Monday, March 1, 2010

Step 3: The Road to Vytegra

We got up and packed in a rush, as breakfast was at 9am, and we were to load up at 9:30am and hit the road by ten. This is probably the part of the journey in which I am supposed to make notes of the difference between the metropolitan sphere of Saint Petersburg and the provincial realm of Svirstoy and Vytegra. Anyway, we loaded into a tour bus, with two older drivers and a younger boy. It apparently took them ten hours to get to Saint Petersburg. We drove for a bit, took a quick break at a bus stop (also to charge up phone cards), and hit the road again. At about 3:00pm we reached the town of Svirstoy and had lunch in a small café (borshch, corn, buckwheat, and fish patties). We then tried to visit the monastery, and, when we approached what we believed to be it, we were confronted by a Russian Orthodox nun, who told us that it was close. We had gotten to a nunnery and the male monastery was further down the road. There seemed to be a little confusion about which monastery we were heading to. It turns out that the town has/had two. We then trekked to the newer-looking one (“looking”, as the newest building was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century), and tried to find a guide. Another point of confusion, the guide had already gone out with another group, and we had past each other on the road. We caught up to the guide and secured a partial tour, as Alina had to translate the guide for us. The older-looking monastery was built by the brethren following of the Saint Alekandr, who lived in a hut, which is inside what is now the other monastery. The older monastery is out of shape, as it was claimed by the communists during the Soviet era and used as a mental hospital. We went inside the cathedral, and saw the wall paintings, including one depicting the trinity, and another mirror to it depicting judgment day. The variety of icons on the sacristy gate was astounding. I didn’t say this at the time, but I was pretty sure that I saw one move out of the corner of my eye. The various buildings of this particular monastery were built during different centuries, primarily the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. We then migrated over to the other monastery, the one that houses most of the areas important to the mythos of Saint Aleksandr of Svir'. As we crossed the gateway, the bell of the monastery started to sound its call to the faithful, a dreary tone for the season of lent. Our first stop was to visit this tiny little building that houses the spot on which the Saint received his vision from God, which links them to Abraham, who was the first one to receive a visitation from God (Aleksandr being the second). I have some sand from this location, which I am embarrassed to write that I have sealed in a common shopping bag. Ah, woe. By the time that we stepped out of the hut, the bell tower, which was the final addition to this particular monastery, had begun to ring a different tune. I managed to get a video recording of the bell tower about halfway through this tune, which I will attach. The next part of our journey through the monastery took us into the proper religious building in which we walked into a Russian Orthodox mass. I was a bit uneasy about our intrusion into this religious setting, probably because my own religion is practically the twin brother of the Eastern Orthodox Church, from which the Russian Church descended. In side this temple, we saw the relics (full body; first class relic) of Saint Aleksandr, who, despite his remains being captured by the Soviets and housed in a government military lab until perestroika, remained primarily uncorrupt. I thought that this was amazing, as the Saint died in the 16th century. As we were in the relic chamber, a babushka approached us and said something that I did not catch. Alina simply asked us not to pay her any mind, as the babushka was apparently not in her right mind (note: I should ask Alina what the woman actually said, just for information sake, although I have a faint idea).

After that, we visited the monastery shop and it was probably after 5:30 that we boarded the bus to continue on to Vytegra. By the end of the tour the weather began to turn afoul. I fell asleep on the bus after trying to press through the reading for my already late midterm paper, but we reached Vytegra at 10pm. We then checked into our hotel which had dorm-like rooms, and we trekked across the village to the café in which we were to have dinner. The place was also a bar and had no shortage of drinking Russians. A male patron actually came (almost burst) got toin to our separate dinning area and asked (as I later found out) where we were from. He was dispatched rather quickly and we continued with our meal.

The meal consisted of some vegetables, mashed potatoes and a meat patty. We then left the bar, as it was almost past closing. I am not sure how near on which side of closing it was as we arrived later than expected and by the time we left the other patrons were hanging out in the foyer of the restaurant. We were planning to have a group party tonight as celebration for surviving the long bus ride (which actually took longer in getting from Saint Petersburg to Vytegra by bus than it did getting from DTW to Saint Petersburg by airplane). We briefly stopped at the grocers to pick up supplies that consisted of chocolates and other groceries. The grocers was also home to this adorable tawny cat which I have a few pictures of, as we as a video of it becoming most attentive of Chelsey’s boot tassels. We left the grocers heading back to the hotel. Unfortunately this took us through the crown of post-drinking patrons of the Russian restaurant that we dined at. We picked up a few shouts of something that I didn’t understand, and two tails that I was nervous about and tried my best to keep an eye on. We made it bgot toack to the hotel, tails included, and we tried to get up to our rooms as fast as we could (note: I am not sure how much the entire group was aware of the two men following us), and the men tailing us were, more-or-less, stopped in the lobby (I heard that they were still there when Joanna went down to the lobby for something-or-other, but were chased off by the woman who worked at the reception, who knew them by name). We apparently attract so much attention because we are new faces to the county. Joseph and I, who now share a room, as Ethan volunteered himself to take the single (odd number of males, as the rooms are apparently in doubles or singles), moped about for a bit until midnight, when we all gathered in Alina’s front room (she had a suite) and watched the Olympic Hockey between Canada and the USA game. We also went over the events that will make up our stay in Vytegra. Apparently our visit attracted a bit of media attention, as we will be covered by the local media when we meet the local government administration tomorrow morning.

After a while, the party began to part ways, and Joseph and I retired to our room. My work at the museum will involve the digitization of the museums audio collection. My major thoughts for the day involve the idea that provincial Russia is pretty inaccessible to tourists during the winter (which is when I believe the best time to see “Russia” ), the religion in Russia is pretty grounded in hagiographical tradition, and that the religious traditions of Russia are making a sure recovery after the Soviet period. Notes from {Party of Hats/Café Silent} --I STILL need to find a cookbook that contains the stuff from this trip, it is absolutely delicious and I think it would fit in well at the co-op. As for folk-music for Chekhov, I have noticed a stark difference between the metropolis of Saint Petersburg, where Serebryakov is thought to be from, and the provincial portions of Russia, which isn’t identical but similar to the region that the estate is said to be located in. Michael Makin notified me before the trip that northern provincial Russia wasn’t populated by landed gentry as much as the south was. The north was mainly controlled by the merchant “bourgeois” class, but, meh, it is all the same to me, according to the environmental and living conditions that the characters would have been subjected to year after year.


BONUS TIME!
Video of the Chelsea and the Vytegra Cat.
video

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