July 15, 2014
After the vodka debacle last night, the ship was very quiet this morning. We would not reach our destination Kizhi Island until the afternoon. First we had to cross Lake Onega, the 2nd largest lake in Europe. It took around six hours to cross it and reach our isolated island, Kizhi.
The island is the site of a couple amazing churches that were the effort of some local village carpenters who got the idea to built this masterpiece in the 18th Century. It was not the result of some grand bequest by a Tsar or the effort of a monastery. It seems that these self-taught peasants had to be divinely inspired. The larger church with the 22 onion domes is currently being renovated and is swathed in scaffolding on one side. It was still possible to get some great pictures from the opposite side. The smaller nine domed Intercession Church was open for us walk around.
The entire island is a national historic village with the two main churches and a number of other peasant structures that were moved here. It reminds me of The Lincoln Salem State Park in Illinois. The entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The docents and tour guides live on the island and bail out in the winter. They receive a thousand visitors a day in the summer and effectively demonstrate the local crafts and traditions.
The large home of a rich peasant was equipped with multiple Samovars and plenty of room in the attached barn for livestock. During the winter everyone shared the room near the stove and the kitchen. I did not see the microwave. The joinery techniques caught my eye but the woodwork was crude compared to contemporary Japanese efforts. However, the Japanese had saws and these Russians were limited to axes. Impressive none the less.
Wood is plentiful and the carpentry reflects this. The churches are essentially log cabins with fancy roofs. That is too simplistic but the builders didn’t have computers to design this Gehry like structure. The shingles on the domes are fashioned dorm birch by a sharp axe. They need to be curved on the back to seal the dome. The 40,000 shingles to cover the domes are replaced every 30 or 40 years. The shingles are made one at a time. Russian patience and determination and quite a bit of faith.
There are the normal souvenir stands near the dock. We encountered an Austrian from Vienna who had lived in San Francisco. He asked us how the Russians were treating us as Americans. His boat was full of German speaking tourists and the Russian guides were making some interesting claims. They were told that American troops were killing the Russian Separatists in the Ukraine. I told him that since our boat is full of Brits and Americans that we only hear about the Russian love of Americans. We have not noticed anything but smiles and helpfulness as we hand over our Rubles.
The Russians have no real experience with freedom for any length of time. The President re-giggles the constitution to allow him to effectively rule as long as he wants. Their is no free press and the state television is not fair and balanced. It is not surprising that the news is creative. Anyway, we have had no problems. My impression is that this entire country is very fragile economically. The economic sanctions that we have placed on them are purposely very focused at the oligarchs that surround Putin. Our policies are designed to impact the leaders and not the Russian people. I think we are correct in avoiding the bellicose actions demanded by some of our crazy Senators. Enough politics for now.
We continue to head north into the land of white nights. The sun sets but just below the horizon. It does not really get dark at this time of the year. We have also been blessed with good weather and plenty of sunshine. Just hope it holds for another week.