Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 6 - July 2, 2011

Visit: Novokuznetsk

The sun fights its way through the thick gloomy gray clouds to press its way through the fifth story window of the Novokuznetskaya Hotel and manages to wake me up quite early. Although the quarters are tight, it is a nice place. The best part is the piping hot shower. There is no hot water right now in Novosibirsk, so Dan and I both comment about how nice the hot water is.

There is an amusing sign in the bathroom, posted in both Russian and (Google Translate-style) English that is apparently typical customer service in the former USSR. It ominously warns guests that using towels for any purpose other than their intended use would result in fines. It is signed by Administration.

We meet the other guys for breakfast at the snack bar on our floor. It seems to be the common formula to have a small restaurant on each floor of hotels. In Russian, it is called a буфет (buffet), but it isn’t actually a buffet at all. In the old Soviet way, the menu has four options: Option One, Option Two, Option Three, and Option Four – no substitutions. We order Option One, the basic breakfast of two eggs, over-easy, yogurt, tea (or instant coffee), and bread. The eggs, like a lot of the food here, is garnished with dill. It is a simple breakfast, but quite tasty.

We drive to the church in Novokuznetsk, which is actually an apartment purchased by the SLMS. The Rev. Dmetri Dotsenko serves there as pastor. The sanctuary is set up for our lectures.

First, Father Dmetri conducts a brief prayer service. Father Daniel gives a series of short lectures on Psalm 23 (which is actually Psalm 22 by the numbering of the Russian Bible – as they use the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament. Following Dan’s lecture, I give my presentation on the Augsburg Confession.

We break for lunch: a pasta salad, borscht, and a dish that is like a meatball surrounded by mashed potatoes. The people are very hospitable, and the ladies (most of whom in this parish cover their heads with scarves) keep giving us more food. We drink hot tea with cubes of sugar.

After lunch, Father Andrey and Father Alexey speak. Dan and I retire to a back room since we don’t understand Russian. He and I have excellent pastoral discussion. It is one of the side benefits of coming to Russia to get to know Dan both as a friend and as a brother in arms in the office of the holy ministry.

At the end of the lectures, about 4:00 pm or so, we greet everyone again. We head back to the hotel, and there is a huge festival going on in the neighborhood commemorating the anniversary of Novokuznetsk, bringing people out into the streets. Father Andrei goes to park the car, and comes back chuckling as the parking attendant is apparently very drunk. The streets are packed with people strolling, drinking, and listening to live music. We walk for a long time, talking, taking pictures, and people-watching.

We visit the monument to the USSR, a drab gray concrete monument shaped (ironically) like a crown. There is a display commemorating each of the republics of the now-defunct Union. The monument was apparently erected just a few years before the dissolution of the union. Alexey takes the opportunity to explain some of the ironies of Soviet history and the geographical complications resulting from this era that linger to this day.

For dinner, we decide to go to a mall food court, apparently a new thing for Siberia. We take a long walk to the mall, go upstairs, and wander around the food court. The mall is quite western, with a Subway, a Bowling Alley, and a movie theater showing Cars 2.  There is a difference of opinion about what to eat. So we decide to check out a competing mall’s food court. We walk some more, enter another mall, and make our way to the other food court. Again, opinions are divided. Lacking a consensus, we return to the first food court, traipsing all the way back. Again, someone vetoes the decision. Democracy is messy. I’m not sure how this procedure works, but it isn’t Robert’s Rules of Order. So, we head off to find another restaurant.

We settle on one that is a microbrewery/sports pub with an unpronounceable name (for me, anyway) just a half block from the hotel.

I order chicken wings and a blond beer. The wings are a little more authentic than the last ones I had. The restaurant is filled with TV screens. The ladies’ Wimbledon finals are in progress, and the Russian Maria Sharapova is playing. We Americans typically mispronounce her name – which is actually more like Sha-RA-po-va. She loses. Interestingly, the patrons are not paying that much attention.

Two scantily-clad women walk into the restaurant and come over to our table (of four priests not in clerical garb). They walk up to Dan and me and start talking. Since we don’t speak Russian, we are pleased to direct them to Father Alexey. After a very brief conversation, they leave abruptly. We laugh. We ask Alexey what he said to them. Father Alexey can be a master of understatement at times, and generally has an easygoing manner. He shrugged, smiled slightly, and said, “I told them we’re not interested.” He explained matter of factly that they were trying to get us to follow them to a bar that offers, in Father Alexey’s words, “erotic shows.”

We spent a good while hanging out in the restaurant, enjoying conversation and our food, and we walked back into the crowded street. It was finally starting to get dark. It seemed like everyone was standing around waiting – and Alexey speculated that the crowd was waiting for fireworks. At last, at the stroke of midnight, they began. It was a very good display.

There are a lot of drunk people in the streets, and others who were not tipsy just happy: people of all ages. Crowds squeeze chaotically onto the busses as longsuffering drivers wait patiently for their fares (in various stages of alcohol-consumption) to board.

We stroll across the street back to the hotel. Dan gets right to sleep, while I call Grace on SnapYap, copy pictures and videos to the computer, and upload a short video to facebook.

I wind down with a hot shower. I’m in bed at about 3:00 am as the partying goes on outside our open window.

Here are all of my pictures from Day Six.

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