After breakfast yesterday, we all piled into the bus and drove 20 minutes east down the valley, crossing over the Katun River and into the village of Verkhniy Uimon (oo-ee-mon’). I’ve been here several times, but it’s always worth another visit. It was settled 300-odd years ago by Russian Orthodox “Old Believers” fleeing repression in European Russia. They still practice their belief and accompanying cultural traditions to this day and the village is fabulously traditional.
I got drafted to be the interpreter for Raisa Pavlovna, director of the historical museum. It is in a VERY small 150-year old house, chock full of artifacts and pictures. The main attraction is Raisa Pavlovna herself, however. She is an amateur historian and folklorist and regaled us with endless tales and sayings and folk wisdom about life in the village. I did fine with the story-telling, but needed significant help through some of the archaicisms and clipped syllables of folk sayings. Whenever I sounded particularly pleasing to her ear, she would say, “Jennifer, I’m going to keep you here.” Great fun. It’s hard to imagine the close quarters that families traditionally kept, living with 10-15 people in a 2-room home the size of our kitchen (hint: they had a sleeping loft about 18” high).
After that, I elected to skip the Roehrich museum. Despite full of reproductions of his work and charming architecture, I’m not that interested in his mysticism or philosophy. The curators take it all very seriously. Instead, a few of us wandered off for a walk through the heart of the village. The occasional tractor sighting aside, I felt like a time traveler. Water wells operated by buckets on a 20-30 foot wooden boom, leather rigging hanging on pegs by the door, worn horses standing patiently under saddle, and fabulous vegetable gardens everywhere. This is a living village, with children playing everywhere, and adults of all ages going about their day. There are so many Siberian villages that are slowly dying out; it’s a pleasure to see one doing so well. A tiny white kitten with black trim accompanied us around half the village, apparently hoping to be adopted. There is a small creek, probably about 4 feet wide, meandering through the center of the village, with simple boards laid across in some places, more formal footbridges in others. With the exception of a few rough dirt roads, the majority of the village is haphazardly laid out with simple footpaths.
In the afternoon, the workshop reconvened for the hard work of finalizing the conference resolution. They haggled for 3 hours over phrasing and eventually found it workable. Participants and others can take this document back to their governments and institutions to begin the process of seeking funding and support for developing a climate change adaptation strategy for the Altai-Sayan. They did ultimately decide to include Baikal, but conceded that they should probably check with the folks in Baikal before making a final decision. Personally, I think that although there may be good scientific justification for adding Baikal, Baikal is such a huge political football as well as attracting significant international attention, adding it to the Altai-Sayan, may prove to be a distraction or barrier to progress.
In the evening conference participants celebrated their hard work at a Russian banquet. In all my 18 years of traveling to Russia, I have never ever seen a buffet style banquet, where people may wander about as they please, sampling whatever foods seem attractive. I guess there is a first time for everything. The Russian participants were taken aback as well, but eventually we all figured it out. Just prior to it getting started, our host had herded us together tightly by the restaurant entrance. He had a lovely surprise in store for us – a lovely trio of 3 women dressed in traditional clothing (very nicely and authentically made, I might add) singing folksongs and greeting us with the traditional ornately made bread and salt. They immediately followed this with a sampling of a traditional local drink called “travenukha,” made from a lightly fermented mixture of a strong herbal tea and sugar. Slightly zippy in the mouth, it was actually very light and refreshing. During our meal, the women sang and led a few dances to the accompaniment of two men playing accordions. Wonderful!
From here, posting will be more infrequent, as we head to a mostly off-grid lifestyle…