Looking up at the clarity of the night in Siberia, you feel that you are in the sky yourself. Never in my life had I seen so many satellites and shooting stars. He also mentioned a special kind of bird whose nests were so soft that they were used for socks. About two hundred and ninety years later in Siberia, I saw few or none of these marvels, except in museums, where some of the specimens are facing a second extinction from moths and general disintegration. The main four-legged animal I encountered in Siberia was the cow.
Little herds appear all the time, especially in western Siberia, grazing along the road or moving at twilight from the woods or the swamp into a glade. Siberian cows are skinnier than the ones in America, and longer-legged, often with muddy shins, and ribs showing. Some wear bells. Herders, usually not on horseback, follow them unhurriedly.
Beef in Siberian stores is gristly, tough, and expensive. Siberian dairy products, however, are cheap and good. Korzhanskii, a revolutionary who knew the father of the Russian Revolution, V. From Siberia. Lenin went to Siberia on two separate occasions. He was sent into exile there following his arrest for revolutionary activities in St. Petersburg in December of Lenin was twenty-five then, and still using his original name, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. Exile under the tsars could be a rather mild proposition, especially compared with what the Soviets later devised; during his exile Lenin received a government stipend of twelve rubles a month, which covered room and board along with extras like books.
He was able to get a lot of reading done. All in all, Siberia seems to have agreed with Lenin splendidly, and seasoned him as a political thinker. The second time Lenin was sent to Siberia he had been dead for seventeen years. After leading the revolution and maneuvering the Bolshevik state through the power struggles that followed, he suffered a series of strokes; a convalescence did not restore his health, and he died, of another stroke, in January of Embalmers and other technicians did such a skillful job that when they were done he looked better than he had in the months before he died.
To house him, the government built a temporary and then a permanent tomb on Red Square, in Moscow, where his body went on display for the crowds who filed reverently by. In , with the Germans approaching, an icon as important as Lenin could not be left at risk of destruction or capture, so the body was packed into a railroad car and shipped to the western Siberian city of Tyumen for safekeeping.
There, far from the front, it waited out the war. In , after the Allied victory, Lenin again returned from Siberia, and went back to his Red Square tomb. Petersburg across Siberia; the second part will be covered in a second installment. Like Lenin, many of the objects in museums and churches in western Russia have spent some time in Siberia.
During the Second World War, state treasures and works of art and historic archives were put in crates and shipped east. The instinct to withdraw, to disappear far into the interior, figures often in Russian history. Your empire has two powerful defenders in its vastness and its climate.
The emperor of Russia will always be formidable in Moscow, terrible in Kazan, and invincible in Tobolsk. A few years ago, two public-policy experts at a Washington think tank wrote a book advising Russia to close down its remote and hard-to-supply Siberian cities and villages and concentrate the population in locations more practical for transportation and the global market. The far places should be left to a few skeleton-crew outposts, and the difficult environment allowed to revert to wilderness, the experts maintained.
Those on the positive side of the argument a larger number, in total, than the nays say, basically, that Russia was not really Russia until it began to move into Asia. Before, it was a loose collection of principalities centered on trading cities like Novgorod and Vladimir and Moscow. The pro-Siberians say that other nations became empires by crossing oceans, while Russia did the same by expanding across the land it was already on. Possessed of Siberia, Russia became a continental country, not only an ethnic entity on the map of Eastern Europe. He was, of course, alive during the Second World War, and so did not make a posthumous visit via cold storage.
He was able to do this because he had conquered the Tatar city of Kazan, a Muslim stronghold on the Volga River which had long blocked Russian moves eastward. With Kazan out of the way, Russian adventurers could go beyond the frontiers to previously unexplored lands across the Urals. Yermak sent envoys to Ivan with news of his victory and a rich tribute of sable furs, black-fox furs, and noble captives. After Russia acquired Siberia, tsars of the seventeenth century sometimes were told by Westerners that their dominion exceeded the size of the surface of the full moon.
