Thursday, April 25, 2013

Russia, Day 4

When planning this trip we made sure I would be able to go to this special market that happens only on Saturdays.  I forget what it is called now, but it was fantastic for so many reasons.  The main thing about it is its shear tackiness.  The entire market is designed like a cheap version of a Las Vegas, Russian-themed hotel.  Nearly all the stalls look somewhat like log cabins, and replicas of Orthodox churches, log palaces and massive buildings loom over you.  This is the market for tourist stuff in Russia, I assume.  You can buy pretty much anything you can think of that you would want for a Russian souvenir.  Thousands of Matryoshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls) in nearly every size imaginable, painted traditionally or with Putin, Obama, Winnie the Pooh, or some other modern icon; ushanka (Russian fur hats); Soviet memorabilia; entire military uniforms; birch bark art; amber.  There was so much there that I wanted to/could have stayed there all day. 
Shashleek stands at the market.
Matryoshkas for sale at the market.
I really wanted to get a nice matryoshka and an ushanka, but ended up getting neither.  Instead, Tom pointed out, in Suzdal, some cool Christmas tree ornaments that are painted like Orthodox churches.  We found a stall run by an older woman who sold a wide selection of them.  She had cathedrals complete with matching towers; all nine towers of St Basil's cathedral; and even individual little towers that could be bought separately.  She told us that she has them carved for her and then she paints them herself.  Normally I am disinclined to believe something like this, especially since we saw similar products elsewhere, but hers were so much nicer that the others, and she was so nice I wanted to believe her.  One of the coolest things to me was that each cathedral was painted and designed to represent an actual cathedral.  The one I bought is supposed to look like cathedral of Sergiev Posad.
I found a cool wooden toy of a bear on a piece of wood; when you swing the wood in a horizontal circle a ball, connected to the bear’s arm, makes the bear's arm move up and down into a jar of honey, making it look like he is eating.  I bought it for Jaxon.  I have a feeling that in a few years it will become a memento at the cabin, but oh well.
The cool cathedral ornaments for sale at the market.  I wish I could have bought the St Basil's set, but it was 2000 rubles.  I got the one with the blue domes, to the left of the St Basil's set.s
Tom bought these.
Our cool cathedral ornament seller.
After the market Tom took me to Teremok for lunch.  This is a Russian fast food place in a food court at a mall, but it was great to get real Russian food.  I had a cheese and mushroom blini, boiled buckwheat, kvas (a drink made from rye bread, but is tastier than it sounds) and a blini with sweeten, condensed milk for dessert.  It was great.  The only thing as the buckwheat, which is just boiled with salt and butter, it tasted fine, but smelled like (and go with me on this) our dog Shadow after a bath: that peculiar combination of wet dog and dog shampoo. 
Teremok fast food.
Tom enjoying lunch.  It was actually really good for fast food.  If we had it in England I would eat there.
After lunch we went to Christ the Saviour Cathedral.  This is a recreation built on top of the site of the original cathedral built in the early 19th century to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s army in 1812.  The original was destroyed by the Soviets in order to build The Palace of the People, but that was scrapped once Hitler invaded the USSR and resources were needed elsewhere.  After the fall of the USSR the site was given back to the church and construction was begun.  It was finally finished and opened in 2000.
Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

This is the largest Orthodox church in the world, and it does not let you down.  In 2012 the feminist group Pussy Riot performed a guerrilla protest in the cathedral.  They snuck instruments into the cathedral and ran up in front of the Iconostasis (the big screen at the front of the church covered in icons).  They sang, or attempted to sing, their song Punk Rock Prayer, before being arrested.  The song pointed to the twisted connection between the Orthodox Church, its Patriarch, and Putin’s government, calling the Virgin Mary a Feminist and asking her to get rid of Putin.  The singers were arrested and sent to jail for ridiculously long sentences considering all they really did was insult two people and disrupt tourists. 

Now, for some of my ramblings on churches.  The Russian Orthodox Church has many cathedrals.  Unlike western churches, where a cathedral is the seat of a bishop, in Orthodox Christianity a church can be designated a cathedral by either being the seat of a bishop or by being considered to be a very important church; this leads to the creation of numerous cathedrals.  The Moscow Kremlin alone has three cathedrals.

