So close and yet so far away

  • Siberian dreams: Nina London with fresh persimmons, a fruit which she ate as a child in Irkutsk, Siberia during the Soviet era (Photograph by Bill Rosser)

    Siberian dreams: Nina London with fresh persimmons, a fruit which she ate as a child in Irkutsk, Siberia during the Soviet era (Photograph by Bill Rosser)


Yellow bundles of bananas, tight blue plums, bunches of transparent green grapes, deep red apples, soft and curvy pears, succulent yellow mangoes … I glanced over the rows of neatly laid fruits brought from afar to Bermuda.

“Everything as usual, nothing new,” I thought. Then my eyes caught on bright, orange and merry balls that sharply contrasted with the brown and unpretentious kiwis lying next to them.

“Wow! These are persimmons! My favourite fruit! Where did they come from?”

I thought, happy and filled with wonder. I grabbed all of the glowing fruits in one armful.

At the checkout, two young girls were ringing and bagging my goods.

They saw the persimmons, and perplexed, asked me what they were. I held one up.

“It’s such a delicious fruit. It’s called a persimmon.”

Doubtful, they asked: “How does it taste?”

While I thought about the answer, many pictures from my past flew by my eyes.

“It tastes of Siberian frost and the promise of summer,” I answered with a smile.

“And the sweet taste of youth,” I added.

They looked at each other and then at me in bewilderment.

How could I have explained to these nice, young Bermudian girls that, when I was their age, all fruits in barren and socialist Siberia were unaffordable, especially during winter time.

Fruits were considered delicacies; we could buy them just for the holidays or if someone was sick.

You could only find them among the chaos of the huge central market.

I remember the loud thud of the butcher’s axe mixed with the heated negotiations of people trading back and forth.

There were loud calls to try different produce. Huge cans of fresh milk and sour cream stood in rows next to jars of viscous, amber honey made from tundra flowers.

There were heaps of unwashed potatoes and carrots, piles of tight white cabbage heads, and then the most attractive row: the fruits. Fruits stacked in tall, intricate pyramids.

They shone and shimmered with rich colours. They were high above my child’s hands, beautiful and inaccessible.

They looked to me like toys.

Only one fruit was inexpensive. It was the persimmon. It could be frozen and then transported in lumbering trains over huge distances.

It came to us in Siberia from the warm orchards of the Caucasus Mountains far to the west.

We bought them as frozen balls and, while we were going home, they beat against each other in the net with a loud knock like billiards.

At home, we put them in a porcelain fruit bowl and they instantly became covered with white frost, then droplets of moisture as they began to slowly thaw.

I could never wait for them, and bit into the tender and sweet fruit covered with specks of ice. It was the best treat for me, an exotic rush of flavour better than any chocolate or sweet.

Persimmons were pure joy to me as an unspoilt child.

In my kitchen in Somerset I froze the fruit. I wanted the exact taste from my childhood.

I did not wait until it finally thawed; I walked outside, closed my eyes and took a bite.

For a moment I saw myself sitting at the round table in our living room in Irkutsk surrounded by my family.

I heard my mother say to me, “You’ll catch a cold, wait a little more”, as papa turned over the newspaper, my brother played guitar and our dog barked.

I found myself in one of the many unexpected circles of life. I opened my eyes.

I am under the flowering frangipani tree in our yard, the white and gold petals carpeting the lush grass at my feet. Siberia feels so far away, yet briefly close enough to touch.

My family fades, yet the feeling of closeness lingers, and I stare in wonder at the turquoise sea and the longtails dancing between pure white clouds.

Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com

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Published Jul 19, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 20, 2018 at 2:45 pm)

So close and yet so far away

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