This information pleased the tsars, who probably did not look too closely into the math of the statement. The surface area of the moon is about fourteen million six hundred and forty-six thousand square miles although the tsars would have measured in desyatins, or square versts, or something else. Whether Russia in the seventeenth century could honestly claim to be larger than that is not certain. It had not yet taken over the Baltic territories, the Crimea, Ukraine, or the Caucasus, and most of its Siberian territory was unknown in size. To say that Russia was larger than the full moon sounded impressive, and had an echo of poetry, and poetry creates empires.
Sergei Mikhailovich Lunev is a muscular and youthfully fit man in his mid-sixties. He looks like a gymnast, or a coach of gymnasts. He has a long, ectomorphic head whose most expressive feature is its brow, which furrows this way and that in thought, emphasizing his canny, mobile, and china-blue eyes. The neatly trimmed hair around his balding crown adds a professorial dignity, appropriately, because he is the head of the robotics lab at the St.
Petersburg Polytechnical University. He used to work with the Soviet space program before it was reduced in size. I met Sergei in the summer of , in St. Petersburg; he was to be my guide for an automobile trip across Russia. Guiding was something he was doing for extra money. After knowing him for a while, I wondered if the discontent and suppressed anger that sometimes showed on his face were the result of having to do an extra job, one unequal to his talents.
He speaks some English, I speak some Russian. We got along better as my Russian improved and I understood how prestigious his real job was. One day in June, Sergei and I drove to a labyrinthine warren of single-vehicle garages in a far section of St. I had wanted to buy a Russian all-road vehicle like a four-wheel-drive Niva, but I was warned that that was a bad idea, because Russian vehicles constantly break down. Instead, with forty-five hundred dollars supplied by me, Sergei had bought a diesel-powered Renault step van.
He promised me that this car was far more reliable. In the narrow, low-ceilinged garage where Sergei was keeping it, the Renault struck me as not Siberia-ready. It looked more suited to delivering sour cream and eggs, the job it had done until recently. Sergei backed it out and we went for a quick test drive. Sergei said he would have it running smoothly in time for the journey. He said he planned to put an extra seat in the back, and a place to store our stuff, and a table where we could eat when it rained. I noticed that there were no seat belts, and said that each seat must have one.
Sergei conceded that seat belts could be added if I wanted them. He treated this as an eccentric special request. Many Russians do not use seat belts and consider them an American absurdity. Sergei described how he would arrange the back so we could sleep in there if necessary. Sergei and Volodya had been in Kamchatka together and had known each other since university. I was told that three men were better than two for safety. That sounded sensible to me. Sergei praised Volodya Chumak as a topnotch alpinist and a great guy. I would not meet him until just before the trip began.
There are very few motels in Siberia. Sergei would supply tents, a propane stove, camp chairs, and other gear. I was to bring my own sleeping bag, eating utensils, personal items, etc. I asked if I should buy a travel directory of Siberian campgrounds, and he laughed. Sergei said that I would understand better what Siberia was like once I got there. Volodya, who had arrived the day before, is a slim, broad-shouldered man who usually wears neat work shirts and pants in shades of gray. He was fifty at the time, with a full head of black, graying hair, blue eyes, and the thin nose and chiselled features of his Ukrainian ancestry.
We did our final loading, Sergei said goodbye to his wife and grandson, and we climbed aboard. Setting out, I did not think about the enterprise before us or about our destination a third of the way around the globe. Instead I noticed that the rain, which had been sprinkling, had begun to pour, and that the windshield wiper on the passenger side worked only intermittently.
The gray Neva River, beside us, reproduced the overcast drabness of the sky, and the speeding traffic threw up rooster tails of spray. By the time we reached the city limits, the oil-pressure warning light on the dashboard had come on. I pointed it out to Sergei and Volodya. They said it was nothing. The van had been built with the cargo area in the back lower than the front seats, which rested on a raised platform. In the seat Sergei had installed in the back, one therefore had to sit straight up and lean forward in order to see over the dash.
About the time the oil-pressure light came on, I also smelled a strange burning odor, mixed with diesel exhaust. When I mentioned this to Sergei, he rolled his window partway down. Past the city, we turned onto the Murmansk highway eastbound. Its four lanes soon became two. Trucks were speeding toward us in the downpour. After a couple of hours, we came to the highway leading southeast to Vologda, and we pulled over at the intersection. The rain had let up by then. The intersection appeared to be a popular place to stop, with broad aprons of gravel beside the pavement and trash strewn around.
