It appears that Tatiana was also warned that we were coming. She is standing in front of
a wall of little bottles, each containing a liquid of a different color. I am suddenly transfixed
trying to find the exact tone of turquoise that matches Marina's snow pants. “We work with
color correction—color therapy. Nontraditional methods. We can tell what a person lacks
in his or her life based on color therapy.”
We thank Tatiana and move on to the library; then it's another stop at the cafeteria to see
it as tourists, not diners, then back to Marina's office.
“She's like a fast train,” Sergei whispers to me. Marina is now putting her coat on with
a jaunty smirk: “Let's go outside.”
“Aren't we talking to the babushkas?”
“You can talk to them later. Let's go for a walk outside.”
Then an idea arrives. Marina's eyes widen.
“Actually, I will go get them and see if they want to come!”
We arrived three hours ago with a single purpose, and it has not been achieved. But as
much as I am done with touring, and really eager to interview the babushkas, a walk in the
forest with them seems enticing. Marina asks if Sergei and I have snow pants. Mostly out
of fear of her loaning me a pair, I say we will be okay, Sergei and I both really like the cold.
Minutes later we meet Marina outside the complex by the lake, and here are the babush-
kas, with all the warm memories. These half dozen women, ranging in height from maybe
four foot seven to five foot four, are bundled up in coats and snow boots, with head scarves
covering their gray hair.
Elizaveta Zarbatova, the eldest member of the group, has not made this trip. But there is
Galina Koneva, who hosted me and Sergei in her home in Buranovo in 2011. I remember
her as the toughest one, a seventy-four-year-old woman who squints her eyes and purses
her lips when she's not pleased. She once told me she wasn't ready to be “interviewed” at
the moment. “Right now I am hungry,” she said, waving a finger at me. “And when I'm
hungry, I might eat you.”
She is standing in the snow next to seventy-four-year-old Valentina Pyatchenko, a wo-
man whose smile is so broad and dramatic it forces her cheeks to balloon outward. That
smile has overcome a lot. Her alcoholic husband died in 1984 and she mostly got along
by herself—but lost her right arm using an electric saw to build a new porch. The pros-
thetic she has is heavy and uncomfortable, but she wears it whenever the babushkas per-
form—including when they were unlikely stars of that Eurovision contest in Azerbaijan in
As it stands, there is little chance to chat because Marina is strutting, leading the babush-
kas and us on a tour of the outdoor portions of the sanatoriy complex. We all walk together
into the forest, and slowly the natural beauty of the scene melts away my impatience.