Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 5 - July 1, 2011





Begin: Novosibirsk
Drive to: Novokuznetsk

This morning, Dan and I are waiting for Alexey Streltsov to show up.  Father Alexey is the rector of the seminary.  He studied at Fort Wayne (our time overlapped though I had never met him) and he has just defended his S.T.M. thesis from Fort Wayne a few weeks ago.  The plan is for him to come around 1:00 pm, and the bishop is supposed to arrive about 11:00 am.

I don't think it would be inaccurate to refer to Father Alexey as a prodigy.  He became the seminary's rector as a 23-year old layman.  He spent four years as a deacon in charge of the seminary, after which he was ordained to the priesthood.  He is not yet 40 years old.  He is fluent in English, and is a gifted theologian (obviously) who sees himself first and foremost as a pastor.  There is not a hint of arrogance or pomposity in Alexey, and I count it a great joy and privilege to have become friends with him.  He is sharp, inquisitive, and has a great sense of humor.  He served a good bit of the trip as our translator.

When the bishop arrives, we learn that he has brought some locally-made ice cream.  I film a 22-second impromptu interview with him on this topic (see above).

He has also thoughtfully purchased a cellphone modem for Dan and I to use with our computers so that we can access the Internet even without wifi.  Father Alexey is running late, so the bishop invites us to accompany him to the local shopping center.  According to Dan, this is a fairly new experience, as until recently, the stores were still run "Soviet-style."  This meant that to buy anything you had to engage a clerk who got your merchandise off the shelves for you one thing at a time, and you had to keep a tally of your purchases - very inefficient and labor-intensive.

The bishop needs to buy a keyboard stand for the church in Novokuznetsk.  Dan is also picking out gifts for some of the local pastors and their wives whom he has known for several years.

We return to the seminary and pack up.  We are going to drive to Novokuznetsk followed by a train trip to Abakhan in the mountainous republic of Khakassia.

Alexey has arrived and is accompanied by Andrei Lipinski.  Father Andrei is a seminary professor at Novosibirsk in addition to being a full time professional chorister.  He practices five days a week, four hours a day.  I don't get to speak with him very much at all as he doesn't speak English.  However, I hear a lot of very good things about him.  He is highly respected and regarded as a scholar and churchman.  Father Andrei will be our driver today.

We drove down the highway through Novosibirsk, and the road greatly resembles a U.S. highway - only with more potholes.  Father Andrei is an aggressive driver, but competent.  His car is a Japanese import with the wheel on the right - another Toyota - which are very popular here.  Andrei quickly veers away from potholes and weaves around traffic as necessary.  As the driver's wheel is on the right, it is hard for Andrei to see the oncoming traffic - which makes it a little hair-raising when he is preparing to pass.  Father Alexey is apparently supposed to be looking out from the passenger side (which is the driver's side to us), but has become embroiled in his Nikon manual.  Sometimes, it's best just not to look.

But it all works out just fine.

After a couple hours, we stop at a popular roadside area with a lot of shashlik (шашлык) stands.  Shashlik is basically shish kabob.  The stands serve pretty much the same things, though with individual twists and variations - meat on a stick or rolled in flat-bread with sauce and spices.  The smell is out of this world!  The restaurants are like small mobile homes lined up on opposite sides of the dusty gravel road.  A stray dog wanders around on the street as Russian music is blaring from someone's speakers.  People try to entice customers to come to their stands.

I snap some pictures and video as discreetly as possible.  Dan warned me that Russians are not fond of being photographed, though younger people - free of bad memories of Communism and armed with cellphones - don't think anything of it.

We enter and order tea - which is not served in paper cups but actual ceramic mugs of various sorts.  Andrei and Alexey go next door to order food for us.  They come back with huge meat sandwiches wrapped in flat-bread, smothered with barbecue sauce and onions.  We savor the food!  This is the Russian equivalent of the food stop at the interstate exit.  I suspect most Americans would be appalled at the dusty conditions with food out in the open and would be reaching for hand sanitizer.  But the truth of the matter is that this is a fresher and much higher quality food than you will get at an American fast-food joint.  This is not industrial in the least.  Just thinking about the smell and taste is making my stomach rumble yet again!

Afterwards, we look for a restroom.  We drive a ways only to find the toilets inoperable due to an accident-caused water problem.  We went further down the road to a gas station.  The restroom door had a sign indicating that the facilities are out of order.  The picture of Dan in front of the sign is nothing less than iconic.  Okay, it's not iconic, but it is a funny picture.  One learns to be patient.



Back on the road, I fall asleep.  But before too long, we arrive in Novokuznetsk, greeted by an archetypal Sovet-era colossal concrete sign spelling out the letters "Новокузнецк."  Father Andrei stops the car as Father Alexey grabs his intimidating-looking Nikon D30 for pictures in front of the sign.  Alexey explains to us with a delightful sense of sarcasm and appreciation for the ridiculous that the City of Novokuznetsk was awarded medals - as individuals usually are.  This was apparently done in Soviet times.  The city was originally called Kuznetsk (which means "smith" as in metal worker), then became Stalinsk, and then later, after the end of the Stalin era, was re-dubbed Novokuznetsk (New Kuznetsk).


We arrive at the Hotel Novokuznetskaya, an old (but nice) Soviet-style building with a slightly gaudy light sculpture out front.  We present our passports.  The two elderly women working the counter shoot glances at Dan and me.  They seem agitated.  Alexey explains to me that they are not quite sure what to do about the Roman numeral "II" at the end of my name.  But they enjoy the fact that my name is "Beane" like "Mr. Bean" - and so we all have a good laugh.  Finally, our papers are in order and we head upstairs.  Father Alexey explains that it is a good thing that we registered our visas at the other hotel, as we might not have gotten into this hotel otherwise.

We head up to the fifth floor, where Dan and I share a room, and Andrei and Alexey share another one.  Our room is nice, but tiny.  It is about 12 x 12 with two twin beds and an old-style cathode ray TV.  Below the TV set are two elegant teacups and saucers.  The view of downtown is spectacular.  There is also a very small bathroom.  Father Alexey brings us a mosquito repellent to plug into the wall, and we opt to leave our windows open.  It is a hot, stuffy night.  There is no air conditioner.

We decide to eat at a chain restaurant that serves Russian food: the Fork and Spoon (Вилкa-ложкa) - served a la carte: soup, salad, meat dish, and dessert.  I forgo the salad and have only soup and a meat dish and a glass of juice.

We head back to the hotel to get on the Internet and wind down for the night.

Here are all of my pictures from Day Five.


1 comment:

Dave Lambert said...

Enjoying reading about your adventure. Hopefully we'll be returning to Russia as tourists within the next year.