National Geographic : 2012 Jul
• Pasternak wrote Doctor Zhivago, the novel that won him the Nobel Prize in 1958. He ac- cepted. "Proud, astonished, abashed," he wrote the Swedish Academy. e Soviet state thought otherwise. A vicious campaign against him, the possibility of exile, the threat to family (secret police surrounded his dacha) forced him to re- tract. One can only imagine his pain. At Pere- delkino he would tend his garden, bent over, covered with dirt. " e natural world revived him," says the dacha's curator, Irina Samokhina. His tweed cap, plaid scarf, and black overcoat still hang on the wall, as if he had just returned from a walk. Pasternak loved striding across the elds near his dacha, especially the one that led to the church where he prayed. Today the eld is covered in newly constructed kottedzhy. " of dachas," Chairman Boris tells me as I sit on the deck of his dacha admiring the lake view. His sister-in- law, who has been drying garlic, brings us a plate of fried fish, sliced cucumbers, and potatoes sprinkled with dill from the garden. ere is no such thing as an unfed guest in a Russian dacha. "It's family," he says. "When my neighbor grieves, I grieve. When I am joyful, so is he." He repeats a common refrain: " ere is no con- ict. Everyone gets along." True enough, though small irritations that abrade goodwill between neighbors seep out like water from a slowly dripping faucet. Nertsy, unlike the fortress da- chas of Moscow suburbs, is a no- or low-fence community, but property lines still matter. Woe to the dachnik whose cucumber vines stray an inch onto public space or an adjacent holding. A slight chill descends when discussion turns to Katya, a neighbor of Raisa Stepanov's. Katya lives near the path leading to Lake Nertsy. "Her garden keeps edging closer to the lake," Raisa complains. "If her plants get trampled, she has only herself to blame." Scratch a disagreement, and you'll nd a boundary issue. When arbitra- tion is required, Boris appears with a survey pole to map the parameters of the dispute. e penalty for infractions? "A ne," says Boris. "But just try and nd the person to pay the ne." His face darkens. Boris would like someone else to take over the unpaid post of chairman. But no one wants the job. , almost mystical to Russians, a legacy of pagan beliefs and peasant tradition. " e religion of the soil," philosopher Nikolay Berdyayev called it. A dacha provides the oppor- tunity to dig in that soil and be close to nature. "By the end of the day I am tired and stressed," a Valday woman tells me. "I go to the garden, touch the ground, and bad things go away." In July the soil yields cucumbers and feathery dill, also squash, peas, and green onions. July is for berries: black, red, and white currants; blueberries; blackberries; raspberries; gooseber- ries; and delicately perfumed wild strawberries, which, even more than the resinous astringency of pine, is the smell of summer. August brings mushrooms (a light rain is known as a "mush- room rain"): the prized biali, or white mush- room, and boletes that grow near birch trees and can be dried. Also potatoes---always potatoes. A Valday garden is unthinkable without them, although they cost less to buy than grow. Galina Yertseva, an economist for the town, grows potatoes along with her two sons' families and her in-laws. "Why? It's in the blood," she says. Perhaps, I suggest, it's a genetic memory associated with times of famine, like a er World War II, when people picked over elds for rotten potatoes to mix with weeds to make our. Galina agrees. Her six-year-old granddaughter is play- ing in the garden. I ask if she has any aptitude for growing potatoes. "Hardly," Galina answers. e work of growing food may be an instinct passed on from generations that knew hardship, but a younger generation with no such memory "A dacha has no address," Konstantin says. "In detective movies the criminal always hid out in a dacha where he could not be found. A dacha was freedom."