I mentioned on the homepage that after completing my Cambridge CELTA in 2000, I went to live and work in Moscow. I had lived in several countries before that, but never felt as settled or at home as I did in Russia. Perhaps it was the balance of living in the seething pulsating life of the metropolis but being only a train ride away from the vast soothing emptiness and silence of the Russian countryside. A famous writer called Laurens Van Der Post once described Russia as an “ocean” and its people as “land sailors”. I always found that description poetic and accurate and perhaps I have always sought places I could lose myself in. Russia held me in its heavy gravity for almost nine years, much longer than I have stayed in any other country, partly also because I always found the cold winters so stimulating and energizing.
Nicaragua, where we came seven years ago via San Francisco and Miami, couldn’t be more different from Russia, with its tiny area and population of only 6 million, but its people are gentle, its nature is fertile and generous and we are only two hours motorbike ride away from the Pacific ocean. When we came in 2014 we wanted to choose somewhere with beautiful nature, a tropical climate and cheap enough to live in, so we were not disappointed. Our $250 a month rent has not gone up by a single dollar in seven years; food, petrol and utilities are cheap and there are local artisans of every kind who we can call on to build anything we need, whether made of wood, metal or fabric, all at prices that would be embarrassing in Europe or the USA.
Like most Nicaraguans, we rise with the dawn chorus of the birds in the trees of our garden, at around 5am, and the chirping of the squirrels as they nibble their breakfast of guava fruit and drop the bits of peel on our heads as we sip our morning coffee in the garden. We have four cats and a dog called Rambo and we have a couple of “visiting dogs” who we put food out for each evening. “Rambo” was given his name before we came, we adopted him and never thought about changing it, because we accepted him as he was. He guards the fields outside our house and only sleeps in the house during rainy season.
Neither my wife Masha, who is a talented artist, or myself, are the kind of people to complain of boredom and are both resourceful enough to occupy ourselves with our varies hobbies and interests. In the dry season I like to do leatherwork and can be found sitting at my tree stump workbench, hammering holes into leather as I make various kinds of bags, hats, sandals and other items. I like to dabble in distillation and dream of one day owning a copper alembic ( still) but have so far only managed to make several gallons of orange hydrosol, by distilling many kilos of orange peels in a clay alembic which has since started to rot and now looks like some kind of archeological pottery artefact from Pompeii.
Cheesmaking is another therapeutic artisanal pastime but for most of the day I am absorbed in reading. Being a slow but avid reader, I don’t see the point of trudging through a book if I am not enjoying it and so will not torture myself unless my mind or heart are engaged in some way by what I am reading. Recently I have found myself bewitched by and immersed in the Irish novels of such excellent writers as John Banville, Colum Toibin, Elizabeth Bowen and John McGahern, alternating them with writers of other nationalities such as V.S. Naipal , Rohinton Mistry and Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as Cormac McCarthy. I am sure that when I go to heaven, I will be asked why I did not persist to the end of some of the so-called “classics” and I will reply that I was “saving them for the afterlife”.
I have two lovely handmade guitars which were made by my luthier friend Danny. One is a Spanish classical guitar and the other is a folk acoustic steel string guitar, so they produce very different sounds. I don’t practice enough, it’s true, but when inspired I sometimes make recordings of my singing and playing, usually cover versions.
My wife Masha was born and raised in Russia but emigrated to the USA in 2000. She is a website designer by profession but a talented artist by birth and her drawings and paintings are special. She is also an avid reader and this is how we will usually be found, hanging in our hammocks in the garden reading. Masha is my mentor and guardian angel and her intuition and wisdom have often guided me out of troubled currents into calmer waters. She is the Captain of our ship, she is the one with the telescope and I am the oarsman.