous, travel was restricted. There were few chances for vacations, or re-
laxation—a word that has a most-unpleasant translation in Russian: Otdykh . So when it
actually happened, nothing about it was casual. It was a big moment. Families expec-
ted—at least hoped for—over-the-top treatment. What's more, the Soviet government kept
a watchful eye on citizens' movements. So many tours were rigidly organized, in order
to fit code. Take all that together, and a culture was born. When you arrive somewhere
to see something—on vacation, or say as a journalist or writer innocently trying to do his
work—nothing is casual. A tour, or a trip—an “ ekskursiia ”—must be arranged. And there
must be a guide. In this case her name is Marina.
As a reminder, Sergei and I are here with a sole purpose—to reconnect with the Buran-
ovo Babushkas. Marina is not allowing access to them at this moment.
“Mozhet byt ekskursiia?”
“Maybe a tour?” Marina says at her desk, with me and Sergei facing her in two chairs.
Marina is in her forties, with jet-black hair, small eyes, big lips, and quite an outfit: A tight,
long-sleeved leopard-print top that doesn't at all go well with her bright turquoise ski pants
She speaks very loudly, as if there is a tour group of hundreds gathered, not just Sergei
and I sitting in her office.
“What is your purpose?”
Sergei explains our previously arranged interview with the babushkas. They have a pro-
ducer who does their music and publicity. We'd talked to her. Said we'd meet them here.
In and out. Nothing complicated. Or at least that is what I imagined Sergei telling Marina
She yells back. Sergei translates.
“David, Marina would like an hour of your time to talk about the Udmurt people and
give you a tour of the sanatoriy .”
“Okay,” I say, smiling at Sergei with gritted teeth.
Sergei translates my okay. “Okay,” he says.
Marina smiles. “Plan.”