Thursday, March 10, 2011
Day 7: Village and Lake Onega
Today we not only got to experience true, Russian provincial life, but also true, Russian weather. Today was dedicated to exploring a nearby village where the poet Klyuev spent a good part of his life. Actually, for the first half of the day we had the bluest and clearest skies of the trip. But after leaving the village, we went to Lake Onega where МЧС, or the emergency rescue center is located. It was snowing when we got to the lake and the skyline was just a gradient of grays, darkened a bit at the horizon. All of us got the real feel for a Russian winter when we walked across the complex to the museum in the middle of a white out. After a tour of the emergency rescue center, we returned to Vytegra to a huge and wonderful meal filled with many happy toasts but also sadness because it was our last night in Vytegra.
In the morning, we all got on a Vytegra bus and headed out into the country. About forty-five minutes later, we stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere where a woman and a six-year-old girl were standing in the middle of the road. From this point in the road, the only man made thing we could see was a small, wooden shrine with the orthodox cross on top where Klyuev parents are burried. The woman who met us in the road was our guide for our day in the village. She told us she meets all tourists at this point in the road to show them the small shrine before heading down to the tiny center of the village. She showed us the tiny town library before introducing us to a few of the local babushkas. About ten tiny women with colorful headscarves asked us question after question about our lives, but not the usual questions of the school children. They wanted to know things like how big our families are, how we got to their town and how much it cost, how we paid for our trip, how we pay for our education, and how much the government helps out with families. It was interesting to not only hear their questions but also hear their stories of their lives, children and grand children. Most of these women had lived there their whole lives and would never dream of living anywhere else, simply because this village is there home and nowhere else will be. They are all so proud of their tiny village, with no cell service and no plumbing. One of the women has a daughter in Vytegra, the “big town” nearby, and will occasionally go to visit her on holidays, but can’t stay away more than about three days because she misses her village too much. During our stay in the village, we were treated to a ride in a horse and sleigh, whichis the most efficient way to transport people and things around town because the roads are so poorly kept. This horse and sleigh were like none other I have seen before. It was almost the exact same kind of horse and sleigh as depicted in the Heartland art of Georgii Popov. A flat platform only about two feet off the ground, strewn with hay and without sides is attached with long wooden poles to the harness which is arched above the horse’s withers. The rider plus four to six others rode behind a strong, grey horse as it trotted us down a narrow road to a house only about five minutes from the center of town. While on our little excursion, it became clear why this form of transportation is superior to vehicles in the villages – the roads are way too narrow for two cars to pass each other and the roads are only cleared, not plowed. A car could easily get stuck in the deep snow, but our sleigh had no difficulties at all gliding across the top. Another focal point of Popov’s painting Joyful Day is the men chopping wood and the clothes hanging outside to dry. In this village, neighboring every house is a huge stack of wood, covered with snow, which is used to heat the house for the whole winter. During our tea with a few of the babushkas, they told us about how they have a giant central oven in the middle of the house that is attached to all of the four rooms of the house. This central oven isused for heating water for bathing, washing clothes and dishes, heating the house, and cooking. The painting also features a woman hanging her clothes up to dry on a line outside. I remember being surprised at this at first, because I would assume the wet clothes would freeze outside. Even though I didn’t see this in the village, I often saw clothes hung out on the balconies of apartment buildings in Vytegra, and I was still surprised. The poverty is evident in both of the town of Vytegra and especially in the village but nobody seems to be disappointed with their towns, they are all so happy to have visitors.