Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kizhi

On Wednesday, June 25, we traveled on Lake Onega for over an hour via hydrofoil to reach Kizhi Island. Located about forty miles away from Petrozavodsk, two possible forms of transportation are provided: hydrofoil or helicopter. The high waves that day combined with the long boat ride reduced our appetites but not the opportunity to experience an island rich in history.      
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We arrived around lunch time and walked along the wooden path that encircled the island. A Russian student, from last summer’s English exchange to Duluth, led us to the log churches that were built around the end of the seventeenth century. The summer church was being reconstructed during our visit, so we toured the inside of the winter church and the bell tower. We learned that some truth holds from the legend: nails are not fastening the pine logs together to uphold the Russian buildings. The secret is that wooden nails were used instead of metal, securing the shape and preserving the wood from wear and tear during rain and snow.
Interestingly, the coloring of the summer church reminded me of a Finnish flag. We were told that the logs of the church were painted white while blue sheet metal covered the top. Looking at the annexes of the church from above, one will note the symbol of the cardinal directions as well as the cross. The story of the aspen shingles that create the onion domes stuck out to me. Depending on the time of day, the shingles would transform the image of the church. If the shining sun reached the aspen tops, the reflection turned the wood a golden-yellow color, representing a beautiful young woman. In the evenings or on a cloudy day, the shingles shimmered silver, symbolizing an elderly woman’s hair.
         Kizhi is located in the region, Zaonezh’e, which means behind the lake. The Karelian and Finnish people initially living here strongly believed in their practiced rituals and traditions, giving the island its name. On the island, we walked around in a Russian izba (log house). In one large room, three specific areas were silently sectioned off by shelving units within the wood panels above. Guests would enter the room and wait at the first borderline to be welcomed in. The next section included the eating table and living room. Off to the side, the last border created the dimensions of the kitchen.
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Walking into the room near the kitchen, we watched a woman stitch an embroidered cloth. I learned that a pattern starts and finishes in the same spot, creating an intricately woven circle within the fabric. Though, women’s roles did not stop at the large room of the isba or the embroidery room. We reached a room where boats, tools, and a large woven basket were found. Men of the house worked here during the day, but women were also involved in taking the heavy wooden canoe into the lake. The item in this area that intrigued me the most was the washing machine. The women would fill a large, rectangular woven basket with dirty clothes, stones, and ash before closing the top and placing the structure into the lake. Gently rocked in the water by the waves, the clothes would be washed and ready to dry in the wind.
Overall, despite the strong wind and possibility of encountering a snake, I really enjoyed the visit to the Kizhi Island museum. About two centuries ago, homes were rebuilt to allow merchants and guides to live on this four-mile long island. If I could, I would be a tour guide for a year or two and experience living in a place where you really get what you put in. Many stories told represented women as strong leaders of this sacred island, making their practiced roles very important. On the island, the expected  way of living felt so different than anywhere I have experienced. My recommendation is to take the opportunity to visit Kizhi at some point in your life!
by Tia Pollak

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