We started off our day attending a meeting with a few students from the vocational school, which specializes in forestry work. We heard a very different story from them because many will not go to university and are practically forced to stay in Vytegra. The student who led the discussion, Danilla, had huge aspirations to move to New York after graduation. I think every other question he asked about the climate, size, and people of New York. Otherwise, the student’s questions were the same as those of the other schools – how school works in the United States, popular movies, and popular music. Next we stopped by the Submarine Museum. Vytegra is on the Baltic waterway canal and a submarine from the 1970s, which was never used in battle, was moved to Vytegra because it used to be part of the Lake Onega Fleet. After another hearty lunch, we walked to the top of the bell tower and got a great overview of the town before heading over to the Craft Museum where traditional Vologda lace is made. Lastly before dinner, we stopped by the museum of the famous poet Klyuev. We learned a lot about this poet in class, so what the lecturer told us was a bit of a review, but nonetheless, it was nice to see his original photos, books, and documents. We rested and ate dinner before four girls from the local school came to the hotel to ask us to go ice-skating with them. Unfortunately our night with them was cut a little short because we had to part at eleven, because there is a curfew for those under sixteen and they had to rush to get home.
During the tour of the submarine museum, the tour guide, a former worker on an atomic submarine, showed us two deep-sea diving suits from the 1970s. He told us that deep-sea divers actually use many of the exact same suits from the 1970s and at least use the same design. I was shocked that they hadn’t updated the design in such a long time, especially because deep-sea diving is such a dangerous thing to do. It’s so important to have a stable supply of oxygen and it’s so surprising to me that they wouldn’t update something so life threatening. Like we learned in class, those who live in the Russian Heartland often get stuck in their old ways and don’t see any reason or have any motivation to change things from the past. This reflects the aspect of timelessness that came up in many, if not almost every, short story that we read in class.
Our second to last night in Vytegra was probably one of my favorites. Right after dinner, four high school girls came to the hotel and begged us to go ice-skating with them. Of course, we obliged and they took us to the frozen over basketball rink across the river. They all ushered us inside this small hut where we could rent skates for fifty rubles. We all gave the woman in charge a fifty-ruble note, but because we were “the Americans” she refused to take our money and let us skate for free. It was clear that this rink was the place to be, if you’re going to be out on a Thursday night in Vytegra. Half the people on the ice didn’t even have skates on. There was the classic group of six teenaged boys in the middle, smoking and trying to look cool as they talked to each other about the girls who skated around them. More girls joined us on the ice later and we ended up just standing in a circle in the corning taking pictures of each other and talking about movies and music in a broken mixture of Russian and English. Actually, most of the conversation consisted of just someone in the circle saying the name of a movie, singer, or actor who they liked and everyone else commenting either “Да, мне нравится...” or “Yes, I love …” The ultimate goal of the evening was just finding similarities between us. All of us liked Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, and Top Model. We were “kicked” off the ice at ten o’clock and we asked the girls to show us a store where we could go to buy some last minute souvenirs and candies. A group of us practically slid all the way to the other side of town to the “good store” and along the way, I am happy to say that no Americans fell, but three Russian girls fell. That’s a first. We laughed all the way back to the hotel trying to use our broken English and Russian to communicate, and failed utterly, but had a good time nonetheless. I know I was ambivalent about this before leaving, but after this evening, it is clear to me that a language barrier is not something that can keep you from having a good time with interesting people.