A few weeks ago, I read a novel called The Beach. I understand it was also made into a movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, but I haven’t seen it.
Without giving anything away, the story centers around a group of foreigners who discover “paradise” on a beach on a remote island in Thailand.
But in order to keep the titular beach perfect, they could never let outsiders learn of its existence.
As soon as I finished the book, I told my wife that Tiraspol was our “beach” and she must never, ever tell anyone about it.
It’s more than a little ironic that, if you should ever meet someone who is from Tiraspol, they’d be more than happy to share with you all of the faults and blemishes of this place.
I myself could easily jump in and list some of the problems we’ve encountered here.
But that’s a conversation that feels like it’s only for locals.
Which is a weird sentiment to have, I’ll admit.
I think it stems from the fact that there’s a strange warping of time and space when it comes to this place that makes everyone looking in from the outside see Tiraspol as a black hole of evil, corruption, and malevolence.
But since you live here and see it with your own eyes and know that’s not true, you feel compelled to defend Tiraspol to outsiders.
Psst! That was the European Union’s exact term, by the way – “black hole” – after conducting an official visit here in 2004.
A visit that lasted a grand total of two hours.
Since that time, without exception, the chorus line on Tiraspol has been singing in perfect unison.
Tiraspol is bad, illegitimate, and unlawful, and there’s absolutely nothing good about this place whatsoever!
Even tourists take it to heart. That’s why they so often hallucinate all kinds of ghastly things when they’re here.
Or, I should say, back in the Before Times when tourists were still allowed to visit.
As far as the outside world is concerned, Tiraspol is itself a secret place.
It’s almost never mentioned, and you’ll rarely find it listed on a map.
Yet one of my favorite activities is finding secret places here in Tiraspol that maybe even people who live here might not know about.
Some are secret because they’re difficult to get to. But others are “secret” just because most people walk right on by without seeing them.
One is a tiny overhang on the riverbank where you can stand, perfectly dry, and watch rain cascade across the water.
Another is the winding lane that’s so narrow that you can outstretch your arms and touch the houses on both sides.
I wonder just how many people know about the rooftop where cats gather at sunrise…
And then there’s the construction site where a stubborn little flower is growing, even now in the November cold.
But my favorite secret place in Tiraspol is the apple tree in the middle of the forest.
Stepping Off of the Path
In Russian, and I suppose as well in English, the name of this country is “Pridnestrovie”. In Romanian, it’s “Nistrenia.”
But whichever you prefer, it all means the same thing – “by the Dniester River” (the “D” is silent).
And that river makes up a big part of why I love living here.
Curiously, despite being the capital and the largest city, the municipality is entirely only on one side of the river. The other side is almost completely wild and undeveloped.
For us, it’s wonderful. It means there’s a large expanse of quiet, green nature just across the bridge from downtown.
This summer, back when it was plenty hot and sunny (today, alas, is rainy and quite cold), my wife and I were walking our dog through the forest on the other side of the river.
We were having a lovely time, strolling along a well-packed dirt road, when my wife asked me when we were going to experience the real forest.
At first, I wavered, but then I became inspired, and I dashed into the first opening between the trees that I saw.
Crouching, creeping, stepping over and under and around branches, we slowly made our way deep into the woods.
Being city people through and through, we made a racket despite our slow pace.
But I didn’t care. I knew that, once we found a clearing where we could stand up and be still and quiet, the forest would reveal itself to us.
And so it did.
And the very tree under whose branches we stood was an apple tree.
On one hand, there’s absolutely nothing unusual about an apple tree in this part of the world. Tens of thousands of them grow here.
Both Pridnestrovie and Moldova are major apple producers. They sell almost a dozen different varieties down at the local market, and all of them are fabulous.
But all of those apples come from trees that were deliberately planted. More specifically, they were probably grafted.
“Our” apple tree, on the other hand, wasn’t anyone’s property. No one had told him or her where to grow, and no one had ever dosed him or her with chemicals.
This apple tree was free.
I scanned the vicinity to see if maybe we were standing on a patch of ground that had once been a farm and then abandoned.
But I saw no sign of that. The trees just meters away were quite tall and mature. And none of them were fruit trees.
I don’t know enough to say if we were in “virgin” forest, but no human had shaped this landscape, that’s for sure.
Only the birds and the other creatures of the forest knew of this apple tree’s existence.
And that made me smile.
Picking and Grinning
Despite the heat and the swarms of increasingly aggressive insects, I climbed up into the lowest fork of the apple tree to pick some fruit.
Regrettably, most of it had already fallen to the floor below, so there were few available specimens to choose from.
I picked one apple for me and one for my wife, and then I thanked the tree and wished him or her continued enjoyment of his or her liberty.
We then made our way back to the sunlight and the path and had a long and enjoyable day out with our dog.
Was it All Just a Dream?
The next day, I went looking for those apples.
I weighed them carefully in my hand, marveling at their indisputable heft and realness.
You see, I’d already begun to fear that I’d imagined the whole thing. Had we really found an apple tree growing by itself in the middle of a forest?
Luckily, I had had the foresight to ask my wife to take a picture.
I then carefully sliced up the apples into wafer-thin wedges.
Delicious! *chef’s kiss*
One Last Secret
One last secret about Tiraspol, and then I promise to close the curtain so you never have to hear anything disturbing about this festering “black hole” again.
This week, the PMR government was debating whether or not to go back into lockdown.
Despite a rise in “cases,” hospitalizations are more than under control. But everyone from Moscow to London is exerting pressure to lock everything down again.
Ultimately, President Krasnoselsky decided the matter, saying among other things (my paraphrasing):
Look, we’ve already spent 250 million rubles [~15 million USD] on providing relief for Covid. We won’t ever go through another lockdown again. Keep in mind that we’re self-reliant and can’t borrow from international sources.
Whew, I was so glad to hear that.
By the way, do you care to guess how many countries went massively (further) into debt this year?
Sadly, a lot – and it all adds up to 12 trillion dollars.
The IMF itself calls it a Cresting Debt Wave 🌊 🌊 🌊
Stay healthy, everybody!