Monday it was back to business: up at 7 am for coffee and food, then back to the room at 8:15 to pack for a 9:15 pickup by Denis and the two hour ride to Baranovichi State University, where we had one of the more environmentally sensitive crowds. Very little of the prepared lectures were presented as there were questions from the audience that took significant time to answer.
We also had a more significant dignitary presence which took some time. We finished slightly after 1 P and then had lunch with the VP and the international person, which was somewhat more interesting to me than the other days, as we ate in the regular cafeteria instead the solitary VIP rooms. I ended up leaving a copy of my colleague Philip Ackerman-Leist's new book on the food system with them.
Then we left for Grodno, a 2-3 hour drive. It took considerably longer because we stopped along the way to a famous and very hold Russian Orthodox monastery. Denis says he is not a religious man, but he has been concerned the whole time we were together by the loss of a four year relationship, and how he might patch it back together. It was clear, though he didn’t say it, that he wanted to stop and get a kind of guidance parallel to that his shrink has been giving him.
For me, it was an opportunity to get off the beaten path a bit, and get a little local color. I have to say that the whole place and the people we met there, were touching. And I found some of my usual odd pictures hiding around the commonplace (this interest continually surprised Denis).
While he was buying and lighting his candle, and saying whatever prayers he did, I walked the village, and found a small coffee shop. While I was waiting behind four men, one clearly in Orthodox robes beneath his coat, and the other clearly a distinguished foreigner, I overheard snippets of English. In line with my “policy” I kept quiet until they finished and started to walk toward a booth, and which point I just blurted out quietly, “I wasn’t expecting to hear any English here.” This precipitated a conversation (as neither had they). It turned out that the older gentleman was a Theology professor from Goettingen University in Germany, and the younger guy was indeed attached to the monastery somehow (when he took off his coat he had the floor length black robes with large, ornate gold cross….)
The hotel in Grodno was by far the best of the whole trip. I ended up with a whole suite that occupied an entire (small) floor of the hotel. If I were to spend any time in the town (and I am not sure why I would want to) this would definitely be the place! The food was also better, and I splurged to buy Denis and I both dinner, as my inability to find food in the other towns (and the fact that we were often fed lunch) meant that I was had plenty of fluff left in my per diem of BYR 250,000 (we pigged out for about 160,000).If I was really a writer of something other than my own thoughts, I could go on at great detail just about the monastery town and perhaps at some point I will, but at the moment it is 11:30 P and I am due on deck first thing again tomorrow morning to go through this whole routine one last time at Grodno Agrarian University.