Friday, March 2, 2012
Yesterday, we ventured to the villages of Andoma and Makachevo. The drop between town and country is as sharp and drastic as the one between Petersburg and – forgive the hyperbole – the rest of Russia. Houses. You blink. Forest. Blink again. A field that seems to stretch to the White Sea. To think of navigating this region before modern roads is terrifying, and “The Snow Storm” from Pushkin’s Tales of Belkin has become incredibly realistic. Unfortunately, I was not married to a stranger. Yet. It wasn’t snowing yesterday.
At the school in Andoma (which uses five buses to bring in students from the surrounding villages), we toured the classes. By far, the most Russian thing I have done on this trip was sing a verse of ,,Очи Чёрные” to second graders. The classroom had a piano, and it was the first time I have sung a song while someone played it. For someone who went through a major Rat Pack phase, it was exhilarating.
The eleventh graders were interested in higher education, but the problems of tuition, living expenses, and family unemployment were vocally and candidly expressed – far more so than what I heard in Vytegra’s two schools. We are all human, and it is encouraging to know that we have similar anxieties. However, it is distressing that those anxieties are based on what restrains our potential (especially for those who have so much) and limits our social mobility (especially for those who yearn to and work to advance). During our tour, the school’s museum and newly renovated chemistry classroom were presented as its crown jewels. The sciences are stressed, and the students’ enthusiasm was palpable. Not only are these kids creative juggernauts, but they want to be rocket scientists. Literally.
(above – evidence that Russians need little reminders about Russian, too)
At the Winter Palace, we saw how the tsars lived. We even saw the view from Catherine the Great’s bedroom. In the village of Makachevo, we were fortune enough to enter and observe a home. Modest – yes. Pratical – yes. As with so much in Russia, things were worn-out and run-down, but they had a lived-in charm. However, I am fully aware that I say this from the standpoint of the news boots of an American tourist. These people are living what I find to be curious and cute.
I have come to see chopped wood as a symbol of life and death in the Vytegra area. This is Russia – a symbol must contain contradictions. If you do not have a massive pile of firewood behind your house – “Goodbye. We’ll bury you in the spring.” The logging trucks are a prominent sign of industry in the area, but the logging industry (not based in the area, not concerned with this area, not operating with responsible ecological practices) is one of the many punches that outside organizations are landing on this small town.