Journey of the Czars
a diary along the blue highways of the Russia rivers

Tuesday, June 15:

Had a nice massage last night and went to bed early with a Power Bar instead of eel and pork. I think I'm finally catching up and the back is beginning to loosen itself up. The massage was hot with friction. I may do it again in a couple of days -- at $25 a shot, the price is right!

First landing, today, was Kostroma, down the Volga. This is the Romanov's town -- 270,000 people in the city, about three time that in the province surrounding it. It certainly doesn't feel that dense. The hand hewn log churches and houses demonstrate the skills of the local woodcrafters.

Kostroma - Museum of Wooden Architecture

Kostroma - Ipatievsky Monestary icons and frescoes

We were entertained here by native folk singers at one of the churches. Much more folksy than the quartet of Uglich: this group had balalaikas, tambourines, and bright red hand sewn country garb. Beautiful.

The fruit and vegetable market was well-stocked with fresh produce that we understand will grace our own tables tomorrow morning. Our city guide said that much of the food comes from Moscow rather than this local countryside.

Today's morning lecture from Dr. Irina was a brief introduction to amber and the oil paintings displayed on the ship. Amber is a lot like jade -- no one color is guaranteed to be more valuable than another shade because it depends on the wearer. The insect-imbedded amber is the oldest and the rarest.

As an aside, our guide suggested that the street beggars were "professionals", not necessarily to be believed as to their poverty. She discouraged us from helping them -- and mentioned how sad it was that some Russians were teaching their children how to beg rather than work for their living. (Not unlike the situation in areas of L.A.)

Kostroma was laid out in its later restorations, in a fan-like shape extending from the river port -- allegedly at the direction of Catherine the Great who tossed her fan down and so ordered the city plan to be built. [Note: after reading Vincent Cronin's 1978 book Catherine - Empires of All the Russias, I have concluded that most of the frivolous allegations about Catherine the Great were not true. Separately, I hope to be able to list a few of her most impressive accomplishments.The Russians would do well to model their present and future on her life rather than Peter the Great.]

During the day yesterday, we talked at length with Olga - head of the Intrav translators. We learned a lot about the Ukraine -- her native region -- which was among the early republics to attain independence. Ukraine is the breadbasket, providing all forms of vegetables and fruits (non-citrus) as well as grains. It was interesting to hear her describe how the farmers' motivations were eliminated under Stalin and Communism. Even during her years at the university in the late 1988-91 period, she had little confidence that a future existed for her. The interesting aspect is to hear such honesty on the part of the average people. The irony is hearing how Russians do not hold Gorbachov in high esteem because, like so many before him, he promised more than he was able to delivery in the face of a one-third Communist bloc halting most progressive legislation.

Tuesday's second landing was Yaraslavl -- a town of 650,000 with a tremendous number of educational institutions, some poly-technical, but also language and cultural/artistic. The churches and monastery were familiar, located on two different huge squares of the city. A couple of modern buildings provided a change -- most interesting was the Puppet Theatre and Museum, built in 1983. Tim Henson would have been quite at home.

Yaraslavl - The Puppet Museum

A cute encounter caught my eye, involving the Escapites and a 10-year old girl with her 8-year old brother. Dave Escapite was outside the Puppet Museum practicing his Russian by reading the words on the bright orange hand-out they gave us in the on-board class. The little girl and boy had tried to beg for rubles/coins. Dave and the girl began exchanging English and Russian while Carol Escapite watched. Apparently the little girl's English was quite good. Dave kept pointing to words on the sheet, testing his pronunciation, and the girl would correct him. After awhile, Dave gave her some money and said he was paying her for her teaching him a Russian lesson, that that was better work than simply begging. She smiled and seemed to be thinking about it.

Tuesday, we saw the film Russia - the Missing Years - The Fall of the Tsars (Eastern Light Productions) It used actual film footage from Tsar Nicholas Romanov's court documentarian -- Nicholas must have been quite the technophile. The film showed the 300the celebration of the Russian monarchy, leadership "photo ops" of Nicholas leading the troops in World War I covering roughtly 1913 to the royal family's abdication in 1917. So much of this story is similar to that of the Shah in Iran -- at first, a reluctant pretender, then at Kostroma, Nicholas was persuaded by the public to accept his role, then the transition to pomp and the assumption that he ruled as the on-earth recipient of God's word. Then the sycophants encircle and isolate him (not to mention the influence of Rasputin on his wife) so much so that a whole unit of his military is dedicated to the task of typing up laudatory letters from his "public" while the real peasantry seethes with anger and suffering. But then the irony is that the Russians then collectively curse the English monarchy for not giving Nicholas safe haven when their own people wouldn't give him the real time of day.

Another interesting insight came from today's Russian language lesson. The word "ad" was translated as "hell", but the teacher defined "hell" as "chaos" rather than that place where individuals burn forever for their failure to take responsibility for their actions. Later, when I asked Dr. Irina about that apparent "fear of disorder" as the ultimate undesirable state, she stated her belief that that was not innately Russian.

Wednesday is a day all along the river. Right now, we're passing by a newly-built/refreshed community along the shore. It looks newly constructed. The colors are bright orange, yellow and green as if to brighten up the long winter skies. The barns remind me of Minnesota silos. Life on the river seems good.

Along the river - toward Kizhi Island