Mar 10, 2008

Страховка от карманников (Photo collection, Siberia in winter)

Don't get too excited - this doesn't really count as a blog entry. And to make sure you don't get confused, I'm going to make it as dull as possible, and pack it with Russian names and terminology, historical references, personal reflections and philosophy, and other crap you don't care about.

Just kidding. It isn't a real entry, but it also won't contain any information; I'm off to Mongolia in less than four hours, and haven't begun packing. This is just a collection of photographs.

As you might remember, some young Russians accidentally walked off with all of my pictures from last semester. I didn't discuss it in detail at the time, because I was still upset about it, and wanted to move on. But here's the full story - I was in a crash-taxi with a handful of friendly Russians, who just like most strangers on the street here, were warm, curious, and interested in hearing about my experience. They wanted to see my pictures, too, but I guess i didn't understand when they asked - I'd only been here for a few months, and my Russian wasn't up to par. Russians love swapping pictures, and as a guest in any home, seeing all the family photos is pretty much mandatory. So it's a cultural thing.

Anyway, like i said, I didn't realize they wanted to see my pictures, and there was a fair amount of miscommunication. For example, I didn't tell them where the pictures were. Understanding that I was still having trouble with the langauge, they took it upon themselves to find the camera in my pocket, take it, and presumably admire the pictures in the comfort of their own homes. Another miscommunication - I didn't have a chance to give them my address, so they could return the pictures when they were done looking at them. As such, I never did see that camera again. Live and learn.

But in case any more Russian art-lovers get curious, I wanted to post these pictures online, for safe keeping. Enjoy. Don't bother writing comments, though, I'm in Mongolia, where the average yurt doesn't even have a high-speed connection. And if it's as awesome there this time as it was last, I may never come back.


I'm taking a geography class here, so I bought an atlas to learn all the various mountain ranges, rivers, etc. This picture in the introduction struck me. The caption said, "the three races of the world." I'd like to be the guy who represents all white people - I'm definitely just as qualified as the guy with the funny hat. I'm hoping to get the nod for the next edition - I've even prepared a picture, to send to the editor when 2009 rolls around:

This will sound like yet another food-complaint, but I really do look like this after forcing breakfast down my throat every day. So I nailed this facial expression in just one try, this morning before class.

Most of these pictures are on Baikal, around the city of Severo-Baikal'sk, which I briefly wrote about last week, and visited at the end of February. Except this one isn't. This is in Irkutsk, on the river Angara, taken from the gigantic hydro-electric dam. Although it probably goes without saying, this building is obviously haunted with the ghosts of the hundreds who died building the dam.

This is in Severo-Baikal'sk.

The city was built to support the legendary, yet ultimately doomed Baikal-Amur Railroad. Have you all been noticing that as a theme? I think this blog could very well be called "Russia - legendary, but ultimately doomed." I won't bore you with details, but ask me when I come home. The railroad and tourism are the town's only real economic activities, which makes it exceptionally clean, and exceptionally soul-crushing if you aren't a tourist or a railroad worker. Lucky for me, I was a tourist, and it was beautiful.

Like most far-off, idyllic Siberian villages, Severo-Baikal'sk these days is mostly used as a nuclear test-site. The small population is for the most part composed of physicists and weapons experts, and their babushki, who nostalgically recall even the earliest atomic blasts over the lake in the 50's. Back then, they were twice as beautiful, 1000 times as toasty-warm, and nobody made you wear stupid goggles or vests.

This one is just the sun rising.

The lake is frozen until about May, and the ice was at least a meter (foot) thick where we were. But due to mysterious natural forces that no scientist has yet pinned down (I assume), these huge rifts form in the ice, really suddenly and unexpectedly. We were lucky enough to watch this one appear.

After some time, the rifts become huge , winding spines of broken ice that spread randomly all over the lake. And it's not just normal ice, either - it comes in a million different shades of blue and gray. I really failed as a photographer, though - I couldn't figure out how to capture the awesomeness, or the size. I guess a professional would have some sort of object in the frame to offer scale, but I just press the button and trust Canon to do the rest. Take my word for it, though - each of these chunks of ice is the size of a semi-trailer. Or a shoebox. I guess I don't remember. And yeah, it is hard to tell.

