My current home of Yaroslavl is part of Russia’s Golden Ring, a cluster of beautiful and ancient towns that remain a point of pride for Russians. Just two years ago, Yaroslavl celebrated its 1,000th birthday. She looks pretty darn good for her age (though I think she’s had some work done).
As expected, the city is full of oh-so-Russian orthodox churches with colorful onion domes peeking out over the skyline everywhere you look.
The center of the old city comes to a point at the “strelka”, at the confluence of two rivers: the Volga and the Kotorosl’. There, you can find gardens, fountains, monuments, and of course a beautiful view of the water.
The churches and fountains and parks are magnificent, of course, but also easy to find with a Google search of Yaroslavl. What interests me more is what falls between the sight-seeing cracks.
Since the Russia we typically hear about back home is centered around Moscow (and occasionally vague images of a snowy and awful Siberia), I expected someplace industrial and cold. What I found instead is a place where people revere nature and color.
The Russians I have met love to talk about their pets. They adore flowers, and will find any excuse to bring home a bouquet: romantic expression, kitchen decorations, or to drop off at a monument or memorial. Vacations and holidays are spent at dachas (country houses) where the air is clean and fresh and curative. Some of the sick children I work with attend a boarding school in the forest, where they receive treatment and, most importantly, are surrounded by nature to help battle their illnesses.
Someone here described Russians to me as the “Latinos of the North.” I was shocked. Isn’t Russia supposed to be cold and dark and devoid of fun (and salsa)? But I’ve come to find some truth in this claim. Russians can be hot-blooded, and they tend to say very directly what is on their minds. They love color, as evidenced by interesting hair dye choices and the bright home exteriors. I haven’t heard any reggaeton yet, but I’ll keep an ear out.
One of the most beautiful expressions I have seen here in Yaroslavl is the outpouring of love and remembrance for their late hockey team, Lokomotiv. As I wrote about many months ago, the entire hockey team perished in a plane crash in September of 2011. This small city was (and still is) fiercely proud of Lokomotiv. The enormity of their loss overflows in the form of memorials, graffiti, posters, stickers, scarves, and other messages of love.
And finally, I find beauty in the work that I do here. I get to make arts and crafts every day. Picture frames. Masks. Mobiles. Simple things, but they generate so much creativity and laughter.
This country mouse is leaving Yaroslavl this weekend for a trip to Moscow. I’ll be back to share more of this charming city’s unexpected beauty with you later.