& Company


Winter in the Urals, Our Last

text, Matthew-Daniel Stremba
photos, Barbara F. Cates

IS WINTER EVER WELCOME? Well, I must confess, whenever winter has come to an end in any northern hemisphere location, I've regretted the closing, for it's a season that's best for making soup and just staying home, cozy, slurping and reading. Here in Russia, two winters also fatten you up. So the Bride forced me out of doors several times and in the process we saluted our last Urals winter, she with a camera.

Mamura at the window, Ekaterinburg, Russia
"Well, where are those Russian sparrows?"

Mamura, the Cat keeps vigil on the window sill one cold frosty morning in 2003. The winter of 2003, more painful than this year's, iced our Yakaterinburg windows to degrees of opacity that bothered the Cat as much as did the chilly drafts. She'll miss such a perch in Baltimore.

Prud with Khram, Prokhod po l'du zapreschen, Ekaterinburg, Russia
This vast expanse of ice and snow covers the surface of the Prud, a wide and deep pond that once powered Yekaterinburg's factories.

The sign up front reads "Prokhod po l'du zapreshchyon" meaning: "Crossing the ice is forbidden." It looks like an official notice, but the foot traffic, the tents, private recreation --- it all goes on till the spring thaw. The golden domes in the background are the new Temple Over The Blood, dedicated to all the saints of Russia. It is built on the site where the Bolsheviks murdered the Tsar and his family.

Ice City labyrinth with ferris wheel, Ekaterinburg, Russia
The Bride is proud of this: a view from inside the ice-labyrinth.

The sun sets over Yekaterinburg's 2004 Ice Village (an annual event) and is momentarily eclipsed by the ferris wheel. Neither the ferris nor the city hall spire is made of ice.

Ice City from ferris wheel, Ekaterinburg, Russia
View from the ferris wheel looking northeast over
the Ice Village.

The arch marks the entrance to the Ice Village centerpiece: an exhibit of award-winning ice and snow sculptures. To the immediate left of arch, the ice labyrinth. To the immediate right, stairs to a modest ice-coated sliding board. Not pictured on this page is the super-high, super-sloped sliding board --- daring Russians come down it at a terrifying clip.

Ice City, slide, Ekaterinburg, Russia
From this side of the junior ice slide Lenin
is visible presiding over it all.

The city stages this annual event on 1905 Square, where once stood, in distant pre-revolutionary times, Yekaterinburg's main cathedral. On any weekend, nowadays, the communist faithful gather at the foot of Lenin's monument with red banners and a portable amplifier to exhort Yekaterinburg's masses to return from their apostasy.

Ice City labyrinth, Ekaterinburg, Russia
A stylized tree in ice across from city hall.

The recently re-elected mayor, who is sometimes the glava goroda and sometimes simply mer, as well as the city council, i.e. the gorodskaya duma, do their work in this block-long building.

Ice City, sculpture, Ekaterinburg, Russia
One of the winning ice sculptures.

There were almost 20 pieces submitted. The larger number were in ice, each sculpted by a team of artists, most from the region, some from other parts of Russia, even from Kazakhstan, and from France, too.

Ice City, See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil sculpture, Ekaterinburg, Russia
A winning snow sculpture, "Lovis', rybka, bol'shaya i malen'kaya," from Novosibirsk.

A team of three artists, Nurlan Tayirov, Kseniya Naboka, and Tat'yana Zharavleva, created this huge piece. I easily see in it the old "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-none," but what's that have to do with their title? The Russian words recall, I'm told, a folktale, in which a hungry wolf dips his tail through an ice hole on the lake and prays: "Please fish, any fish, large or small, won't you please come and be my catch." These snow grotesques don't suggest that kind of appetite.

Ice City tree sculptures, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Ice trees against background of buildings on north side of square.

To our surprise many of this winter's short days raised up several hours of sunshine and blue skies. And the children jumping up and sliding down and riding around the Ice Village seemed haloed in angelic innocence.

Ice City Matto with Ded Moroz (Santa), Ekaterinburg, Russia
Dyed Moroz has just spoken
through his beard: "Dvadtsat rubley!"

Dyed Moroz is the gent with the longer beard: the one in the red suit, a Russian Santa. What he was saying was a gruff: "Your wife wants to snap a picture of us? That'll cost you 20 rubles, buddy." His whole demeanor reminded us of the American film, which we've only heard about, yet to see: "Bad Santa." Dyed Moroz, normally accompanied by Snegurochka, a winter fairy, stood his post alone every weekend from New Year's Day till 15 February, the last day of the Ice Village.

Ice City, Cates with Gandalf sculpture, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Ice Village 2004 celebrated themes
from Tolkien, one of Barbara's beloved writers.

Each year they put this village together with a different leading theme. Last year's was the 300th anniversary of Saint Petersburg. This year Barbara got to stand next to a frozen block depicting Gandalf.

Log house, village along road between Ekaterinburg & Tyumen' Russia
House in a village between Tyumen' and Yekaterinburg.

A number of small villages stretch, for the most part, along the main road, fields rolling endlessly away from backyards on both sides of the road. If there is a village church, store, post office, school, then the town layout gets a bit more complex.

A log house in village between Ekaterinburg & Tyumen' Russia
Another rural family's residence on the same route.

Always one to insist on getting permission before snapping a person's photo, I worried that our creeping around and launching a sudden camera-assault on these quiet homes would provoke a gunshot from one or the other. But this is Russia, not the USA.

Log house in a village on the road between Ekaterinburg & Tyumen' Russia
Another log-structure on the same road.

A shade of green that normally doesn't appeal to us, yet it goes with the deep brown and the palings. This road takes you out of the Urals region into Siberia.

Rural bus stop on the Yekaterinburg-Tyumen' pike, Russia
That's a rural bus stop on the Yekaterinburg-Tyumen' pike.

The dependability of public transportation in this part of the world is in direct correlation with the volume of passengers. We won't miss the way multitudes push, shove, squeeze, crush. But we'll miss the reliability of there being a bus for almost any thither-point, and a fare much cheaper than, say, Baltimore's. Bye-bye, russkaya zima! Dosvidanya, avtobus, trolleybus i tramvay!

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