I came across this hidden gem in a museum of local art in the city. Of course I should let the piece speak for itself, but in case there's any confusion, its Jesus, wearing a bed sheet, flying out of a magical doorway on Lake Baikal, shooting rainbows out of his hand.

This is a Zimovyo (translation: señora) that we came across in on a hike through the woods. In Siberia they're everywhere. It's basically a tiny wooden room, with a wood-burning furnace for heat. Siberian tradition dictates that there should always be dry wood and dried bread inside for stranded travelers, and after a night in one, it's your duty to replace both for the next person. However, more contemporary, post-Soviet Russian tradition says "screw you, whoever you are - I ate all the bread, burned all the wood, and your life means nothing to me." So they're usually empty.

We ran into these two fisherman on the lake. They had broken a series of 10 or 15 holes in the ice with a sharp stick, and paced back and forth, monitoring them all day. We were lucky enough to see them pull up two decently sized Kharius (translation: they caught some fish). It was kind of funny - when they caught a fish, they admired it for a second, then punched it in the head a few times and then unsentimentally broke it in half, while our vegetarian group-mates looked on in horror. I'd never seen anybody punch a fish before. Anyway what's really important, is that they caught these fish with just some old wire, pieces of already-caught fish, and their hands. It was really amazing.

This is Lenin, with a mohawk made of snow.

Unfortunately, our vacation did have to end some time. This is back in Irkutsk, where life continued as bizarre as usual. This one requires a little Russian to understand: That says "medical supplies." I'm not making that up.

I wasn't actually in the market for medical supplies, but the creepy alley sure was intriguing, so I followed the arrow. I didn't have to go far, though - the medical supplies were behind the rusty, bomb-proof door on the right. I bought a few IV bags, an X-ray machine and a metal hip-bone and went on my way.

Don't think the Russians kids aren't 'with it!'

This picture looked a bit nicer when it was small on my camera screen... but I wanted to highlight this part of Irkutsk. All winter, a weird fog rolled through at night, and in the morning, everything was covered in ice-crystals, and it looked real neat. I recommend this picture for a desktop-background. See, there's a little place in the top right for icons. I also recommend the picture of me after breakfast.

I also made it to the dacha for a really nice birthday/reunion party, and got to see the whole 'four-generations-of-talkative-happy-Russian-family' thing... which of course was great, except for the 'countless-generations-of-secret-disgusting-recipes' thing. So I played with the dog, talked to everyone, and accidentally forgot to eat anything.

This is back in Severo-Baikal'sk. Lake Baikal on the left, isolated village in the valley, pine forest on the right, huge beautiful snowy mountains in the background. So in case there's any confusion, I am pretty happy to be here. And to make the deal sweeter, there were also ancient petrogliphs on the rock faces behind me. I didn't take pictures though, since they're always much cooler in theory than in reality. It's amazing to imagine what possessed ancient people to record their lives, and to guess what the pictures might mean. On the other hand, I can draw stick figures too, and mastered that particular art form when I was four.


I'm off to Mongolia, where as you might remember from last semester, "dreams get happiness." So another update - as of March 21st, no crushing despair. Здорово!


Kam said...

I finally believe you that it's cold. Pictures speak a thousand words or petroglyphs or Cyrillic characters or something.

"I think this blog could very well be called "Russia - legendary, but ultimately doomed.'" -- I like that. I might agree with it if I knew much about Russia to begin with.

Also, my brother and I are both a little obsessed with Mongolia for no particular reason. I'm a little jealous that you get to go. Please drink some yak milk for me. And adopt a temporary nomadic lifestyle (as if that's not what your entire year has been).

I really enjoy reading this blog! I had lost the address for awhile, but now I'm back! And the photos are up! So I'm happy.

Do you have an address? Email it to me?

- Kam -

JMP said...

wait a second, i'm a bit confused that one picture above the sunset picture actually of a nuclear explosion? or is it the sun being especially bright?