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Metallurgist Day (День Металлурга)

23 Jul

If I could craft the ideal scene in our film it would involve everybody who we have filmed throughout our time here, all cooking and enjoying a meal. It would be the scene in which everybody and everything comes together. Where they just all sit back and enjoy one anothers company and for those few hours, everything is perfect. Realistically, this could never happen. These handfuls of people live in different parts of the country, few knowing one another, and it would just never happen. If there was a moment, though, where it got close, it was Metallurgy Day in Krasnouralsk.

Crowd members cheering for the musicians on the park stage the night before Metallurgy Day.

 

 

Coming in on an afternoon bus and meeting our lovely translator of the weekend, Svetlana, we began to walk to find some food. As we walked through the seemingly new streets of Krasnouralsk, we noticed not only the new fountain (turned on just days before the big holiday) and the newly painted curbs, but also live music coming from a park. In between two buildings there was a small performance. Walking up, we noticed that it was a band we had filmed our previous time in Kranouralsk). As we stood back up to watch, Vasiliy came up to greet us and the band noticed, then called us towards the humble park stage to announce the arrival of their American friends. From there, looking to the crowd, we saw handfuls of familiar faces singing and dancing along to the local music. It was about as close to my ideal scene as I could ever hope for, and Metallurgy Day hadn’t even begun.

 


We began the holiday early the next morning with Vasiliy taking us mushroom hunting: A Russian goal realized as we tromped through the forest looking for the most delicious, non-poisonous mushrooms we could find. To my surprise, it is a lot more hardcore than I had imagined. You need a knife, an extreme amount of bug spray and protective clothing to fend off mosquitoes. Needless to say, this is a new favorite pastime of mine although I’ve yet to do it since.  I could easily write a whole blog post on just this event, but I feel like that would just be too much excitement, as [ending spoiler!] there are fireworks eventually involved.  So to try to not get you too worked up with excitement, I’ll just post a few pictures and let you imagine how great this was.

 

Tree and Vasiliy picking out the best, non-poisonous mushrooms.

 

Our hardcore National Geographic pictures of us with cameras and knives in the forest. So we were only hunting mushrooms, but it was still a hunt and we still got to carry knives.

Upon our arrival back to Krasnouralsk, the Metallurgy celebrations had truly began.  Brief history lesson: Metallurgy Day started as a Soviet celebration of the metal and rock industry that supports the entire Ural region.  It is a celebration of the work they do, and the biggest holiday of the year.  This year was extra special, as it was simultaneously the 80th anniversary of Krasnouralsk being a town.  Howevver, we are under the impression that every year is this big.

The beginning of the parade, bands and marchers going through the newly painted and washed center of Krasnouralsk. Photo by Tree Gore.

The events kicked off with a parade. Between the bands and people marching in the parade, every person in this town of 30,000 was either involved or spectating. Or the city imported people to participate as the streets were full of people. The parade ended at the stadium, along the way passing the rows of shashleek, cotton candy, and carnival games. The evening progressed into concerts of local bands, pop singers from Moscow, dancers, and ended with, nothing less spectacular fireworks and a laser show. It was the biggest celebration I had ever witnessed and a new favorite. Perhaps it is my new favorite because of how fantastic it was, but I am pretty sure it is more because of the sense of community you could just feel as everybody greeted on another with “Happy Holiday”, “С Праздником.”

 

 

A little girl, dressed up and with a wig to celebrate the holiday.

 

A boy selling balloons among smoke from grills and people waiting in line for carnival games, enjoying one another in the meantime.

 

A handful of old and new friends at the stadium waiting for the evening performances to start.

 

Tree, deciding that it would be great to see how many people we could get to dance with us in front of the camera. This may have lasted a couple of hours.

 

And, of course, it is not a celebration without fireworks.

 

Unfortunatly, we will not be visiting Krasnouralsk anymore on this journey. It has been one of our favorites, with us never grudging to visit it once more. As our project begins to see its end within the next month, we feel like we’re only beginning to see the real Russia. With each person we meet, we begin to realize that we are not having typical Russian tourist experiences, or even adventures many who have lived here their whole lives get to have. Yet we feel too like we are just starting to understand life here, of course as we are forced to plan our departure in the next few weeks. Looks like if we want to understand even more, we’ll just have to move here one day.

