Saturday, March 5, 2011

Vytegra Day 5: Makachyevo, and МЧС

Yesterday we left Vytegra for Makachyevo, the village in which Klyuev's parents are buried and a shrine is dedicated to them, and by extension Klyuev himself. After the shrine, we met the villagers of Makachyevo, who recited for us some of Klyuev's poetry, and then engaged us in a Q & A session. Leaving Makachyevo, we visited the Department of Emergencies (МЧС) station on Lake Onega, where we experienced the full of fury of the Russian North with the lake effect and snowstorms streaming off of the second largest freshwater lake in Europe.

When we arrived at the shrine outside of Makachyevo, Tamara Pavlovna and Alina Vladimirovna gave us a rendition of the history of the site, how it was an old cemetery containing Nikolai Klyuev's parents, how the chapel that was residing next to it was blown up by the Young Pioneers in the 1960s ,and the stones of the Church's rubble were used to create an large sign on a nearby hilltop saying “Lenin”. Having spent much of my time interviewing Russians about the Orthodox Church in Russia, I was more saddened than surprised to witness this desecration with mine own eyes. The villagers in Makachyevo gave a similarly soviet-influenced story of the state of religion in their village, how there was no church for the 380 villagers, that the nearest house of worship was Vytegra, km away. They mentioned how a church-television channel was very popular in he village-those that are unable to participate in the services because of distance or illness can watch on television the divine liturgy. Going to Miki we finally experienced the famous stereotype of Russia: that it is a barren winter landscape of bitter cold and strong winds. Trying to walk from the school to the station museum was an exercise in stoicism as Onegan winds tried to cut us to pieces. To end our tour of the facility, the МЧС showed us their impressive display of emergency rescue vehicle hardware. They had everything from snowmobiles to airfoils to enormous trucks and even small military-grade patrol craft. I couldn't help but think that this tour of government property would not have been possible for Americans under the Soviet Union or the Russian early years.

Makachyevo had some astonishing contrasts. The village was extremely poor, there was no running water, out houses were the norm, and 100 rubles bought almost a kilo of candy. At the same time, the villagers told us how all of them have televisions, satellite dishes, and most had computers with modem internet connections. The village was proud of the collective farm that remains the largest employer in the village with 18 employees, While the village looks to have walked strait out the 19th and even 18th Century, the television present for teat time was giving the latest details about Libya's ongoing civil strife and how NASA had lost the surface-to-space missile, Glory. It is very interesting the Russians concentrate their resources into, allowing sophisticated technology like satellite dishes to exist along side a one-horse open sleigh (which we did have a ride on, and we did in fact sing Jingle Bells). These contrasts show how the poor infrastructure that was developed under the Soviet Union and 1990s and 2000s Russia has not kept people from striving for the the latest modern advancements in technology.

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