Orthodox churches are basically one room facing east, where a large wall full of icons separates the congregation from the priest or priests performing the service.  This wall is called an Iconostasis.  There are no chairs in these churches, and often they only have a few benches in the back for weaker parishioners.  Behind the Iconostasis is the main altar, and perhaps a chapel or other rooms, as in larger cathedrals.  Since the work at the altar is done away from the eyes of the congregation, you do not get the numerous capillary (chapel) side altars you get in western churches.  Instead, you get icons, in front of which a candle or lamp burns nearly continually.  It is here, in brass stands or bowls of sand, that people place their long, slender beeswax candles while praying to the saint or saints represented in the icon. 

I have a theory that although the rituals of the mass are hidden from the people, this set up creates a more personal experience with the saint than the chapel/altar set up in Western churches.  People come to the icon, cross themselves elaborately and bow, before approaching the icon and kissing it.  Many of these icons in the larger churches are purported to contain a relic of the saint.  This is a very personal connection, the same type of personal connection to the sacred that Protestants in Western Europe craved and eventually led to the Reformation.  As far as I can tell, the Orthodox Churches never experienced such a reformation; certainly not one as drastic as the West.  While at first the liturgy and spatial set up of the Orthodox churches seems to separate people from the divine, I think it actually creates a more personal experience by letting people approach the Icon, a symbol and direct link to the saint, kiss it and pray to it directly, and not through the intermediary of a priest. 

I also noticed that many churches are spaced very close together.  The monastery in Suzdal had two churches right next to each other.  The monastery we visited on my second day had, if I remember correctly, seven churches all within the same courtyard.  Actually, St Basil’s Cathedral consists of eight small churches surrounding a ninth, central church.  I think this may be connected to the absence of side chapels.  In the West if a rich person wanted to build a chapel to a specific saint they felt particularly devoted to, all they needed to do was find a church big enough to accommodate one and then pay for it; alternatively, they could build a free standing chapel, obviously at a higher cost.  Since the set up of the Orthodox churches does not allow for side chapels dedicated to various saints, if one wanted to do more than donate an Icon to the church or cathedral, they needed to build an entirely new and different building.  This, I think, may be why so many churches are found in close proximity to each other.      
Enough of that.  Sorry for getting all academic and nerdy on you (actually, I am not sorry, you learned something; you should thank me).
Tom and I on the bridge leading to the cathedral.  My beard if so huge!
We had some tea at a café across the river from the cathedral to recharge a bit.  Neither Tom nor I had been sleeping well; couple that with all the walking we were doing, and you can see how we would need a tea break. 

We were meeting some of Tom’s friends later and had some time to kill, so he took me to a bar called The Chinese Pilot.  It was a dark, basement bar that felt like it could have been in Portland.  There was no smoking ban in Russia at this time, one is coming in soon, but it was not in effect when I was there.  This means that you get doused in other peoples’ choice to smoke every time you go out to a bar or restaurant.  I mention this, because within a few minutes of being in this bar my clothes were permeated with the smell. 

We met Tom’s friends Honza, Phil, Phil’s girlfriend Sasha and Honza’s friend Deidre.  Between us we represented England, Scotland, Russia, Ireland, the Czech Republic and America.  I felt very international!  We wanted to go to a bar that Tom told me about where they serve beer in old Soviet era kettles.  Naturally, I really wanted to see this, but it was full.  We ended up in an Egyptian style basement bar.  I actually really enjoyed it.  We had our own little curtained off area, so we felt all alone.  We had a call button on the table to call the waiter when we wanted anything.
Hookah, vodka and pickles: it was a good night.
Honza took the lead in pouring the vodka.
We had some beer and smoked a hookah.  We ordered khachapuri, which is basically a piece of bread baked with cheese on top.  We also had another version with raw egg on top that eventually cooked as we cut into the fluffy loaf.  As the night went on we ordered a bottle of vodka and a plate of pickled cucumbers, green beans, green tomatoes and chilis.  I had a great time and heard a new embarrassing story about Tom’s inability to run up walls. 

We left that place and ended up in a Czech bar were I had my first litre of beer.  We had to leave soon after our second beers in order to get up in time for the next days business.
The second bar.  The glass of yellow stick things is chechil, the smoked cheese I had in Estonia.  The platter in the front of the glass is fried bread with garlic in one bowl and sour cream in the other.  
Tom couldn't handle the idea of so much beer.

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