Part 2: A Red Ural City – Krasnouralsk [Красноуральск]

30 Jun

Krasnouralsk Copper Smelter

Viewing any subject from an outside perspective is as delicate and complex as it is sometimes essential. When working to solve a problem in school, complete a home maintenance project, throw a party, or design new technology, a distanced voice can bring in a completely unexpected line of thinking. Little more than a word or action at the right time can trigger a dormant thought in someone who has been conceptualizing for hours, days, or even years. I think everyone has experienced this is some facet.

However, applied to sensitive personal topics, defensive tendencies quickly become a factor as well. Think of a time when a parent, teacher, or friend presented an idea, possibly advice, that was contrary to what you wanted or thought. Suddenly the process is painful, awkward, and sometimes ignored. Further, this entire process can take place without any conscious effort or awareness.

Really, all it takes is a question. What is life like here? Those above are trite examples, but coming in to someone’s town and asking details about life must be approached delicately.

 

Krasnouralsk

Anya’s grandmother lives in Krasnouralsk [pronounced Krasnah- uralsk], a town much more a true monogorod than Pervouralsk. It is far away from everything, and the only industry there is copper. Daria, Anya, Christine, and I set off in the morning for what was to be the most interesting day thus far. With the town about 3 hours away from Yekaterinburg, we were given a ride by a friendly man of few words, Iligiz, whom we named our “Silent Driver.”

 

Ilgiz, the "Silent Driver"

A quick tangent about this. I am constantly reminded by both walking and vehicle experiences alike, that being a driver in Russia is somewhat of an elite class. The roads are bad, the cars often broken, the rules are vague and ignored, and the pace is always fast. Driving is certainly not the cushioned armchair experience that most endure much like a coma back in the states. There are axle-breaking potholes, pedestrians, and other cars to be avoided at all times and a sidewalk or playground is a legitimate route. Don’t slow down, just go. Here, driving is a uniquely honed skill and is what drivers do despite other jobs. They drive. Anyways, thanks Ilgiz for probably being the safest driver I’ve ridden with!

 

Ok, so back on track.

 

We entered Krasnouralsk, a city of 28,000 inhabitants, in late morning fog and light rain. Our anticipation only increased with every car-sized puddle in the middle of our road, rustic wooden house peeking out from a garden, leathered old man on a classic bicycle, and every obviously Soviet-concrete building that we passed.

Krasnouralsk, just outside of downtown. Photo by Christine Armbruster

Krasnouralsk's School No. 6

At School No. 6, we had an arranged tour of the local town museum and an interview with one of its curators. It was not an easy arrangement. People in these smaller cities, especially those from older generations, are suspicious and afraid to talk to us. Why are Americans coming? Who are they? What do they want? What connections do they have with the government? I want to be identity-neutral because of it.

 

It makes sense though, I guess. Change happens more slowly in small towns and these are people who were raised in the very real fear and suspicion of the Cold War. Outside the boundaries of the progressive, modern city we are not hip foreign friends. We are the shadow of a once powerful terror whose memory still lurks in the darkness of these small, quieter places. The wake of the past, indeed. And yet we come with the allure of intrigue…

Krasnouralsk - Working in the museum. Photo by Christine Armbruster

 

Krasnouralsk - One of many models in the Museum

The museum was small and overcrowded with bits of history which, to me, made it more interesting and genuine. They were proud of so many born in Krasnouralsk that had grown into greatness. There were soldiers who received prestigious medals, many for valiant death in combat, and even a cosmonaut. The only irony I could find is that it seemed none of the honored faces now hanging on their walls had stayed in their town. Some had come back to visit, but fame came from beyond their quiet city limits.

 

 

 

 

Mrs Irina Ivanovna. Photo by Christine Armbruster

Mrs. Irina Ivanovna, a curator and teacher, reminded me of many personalities whom I’ve met in her position around the world. She was the soft yet sure, optimistic type who was certainly meant to tirelessly guide children into their bright and even not so bright futures. From her vantage point, life there was simple. Enough jobs were available for those who wanted them and qualified. Everyone else left. She kept a large garden with cucumbers, tomatoes, and even a watermelon, though admittedly small, to help save money and because she loved working with the soil. I admire her, and her work. The world needs more quality teachers. And yet I felt that so much about the town was left unsaid. Sometimes leaving to find a job is not so simple. And sometimes having a job doesn’t make staying easy.

