Russian about 4
21 September 2019
Russia is a far more religious country than most people imagine. There are publicly supported churches and cathedrals throughout the countryside. Russian Orthodox is dominant and is probably the world’s most ornate religion in terms of gold carving, icons and frescos, just edging out Greek Orthodox. It also appears that Russian Orthodox wins the dressing up category with the best clergy crowns (some topped with antenna-like crosses) and glittering, richly coloured robes. Catholicism wins easily on statues and stained-glass windows; there are none in Russian Orthodox, nor is there any organ music; singing is all a cappella. Apart from some C of E’s passable brassware and a bit of fancy get-up, the Protestant divisions don’t rank well in terms of grandeur. My Methodist boyhood never got past timber pulpits and black cotton dustcoats for ministers.
Russian Orthodox has some other interesting practices, too. In most places there are two churches for the locals, one summer and one winter. The summer one is bigger to provide ventilation, while the smaller winter one enables the faithful to huddle together to survive the devastating cold during a service – in which they obliged to stand. Pew building is therefore not a popular craft.
After three days of holy places we were feeling a bit frescoed out, but a surprise awaited us as we walked in the gardens in Yaroslavl heading towards the Cathedral of the Assumption – a huge and beautiful building, only nine years old, and paid for by the local developer equivalent of Harry Triguboff. A young man approached us on a scooter and told us he was a member of a male quartet who would sing for us, no charge, in rooms beneath the cathedral. Half an hour later we were seated in a small white theatre when four ordinary looking blokes in jeans sauntered in from behind a partition. The tallest one said they would begin with the Russian Orthodox version of the Lord’s Prayer. From their first note I was transfixed. I had never heard more uplifting singing – almost to the point of tears. Then they sang a folk song about the Volga River, which flowed passed the cathedral. That had the same effect. They asked for nothing more than we should buy their CD if we liked their singing. I couldn’t get my money out quickly enough.
Since we are on a guided tour, our meals were most covered in the package. That didn’t apply in Moscow where we ate a magnificent first night dinner in a Georgian style restaurant we stumbled upon near our hotel. But on the road, we stopped at quaint little prearranged country eating houses that served simply awful food. After two dinners and lunches that tasted like recycled newspaper we went into revolt. We changed to ordering a la carte and deducting the ‘allowed’ cost of the swill. Eating Russian food suddenly became a pleasure. Note all ye who may follow in our path. Be seduced not by quaintness, frilly curtains and artfully placed knickknacks. Restaurants don’t care about tourists on set menus.
One of our stops was at a reconstructed village showing how the peasants lived in the 18th Century. The houses were all authentic, having been transported from other parts of Russia. The whole village was made of wood, including the churches. Living conditions were both difficult and formalised. A typical couple would marry in their teens, a wooden house would be built for them and they would set about begetting their first child almost immediately. After that, the sleeping arrangements became so un-private that I don’t how how they went on begetting. And with winter temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees, if you went outside for a pee in the night you stood a good change of not coming back except as a large ice block.
We’ve got many more frescos to see, methinks, as I look at our itinerary. Most of them depict events from the old and new testaments, with various historically important figures standing around looking vacantly pious. My favourite, however, is this action fresco: Adam and Eve being evicted from the Garden of Eden for being behind in the rent. Although the caption is in Russian, I understand the angel property manager is telling them to bugger off.
Hotel toaster review
I was disappointed in the offering at the Radisson Hotel in Yaroslavl. The toaster cowered ashamedly among bread baskets and butter buds. I identified it as a young male Fourslicvenov. It ranks very low on Derek Breadchambers’s list of heroic hotel toasters. Enough said.