We got out to use the facilities, which were bushes and weeds that had seen such employment before.
Near the intersection stood a ruined brick church with grass and small trees growing from its upper towers and from the broken-off parts where the onion domes had been. The Vologda road led through rural places with people selling potatoes along the narrow shoulder and irregularly shaped yellow meadows sometimes opening widely to the horizon.
Then birch forest thronged close around, and Sergei said we were going into a huge swamp where many men had died in battles with the Nazis. People still go back in the swamp and find rusted grenades and skulls in helmets, he said. This conversation got Volodya talking about Ivan Susanin, the heroic Russian peasant who deliberately misled a Polish army deep into a swamp in order to save the life of the first Romanov tsar, in the Time of Troubles, during the seventeenth century.
The Poles, discovering the trick too late, killed Ivan Susanin before perishing themselves. Later, in my more uncertain moods, I wondered if my guides might be Ivan Susanin, and the Polish army might be me. The woods continued; now we came to a rotary completely enclosed by forest. On a pedestal in the middle of the rotary, pointing nose upward as if about to swoop into the sky, was a bright silver MIG fighter jet. I had never seen a MIG up close. Sergei seemed not to know, either. The shiny MIG was a strange object encountered inexplicably in a dark forest, spaceship-like.
The Vologda road had become a spill of pavement, untrimmed along its edges, with scalloping where the poured asphalt had flowed. Small villages followed, one after another, at regular intervals, roadside signs announcing their names. Often I looked up the names in my pocket Russian-English dictionary to see what they meant. All along the road, sometimes to heights of ten or twelve feet, grew a plant that Volodya identified as morkovnik. Along the route we travelled, morkovnik grows abundantly from one end of Russia to the other. In early afternoon, we stopped at an informal rest area like the one at the intersection of the Murmansk and Vologda roads.
Here for the first time I encountered big-time Russian roadside trash. Very, very few trash receptacles exist along the roads of Russia. This rest area, and its ad-hoc picnic spots, with their benches of downed tree trunks, featured a ground layer of trash basically everywhere, except in a few places, where there was more.
In the all-trash encirclement, trash items had piled themselves together here and there in heaps three and four feet tall, as if making common cause. With a quick kicking and scuffing of nearby fragments, Sergei rendered a place beside a log bench relatively trash free and then laid out our cold-chicken lunch on pieces of cellophane on the ground. Back on the Vologda road, we continued in the direction of Cherepovets.
After not many kilometres, the warning light for the engine generator lit up on the dashboard, making a companion for the oil-pressure light, which had never gone off. I expected that soon every warning light on the dashboard would be glowing. I pointed out the generator light to Sergei, and to humor me he said that we would stop and have the generator looked at in Cherepovets.
The towers were everywhere, many stories high, sometimes clustering right up next to one another like groves of trees all striving for the daylight. Of daylight itself there was almost none; a tarpaulin of gray clouds overlay the entire scene. Somewhere Sergei spotted a garage in a roadside expanse of mud and gravel and pulled up in front of the garage-bay door. Just at that moment, the garageman came out, yanked a rope, and pulled the bay door down. He informed Sergei that the garage was now closed for the day.
Then the garageman hurried to his car and sped away into the power-line forest. Sergei returned to the van, reseated himself behind the steering wheel, and turned the key.
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From the engine came no noise of any kind. With this particular non-starting of the van we entered an odd zone—a sort of horse latitudes of confusion and delay caused by the mysterious problems of our vehicle. At low moments, I thought I might bounce around in this zone and stay in western Russia forever. The episode comes back to me in flashes:. Here are Sergei and Volodya and me pushing the van away from the garage-bay door, and then heaving and straining from behind to build up enough speed in order to start the engine by popping the clutch.
Night has fallen. We are in a parking lot behind some buildings with our weakly idling van. Vyacheslav arrives. He is like a provincial nobleman from a nineteenth-century novel. He is tall and straight, with Tatar eyes, a round head, and Lenin-pattern baldness. He wears a well-tailored shirt of white, finely woven cotton, freshly pressed slacks, and polished brown loafers with silver buttons. His confident and peremptory manner shows not a particle of doubt.