 

Krasnouralsk, students of School No. 6

Leaving to school, we met some of those guided youth of the school. We were quite the spectacle to them. I doubt many foreigners, let alone Americans have ever visited this town or this school. It was not too long after leaving the school that we started getting phone calls. All of our passport and travel information, along with the recordings we just made were wanted. There was talk of us coming to the town illegally and breaking in to the school without permission. I guess an official invitation and a security escort in doesn’t count as permission. Anyways, we said no and the phone calls stopped. Strange.

 

 

 

Anya and her Grandmother, Valentina

 

Mrs. Valentina's cooking is 'The Best!"

Anya’s Grandmother, Valentina, then welcomed us into her home. It was an adorable apartment and she fed us wonderful food, including the best homemade blini I will probably ever taste. We were, in fact, the first foreigners she had ever met. That in itself is a wild concept for me to understand. However, she has always lived far from any sort of tourism in a country that was more or less closed for the better part of a century. When informed of what we had been told about Krasnouralsk in the school museum, she scoffed. Though too shy to allow us an interview, she told us of real problems with , unemployment, crime, and pollution. ‘The tap water is yellow today. I don’t know why’ and ‘The leaves on plants here turn yellow almost as soon as they appear. It is like autumn in the beginning of summer, only it is caused by pollution.’

Pollution poisoned leaves - early June

From Mrs. Valentina’s apartment, we went walking. By this time the sun was out and a beautiful day for a stroll had settled in. She took us to the main city square, and down the main street to where the copper mine and smelter facilities were situated. Copper is the only real job source in Krasnouralsk, and the reason for its name which means Red Ural Town. Other than the mine and smelter, there is a pizza shop, a grocery store, some school, and a bit of administration. I would suspect that somewhere there is also and auto mechanic and a few other service related businesses, though I never saw them.

 

Vasiliy

While standing in front of this mighty central source of this city’s life, a shift at the plant let out. That is how we met Vasiliy, a young intelligent man who works as an electrician. Anya and I had started trying to strike up conversations with workers on their way home, and he was one of the few willing to talk with us. Later, he even arranged for us to meet him and his friends at a cafe for further discussion.

 

It is an interesting art to discuss life on honest terms. Not to idealize and not to overly criticize. We lead a discussion with Vasiliy, Kirill, Katya, Aleksei, and Tanya for 90 minutes, and learned more about the basic advantages and problems with life in Krasnouralsk, similar towns, and Russia in general than we could have in days of discussion with others.

Vasiliy, Tree, Tanya, Katya, Kirill, Aleksei, Christine and Anya in the mirror

First let me say that these people love their city. It is familiar, comfortable, and quieter than big cities. Vasiliy will soon be moving his fiance her son to Krasnouralsk, and is excited for this. Many of the problems were expected. In a town with only one industry, jobs will be limited. One issue that I had never heard of, and is not limited to small towns, is that of Black and White envelope salary.

 

White Envelope salary is standard, documented pay workers pay taxes on. However, because many businesses is Russia are unregistered and illegal, or only partially registered, many workers have problems with receiving all or a large portion of their salary in an illegal, undocumented form. Black Envelope. This can be good because people with lower salaries can avoid paying higher taxes to the government and therefore keep more of their earnings. This is also quite bad because it throws any sort of minimum wage or salary standard out of the window. Further, it means that paychecks are far from being assured, and no government complaint can be filed for Black Envelope wages not paid.

 

With the cost of living being far higher than the typical White Envelope wage of a Krasnouralsk worker, the Black portion is completely critical to making rent and eating and doesn’t leave room for petitioning for change.

 

Another long term issue with Black Envelope pay is that because it is illegitimate it certainly does not count towards any sort of pension fund for retirement. As salaries are not high enough to allow for any substantial savings, this is quite a big issue. One must work until unable to work. Dreams of enough capital to start business are even further from reach.

 

Krasnouralsk has more to tell, I am sure of it. And so we will soon return to spend more time with our new friends. Christine will write on Polevskoy, a larger city we recently visited. As for right now, we are currently on board a train to a region north of Perm, near Kizyel. There is quite a bit of doubt about what, when, and how much we will be able to film or photograph, but it should make for some interesting stories at very least.