I have been sadly remiss in writing about the joys of working and living in Moskva and apologise to my loyal fan base (OK 1 person in St Pete but we all have to start somewhere). There are serious topics to be discussed but on re-reading one of my previous missives I note that I never returned to the joyous subject of mushroom hunting, a truly Russian pastime and one that I have fervently embraced.
A word of caution, you do need to have someone around who actually knows what they are doing. Over the past 12 years I have picked up some of the basics (such as the bright red ones with pulsating white spots are to be avoided unless you want early death, or something more painful) but I always have an expert cast an eye over my pickings (any passing babushka will do) before cooking and eating anything. This is not a sport for the amateur. A Swiss friend tells me that in his country all mushrooms have to be vetted by the village expert after picking (but they are Swiss).
My mushroom hunting activities are confined to the endless forests surrounding my dacha (see previous). For many years, cometh the mushroom hunting season (and every season is different) my wife (Polina), mother-in-law (Luda) and loyal Irish Terrier (Goodie) would head off in the car to a nearby forest, park on a dead flat, dead straight road that stretched to infinity and head off into the woods armed with baskets, knives, anti mosquito spray and hats (things fall on your head a lot). We would agree which direction we would take and head off. Immediately Luda would go right, I’d go left and wife straight on. We did not worry though as Goodie would loyally run back and forth between us so we always knew where everyone was. After a couple of hours of highly competitive mushroom hunting (the winner being the one with the most porcini, Russians have strict league tables of mushrooms) we would be completely lost but, again, no need for panic as we would ask the loyal hound to lead us back to the car. Never failed, always hit the road within 20 meters of where the car was parked.
The years went by, we all got older and the time came when we had to decide whether Goodie was still upto this. We felt she had one more year in her so we gave it a go. Got to woods, Luda right, me left, wife and dog straight on (and stayed with wife, the hand that feeds etc). Within 10 minutes we had lost each other but lots of “hallooing” later we were reunited. Quick strategy meeting determined we had best stick together. 2 hours later, dog grumbling and muttering to herself, we decide to head back. Turn to Goodie and asked her to lead us back to the car. Dog shrugs enigmatically and stretches out on nearby moss for a nap.
Sensed we were in trouble. Cloudy day, no sun to guide and little understanding of where to go. After much debate decided we needed to head west. Remembering our girl guide training (I had a misspent youth) we recalled that moss grows on the north side of trees. We set off and 3 hours later we hit a road. Seemed it might be the right road but no sign of any car. Ask the dog for assistance. More shrugs. Decided on a truly democratic vote (unusual in Russia) and on a split decision went right. 30 minutes of trudging down the road the car hove into view.
Goodie was retired with medals, full pension of dog biscuits and we invested in a compass.