Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day of the City

'Day of the City' sounded tame enough. When I heard that my Russian friends and I would spend our Saturday at this event, I began to slightly question just how much there would be to do down at Petrozavodsk's embankment. Upon arrival, these doubts were erased.

Thousands of people swarmed about the city's center on this day. We began our tour of festivities in an older neighborhood, where many were dressed in costumes of bygone eras: women in traditional Karelian clothing, men in WWI-era military uniforms (to commemorate the start of the First World War, 100 years earlier), and children dressed up as all sorts of historic characters. One of these children told me that my boots looked sad, and he would polish and shine them for a mere 5 rubles, but they were in such poor shape that I didn't want to make him work for half an hour...

Local craftspeople also lined these old, unpaved streets, peddling various handmade goods, such as pottery, textiles, trinkets, and antiques. One of these vendors had a pile of miscellaneous vintage Russian goods: a samovar or two, clothing, and manuals for old москвич cars were among the items spread out. I browsed the items, and decided to take a Polaroid of one of the individuals responsible for this collection, a dreadlock-sporting man next to a samovar. I began to walk away, but had already attracted some attention.

A woman in a rabbit costume and a man dressed as the mad hatter ran up to me and asked questions about the old camera that just made the picture. It was quite a novelty to them, and they seemed to think it was the coolest thing ever. These two people whisked me away to a tent next to the antiques and dreadlock guy (everyone seemed to know one another), much to the horror and amusement of my Russian friends. A samovar was already fired up under this tent, and I was given a hot cup to tea with a couple sugar cubes, complete with an antique spoon to stir it. After my tea was complete, I was returned to my group of friends. Even they were unable to explain the strange situation. "It's Russia," one friend simply stated.

After this, we moved toward the city's embankment along the lake. Here was where most of the action occurred. Several stages were occupied with performers. Some played music, some told jokes I couldn't understand, and some were normal people engaged in a hilarious dance competition. The sidewalks here were packed full of vendors and kiosks, including a few strange ones. A portable баня was among these, with men inside sweating profusely, visible through its clear plastic windows, and men standing around outside of it, also sweating. 

As the evening grew later, the sky was lit with the glow of the white nights for hours. Haze from countless kabob grills filled the sidewalks on the embankment, adding an effect to this glow. After the sun finally dipped behind the horizon, my friends and I made our way back home. Before going to sleep, I watched the scheduled fireworks at 1am from the balcony of my host's home. Fireworks in the light was kind of a strange sight.

This city celebration was unlike any other I've ever been to. The level of involvement from the community was impressive; it seemed like most of the city closed for the day and made its way down to the embankment for festivities. Similar events I've been to were far, far smaller; fewer people, only a handful of attractions, and more predictable. The large size did not seem to have any effect on the hospitality of complete strangers, though--every person I interacted with was far nicer than I could have imagined, with some even giving me things. These interactions have provided me with some great stories, I think.
Devan Burnett

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