"Siberia 2007" story # 39

Tomsk, Russia           November 27, 2007

Sitting happily in my dark, wooden house last week, in the room that reminds me of a kitchen, at a desk, I finished Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot." This old book has drawings of 19th Century Peterburgians on its thick spine, and the square letters of the Russian alphabet are convenient for a serious and straight-forward story-telling. The novel's characters had strengths and weaknesses, their behavior was true to human psychology; there were even light-spirited parts.
     With my reading done, I decided to go for a walk. It was three p.m. on Friday.
     Because I don't have fur-lined shoes nor boots, I wear three pairs of socks: a thin pair beneath two wool pairs. I wear pajama bottoms beneath my khaki's. I have a heavy Alaska coat with a furry hood, which I zip and button up. I wear dark-green gloves, a grayish-green winter hat, and a normal-green scarf. I wonder, as I step outside, what the temperature is.
     My house is on the corner of Tomsk's main Lenina Street and the street, Arkadia Ivanova.
     Arkadia Ivanova has the personality of a countryside road leading through snowy November wilderness to a place you'd go ice-fishing. The road is a steep hill, and I slide myself down on snow made sleek by pedestrians' feet.
     At the bottom of the hill, the road continues - but as if it was in a sad village. As I pass before bright, sky-blue window shutters on a humble home, I pull my scarf over my face. The houses end. I trudge through a thin forest, climb a hump in the land, and sled myself down it to the bank of the river, Tom.
     It's quiet here. The wide river is frozen, and its surface is a collision of snow boulders. It's getting dark, at four p.m., and I'm joined on the riverbank by someone: a big moon, in the spirit-filled sky.
     I return to the Moskovskyy Trakt, a road parallel to Lenina, not far from the river. Some people say it's a gloomy road. My high school students have said they suspect a lot of murders take place here.
     Dusk is comfortably settling in.
     The first half of the road has no street-lights and is dark. A wasteland, full of wind blowing off the River Tom, separates the houses, whose inhabitants seem to fear their neighbors. I pass a maroon house with artistic, white shutters; I imagine Mrs. Claus inside sewing, while Santa comes out to appreciate the Siberian beauty.
     Further along, the houses are all typical Tomskurvian wooden lodges: two-storied and brown. The windows are their mouths, and the orange lights inside are their fiery souls.
     It seems, in the lonely houses, hunters are cleaning guns. It seems that warlocks live there, or else mad inventors making Frankensteins.
     A group of wild dogs almost attacks me. But, if I ignore them, a silence floats near the houses. It's as if people don't want to come outside, because there are vampires. The street reminds me of the Van Helsing movie. It's the kind of scenery I'd looked for in Transylvania but never found.
     Luckily, I near the second half of the Moskovskyy Trakt. I phone (with the cell-phone I'd bought in summer, shortly after complaining about how much I hate them) to my small friend, Nastia, while I stand below her window. But, she's studying in the university, so I can't warm up at her house with a cup of tea.
     I go on. The Moskovskyy Trakt's second half has orange streetlights and people bustling around. It's less horrific. The brown homes are elegant and beautiful, like old-timers' bowler hats. One man has told me that the air in wooden homes is better. Walking this natural street, I breath clean air.
     But, I and the Moskovskyy Trakt run into the commercial part of Lenina Street. My Tomsk is now colorful, lit-up, modern, and loud. It's still attractive.
     Cars and pedestrians go by.
     Middle-aged women wear soft fur coats. Younger women wear fur-lined, high-heel boots. Some women still wear skirts and leg-liners. Most people wear black. Men wear big fur hats with doggy ear flaps, like those Soviet prime ministers used to wear.
     Some people laugh at my hat. According to a friend, my hat, with its snowflake designs, is something only a villager would wear.
     I go to a Lenina Street plaza. Benches ponder the massive Tom River, near the spot where another river empties into it by way of loud rapids. This spot is very popular in the summer, but in winter people just walk by, and snow coats the benches. A computerized billboard advertises the temperature. - 7 degrees Celsius. (20 degrees Fahrenheit.)
     My bones are getting cold. I go on as far as nearby Lenina Square. Here, two lanes of car traffic are forced to go around a statue of a graceful, revolution-bearing Lenin. The embracing symphony hall, where a music student and I go every Sunday for classical music, and the metal-monstrous theatre are located here.
     I turn around, towards home. I pass: Tomsk's "White House," a government building illuminated in pink and white and green, like birthday candles; a park with a bust of the poet, young Aleksander Pushkin, who wore pork-chop sideburns; and three lit-up red-brick buildings. I go into the warm post office and buy myself fifteen minutes of internet time. I barely take off my coat; then, I must emerge again.
     In the most-recent day, snow has fallen. Thus, the sidewalk in front of Lenina Street's universities isn't TOO slippery.
     I observe the yellow, cruiseship building of "TUSUR", with its six columns like plastic blocks, where students study systems management and radio-electronics, which sounds pretty tough, so I hurry away.
     Across the street from TUSUR and the Medical University is a park. It's big lawn, clay-tiled walkways, and lamps are nice in summer. But, now, it's empty and unfriendly.
     The Medical University's main building is orangish-yellow. Black sculptures of unknown men protrude from the walls, and they look like the type of men who'd like to play with your brains. Needless to say, I hurry away from here, too.
     Soon, a majestic gate opens to my side, leading to a frolicking garden, before Tomsk State University. A circle of benches surrounds big Christmas trees. I'd expect old Frenchmen to be playing "boule" nearby. A long walkway leads from the white gate, through the circle of benches, to the university's main building. The long walkway is magical, like a wedding aisle.
     Tomsk State University's main building is ivory, and white headlights make it gleam like a fairy-tale. Three arching doors open to the building's first floor. Judges' windows and columns look down from the second floor.
     But, I don't dawdle here, not today. I walk on. I walk past the mortar Tomsk State Library, colored white and periwinkle and/or swimming-pool-green. I walk past Kirova, another great university road, but my chest is too chilled for me to visit it now.
     Light-purple stairs lead me, beneath tree branches and beside a beautiful Tomsk Polytechnical University building, up a skipping hill. I've already slipped on these slick stairs once.
     The second road after Kirova is Arkadia Ivanova. And I'm home. I didn't freeze to death, no vampires nor their dogs bit me, no professors made me understand what "systems electronics" means, and no doctors played with my brains.
     Six-thirty p.m. I sit down in the room where "they killed Masha", safe and sound, and prepare to eat some sandwiches and write in my journal, and warm up.

Modern O.

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