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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Black Earth Zone: A Verbal Survival Guide

VORONEZH, Central Russia ? They have their own way of doing things down here in the deep, dark hinterlands of Russia's black earth zone.


We can't prepare you for all the surprises, but we can provide a brief glossary that the reader should find useful if fate brings a visit to this backward region 350 miles south of Moscow.


Strast' (literally "passion," "horror"). The expression of choice here. As the translation suggests, it can be used in any situation from the best to the worst.


You emit a long "Oi" with a rising intonation, and then come down on the strast'. Try it: Ooooooooii, STRAST'!!! Voronezhites will respect you.


Salo. You've heard of lean bacon? Well, how about "un-lean bacon." Or "fat without the bacon, served up as bacon." Eat it raw, with bread and a pickled cucumber, and you will fit right in. Wash it down with the local moonshine, called samogon', which the locals pronounce "SamaHOIN."


Rassypchivost' ("crumbliness, friability," depending on how you translate it). More than anything else, this is the quality Voronezhites revere most in their prize produce, the potato.


Incidentally, they always peel the skin off, no matter how they prepare their potatoes, despite all that talk about how that's where the vitamins are.


Makhrovy marazm (a double morass). This is how one local farmer referred to the local economy, where market forces are on the retreat and the administrative system is being reassembled.


All this is happening, of course, without the generous state support the region, and Soviet agriculture in general, used to receive. Makhrovy is actually a botanical term that means "double" in the sense of a "double lilac," but in conversational speech is used for emphasis, in a way similar to the English expression "double-barreled."


Chudovishny gibrit ("monstrous hybrid"). How a local communist described the same situation. Notice how agricultural terminology keeps creeping into the language here.


Chernozyom ("Black Earth"). The fertile soil that gives this region its agricultural edge over, say, Moscow region, whose residents make the trip down here with trailers to swipe a few cubic meters of the stuff for their own gardens. The Black Earth soil is several feet deep, which means that it turns quickly to a quagmire that swallows up boots, people and cars.


But it is also the life-giving force to the region. Keep that in mind as you slowly sink, and never, ever call it "mud."


Just whisper Oooooiii, STRAST', and people will respect you as you go under.