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Loose in the Moose with the Belarus

3 July 04

Lake City, Colorado

Today we decided to splurge and try out Lake City's finest for supper. The Alpine Moose is owned and operated by my friend Bruno and his bride Frederika. I've mentioned them in years past. Twenty-five years ago they left France and began to operate a series of restaurants in the United States. Most of that time was spent in Corpus Christi. Then Bruno decided to retire. That lasted about a year. Now they are in Lake City. And after all this time, they are still apt to break into French at a moment's notice, especially when the subject is food.

I'd noticed an odd music in the air, walking around Lake City. A charming accent that I couldn't place, wafting out of the kitchens about town. Perhaps eastern Europe.

The girl who set out the wine glasses at the Moose didn't say a word. She was smiling, slim, a little exotic, and silent. Perhaps 19, 20. When Frederika came to show us the menu, I asked about her.

"That is Irina. She is a good worker. All these girls are good workers, this year. They come from know? That thin little country on the side of Poland?"

"I've heard of it. They seem to be all over town. How did they get here?"

"There are agencies. They email us every year, starting in March or April."

"I guess you need a lot of help in the summer. More than you can get around here."

"Aaaah! Local girls. I can't get one who wants to work. They want to work today, but not tomorrow. Not on Saturday. They have boyfriends, always something. Look at me! I am 64 years old. I did not think I would be working this hard at 64. Do I get off? No. There is always work to do. But these....are good girls. They know how to work. When you show them how to clean, how to make a bed, they will do it that way every time."

"It must be exciting, coming so far. They get to use their English, see the world a little, maybe learn how to run a business..."

Her shrug was eloquent. Very Gallic.

"They come to make money. Here they have a place to sleep, we give them food. They have no expenses. The money they make, they can take it home. That girl that was here, Irina. A very clever girl. Her mother is a doctor. Her father is a mathematician. Do you know how much a doctor makes in Belarus? One Hundred Fifty Dollars a month! These girls can do very well here..."

"So you like this arrangement?"

"O yes. These girls come to work. Work, work, work, work, work." She was pounding the back of one hand into the other, a rhythm of emphasis, her voice rising with Dickensian satisfaction.

Then, all at once, she seemed to recover her focus. "Would you like an appetizer? These little roulettes of salmon, with the capers, they are very good. We smoke this ourselves."

Over the appetizer, Janice and I talked a bit about what we were going to do on the 4th. I wondered what the Belarusskies would do. Probably work, work, work. Then the girl Irina brought me the wrong soup.

"Wait. I ordered the shrimp gazpacho. This is chowder."

She was a plain girl, really, her face unadorned in the light of day. But it was a mobile, interesting face. She always seemed to be about to say something. There was a little cloud across her features, the sort of mark that any struggle in life will place, even on the prettiest brow. It will deepen with age.

But she is so young, it is almost nothing. I may have imagined it.

Just then her eyes were wide, as though in shock. But still, it seemed, she did not trust her English to reply. She bobbed her head instead, her fingers fluttered a mime of apology, and the chowder was silently whisked away.

She carried it toward the kitchen perched high in one hand. Mine was not the only gray head that turned to watch. As she approached the door, another waitress suddenly burst through, carrying a tray. Immediately Irina responded, made a little pirouette to the side, balanced almost on her tiptoes, and proceeded through the closing door.

Disaster averted. Very graceful. But perhaps there was also something formal about it, something knowing. A performance. She was waiting on these people, but she was also aware of being admired.

The little Minsk.

Bruno came over as I was backing off from the shank of lamb.

"What have you done to my poor little lamb? Look at this!"

I did. Nothing but a large white bone remained on the plate, and that may have been gnawed.

"It is always a struggle, my friend. Sometimes it wins, sometimes I win. You never know."

Bruno raised a single brow. I admire a man who can do that without reminding you of Spock. "Oh, I think you win, a lot. Most of the time."

"You have a very good eye..."

"But poor manners. Would you like a dessert? More wine?"

We took him up on both. Janice had the key lime custard. I had another glass of cabernet. Briefly I wondered what Irina must be thinking, as she cleared away the dishes. Three weeks of her mother's life, consumed in a single meal?

Well. All I can say is, it was worth it.

I'd recommend the Alpine Moose to anyone passing through Lake City. At the very least your meal will be delicious. If you are lucky, it may also be an education.


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