|< previous | next >Letters Home: Naj Wikoff in Ulan Ude, RussiaContents | NCPR Home|
10:00 A.M. Wednesday
"How do you plan to spend the holiday?" said Vladimirovna Ochirova, director of the History Museum of Buryatia.
"What holiday?" I said.
"Holiday of Friendship of Russians Coming Together," she said.
"When's that?" I said.
"It starts tomorrow at four P.M. and continues through the weekend."
"Really? What's it about?"
"It replaces the holiday in celebration of the October Revolution. For many years we had no holiday. This will be the first year. In 1612 the peasant Susonin led the Polish invaders out of Moscow into the wilderness, meaning the swamps, where they drowned. He drowned as well and became a national hero. The holiday celebrates Russians helping each other."
"You know, I attended the last official celebration of the October Revolution in Moscow in 1989. I was driving around the streets at night in a car filled with artists; a mime, painter, musician and a few others. The streets were filled with tanks, rocket launchers and troop carriers all heading for Red Square. Everywhere we turned these sleek expensive looking machines that appeared to have been designed in Milan blocked the main roads. At first I thought someone had hit the button and a revolution or missile strike was on."
A couple hours later.
"Olga, I understand we have a three day holiday starting tomorrow."
"Yes? It is Holiday of Friendship."
"I just learned about it from the director of the History Museum of Buryatia."
"Just now? But the signs have been up for weeks at the Academy."
"But I can't read Russian so I had no idea."
"Just so. I understand. Well you have a holiday."
"How do Russians celebrate the holiday?"
"We do not know. We celebrate it for the first time."
"Maybe it will become like our Thanksgiving when friends and family come together and have a meal together."
"Maybe. But I think there will be some speeches, businesses will close and many people will not work. Some will leave the city for the country. Those who stay will go shopping. Be careful. It follows the holiday for drivers. Roads could be dangerous."
"Sounds like our Thanksgiving already, but with three extra weeks for Christmas shopping. This could become an international holiday."
"It could become very popular?"
"Certainly with business."
At 2:00 P.M. Thursday
"Yanzhima said we go to Lake Baikal this evening for Friendship Holiday."
"Today? Yanzhima said to come over at 7:30 A.M. on Friday.'
"Yanzhima and Nichioli already left. You and I now leave today. Maybe 4:30. Maybe 5:00 PM. Maybe 6:00. O.K.? I'll call you."
8:00 P.M. Saturday
"Nicholi. I think I hear shouting," I said. We were sitting in his living room with the remains of a large meal engulfing the table. His daughter Iana, son Bier, Bier's wife Dena, Yanzhima's niece and a friend's son had just left to visit their friends, while Yanzhima and a colleague were in the kitchen. A concert featuring former leading Russian singers and several aging international stars was playing in the background on television. Their newly washed white cat Alaska was sprawled asleep across his lap. Light snow was drifting out of the sky.
"It is speeches from Soviet Square."
"Are there people out there?"
"No. Too cold. -15 (.C) I think just recorded speeches."
9:30 P.M. Saturday
"Hello Naj," said Olga.
"How was your holiday?"
"We went to Baikal, but the weather got so nasty we came back last night. The waves were amazing. Huge rollers big enough to surf."
"But too cold for swimming."
"Actually we went to a hot springs and soaked ourselves while the waves pounded the shore. We didn't want to get out of the water."
Did you get branches for your students (rustic furniture class)?"
"Yes, we got quite a few and dropped them off at the Academy after we got back."
"How else did you spend the holiday?"
"In the morning I went shopping and did some drawings. In the late afternoon Yanzhima decided to have a big feast and invite friends and family over for posies. She also decided that she had had enough of vodka and wanted martinis instead."
"Martinis, very nice."
"Yes. She had a bottle of Martini & Rossi vermouth. I explained that martinis are made with gin and vermouth, not just vermouth, about five parts gin and one part vermouth."
"Did she have gin?"
"No, but she did have vodka, so I made them vodka martinis without the olives."
"Did they like them?"
"Yes, but they drank them the traditional Russian way of drinking vodka. They drank the entire glass at once."
"I think of it as Russian Martinis. You just make a toast and knock it back."
"Maybe a new drink for the new holiday."
"I'm afraid it could catch on. We did eventually go back to just vodka."
"Drinking vodka is a Russian tradition. Maybe it is good to combine old traditions with the new."
2005 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475