In the silvery aura of the headlights of his shiny new Volvo sedan, he says he knows an excellent mechanic who will repair the van tomorrow. For now, we will stay at his dacha, twenty-eight kilometres out of town. We will leave the van here in this parking lot overnight. Someone must stay with it to watch our things.
This job falls to Volodya. He accepts it with a shrug. On the other side of the driveway, but inside the wall, is a smaller dacha that Vyacheslav has told me is the dacha of his security staff. Here we are rocketing back to Vologda in the early morning. The faithful Volodya, when we find him, is walking up and down unhappily in the parking lot. He looks a bit worn from his night in the van. Now, Vyacheslav tells us, we will go to a tennis exhibition put on by his son, a rising tennis star. Meanwhile, Volodya will stay and deal with the mechanic and the van.
As we go through it, Vyacheslav tells me that he was trained originally as an engineer in metallurgy, but after meeting the founder of the first Russian bottled-water company, he got the idea of starting such a business himself. With friends, he formed a company, hired a team of geologists to search for springs, found the water of one particular spring to be good-tasting and extremely healthful, and began to bottle it.
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Here I am taking a walking tour of the city of Vologda with Stanislaus, an executive of the Start-Plus company. The van, which we hoped would be done by now, has apparently presented some new difficulties. Stanislaus is in his seventies, with thinning blond hair combed back, faded blue eyes, and an easygoing style. He seems to have done this kind of duty before. It looks painful—as if the powerful Bolshevik had simply stood on a pedestal and been bronzed alive.
Travels in Siberia—I
A woman selling vegetables in Bilibino, a town above the Arctic Circle, in the district of Chukotka, the part of farthest Siberia just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Sergei and Volodya have just arrived. The van is out of the shop and supposedly ready to go. A conference of the executives of the Start-Plus company has been assembled to determine what we travellers should do now. Oh, but that is an overly hasty idea, I am told. The afternoon is almost gone. Sergei and Volodya both strongly favor this idea.
What can I do but agree? At about midnight, Vyacheslav brings down his semi-automatic rifle and begins to tell us his adventures hunting bears. Here we are saying goodbye to Vyacheslav and his wife on the steps of his dacha the next morning. Sergei walks over to the van. Against expectation, it starts. I am glad it has finally been repaired. As we continued our journey, and new problems arose, I sometimes raged inwardly at Sergei for attempting to cross the continent in such a lemon.
In time, though, I quit worrying. I noticed that, whatever glitch there might be, Sergei and Volodya did always manage to get the thing running again somehow. When the ignition balked, Sergei found a method of helping it along by opening the hood and leaning in with a big screwdriver from our gear. Soon his pokings would produce a large, sparking pop, the engine would start, and Sergei would extricate himself from the machinery, eyebrows a bit singed. Once after Volodya had accomplished a similar maneuver, I asked if he could explain to me just what was the matter with this car. He thought for a while and then said that what was wrong with the car could not be said in words.
I recalled the lines by Tyutchev:. For days we motored eastward toward the Urals. Though the road went on and on, it never settled down and became what I would consider a standard long-distance highway. You never knew what it would do next. Sometimes it was no-frills two-lane blacktop for hours. Many stops to ask directions would be required before we could pick up its thread again. On long, desolate sections with no villages nearby, people sat along the road selling things, or not.
Day after day, men and women waited beside cardboard boxes filled with newspaper cones of mushrooms, gooseberries, strawberries, fiddlehead ferns, and cedar nuts. They reminded me of fallen women from an old novel; I had never seen prostitutes acting ashamed before. Der Tag. The Pot and the Necklace. Linda Omonike Osiyemi. Beer, Wine and Spirits. Monroe Fitzgerald. Wine and the Wine Trade. Brandon Head. Robinson Crusoe [Christmas Summary Classics]. Daniel Defoe. I Never Had a Virgin. Ye Su Zhen. The Flower - Princess. Nursulu Shaimerdenova.
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