Grandma’s oldest son walks slowly, dragging his right foot a bit, and has a sad look. Apparently, the guy had a stroke recently when he turned 40. High blood pressure is a growing problem among Tsaatans, who have switched to Chinese and Russian diet, including processed foods and alcohol, and it’s literally killing them now.
-He’s a weak one, – explains says Grandma, pouring some of the fire water into a cup. – Just needs a little vodka from Mom’s hand, it’s good for his health.
The dude can barely hold a cup straight. He stares at the ground, shoulders slumping, with all the energy of a busset hound. Five minutes of silence and heavy sighs. I start feeling very bad for him, wishing he’d stop drinking with his bad-ass mother and spend more time outside. Or something.
Finally, he downs his medicine, and suddenly lightens up.
-I’ve been to Paris, you know.
Sure, I nod, Paris, Mars, whatever is going on in that head of his. He gently puts the cup down on the ground, wipes his sad mouth with a dirty coat sleeve and limps out of the yurt. I turn to Saraa, who can barely contain herself from bursting with information.
-Are you ready for this? – she giggles and lays it all out for me.
Turns out, the dude really HAS been to Paris.
Apparently, a French woman once visited the village and got totally smitten by our stud-muffin, still pre-stroke back then. (Dark and brooding – what’s not to love?) So she returns to France and sends him an invitation to visit. And off he goes. (It blows my mind trying to imagine this road trip – horseback through marshes, hills and vulture-guarded canyon to the Tsaagannuur village, from there – 14 hours of bumpy road on a Russian van to Murun village, followed by a 21-hour bus ride to the capital Ulan Bator, and then it’s just a straight shot to Paris in a big metal flying machine).
So our Love Ambassador spends 2 months in Paris and comes back, clouded in mystery. Tells everyone the French woman set him up in her apartment, and he had a cappuccino from this special machine every day, and developed the taste for croissants, and everything was fine but he’s back because he missed the mountains. Couple of months later he gets married to a local woman, eventually fathering 5 children with her, and so the life goes on.
Until a few years later, when the French woman returns to visit a Tsaatan festival at the nearby town, bringing with her a kid, that looks suspiciously like our playboy – says EVERYONE IN TAIGA.
So now the dude has a French ace up his sleeve and a very vindictive Tsaatan wife, who, when angry, always curses at him to “go live with your French whore and her bastard!”
As for the others in the village – they really, really enjoy this story. It’s a good one to tell the visitors.
And it’s actually pretty funny, n’est-ce pas?..