August 1, 2008

Independence Day

July 4, 2008

July 4th is also the anniversary of the dedication of the American Home. Happy 16th anniversary, American Home!

Nadya and Lena (one of the young ladies who help with our Russian language and culture lessons) led an excursion to Gus' Khrustal'niy. This is a town where they make glass and crystal. We first visited a glass/crystal museum which was in a building that had been a church before the October Revolution. Walking into the museum was like being inside a kaleidoscope - flashes of brilliant colors everywhere. After being struck by the rainbow of colors, you start to notice the shapes of the objects. Common glass items such as vases and bottles stand next to the most intricate glass figurines you have ever seen. There are also large glass sculptures outside of the display cases and displays of table settings and sitting rooms from various periods of history, all filled with glass and crystal from the town or from other historic glass-making countries. All of this ornate and colorful glass cannot detract from the frescoes on the walls and ceilings which had been covered in whitewash during Soviet times and which have recently been restored. As stunning as the artistry was, I couldn't help but cringe at the gruesome depiction of 'The Last Judgement,' with its anguished souls, piles of bones, and parades of people condemned to hell. Part of me might have preferred a whitewashed wall...

Next we visited the factory where the glass and crystal are produced. It was a definite contrast to the new construction and hygienic standards of the Kraft factory. It was dark, dank, HOT with fiery ovens throughout - kind of like being swallowed by a dragon. Still, the artists in the belly of the dragon were amazing. We watched a man create a bird from a glowing mass of molten glass in about 12 minutes. Phenomenal.

The crystal workers were etching designs into some large vases. It was striking to me that most workers were not wearing even the most basic safety gear - no goggles, masks, respirators - and crystal is between 18-24% lead! I'm no scientist, but even I know that lead is NOT good for you to ingest. Kind of took an interesting moment and gave it a very somber spin.

After gleaning insight into the process of glass-making, we went to buy some local fruits of their dangerous labors. Even at the time, it seemed ridiculous to buy fragile souvenirs, but we were RIGHT THERE where they were made and a number of ladies in the family like those sorts of knick-knacks.

A second store, called "The Experimental Glass Store" had really elaborate, tiny glass figurines, masks, paperweights and other pretty but completely useless items.

After lunch, we headed back to Vladimir and attended the oddest orchestral concert ever. It was mostly a concert celebrating families of the region in honor of a saint's day dedicated to happy families, so it was a free-flowing propagandized parade of Russian families and their testimonial stories interspersed with songs performed by a talented wind ensemble. The culmination for me was when the ensemble performed the song "Tequila." It was a hoot and an excellent suggestion which prompted me to head back to the American Home.

The Independence Day party was terrific - the backyard of the American Home was transformed into a patriotic party land. Lots of good food, drink, and live music. The young jazz singer that Ron had repeatedly raved about was as incredible as her description. There was another young woman with a lovely voice who sang a couple songs with her mother, a singing DJ, and a traditional Russian folk ensemble who led some clumsy but spirited dancing.

We laughed and danced until the skies opened up. Again, it POURED. Alexei had been tracking the forecast and knew that rain was predicted, so he had rigged up plastic tarps over all the tables. We had just enough time for a quick toast to the wise Alexei Altonen before we switched gears to damage control and dumping the standing water off the plastic tarps where it was pooling into heavy puddles. Russians are amazingly resilient and just keep on partying - why let a little water and mud slow you down, right? Besides, puddle-stomping is therapeutic...

1 comment:

Liz said...

Interesting to know.