The Wild, Wild, West

Sitting, for the second time this weekend, in a café atop a 15th century fortress’s wall, I think back to the first meal I ate on my journey to Pskov. It was meatballs and potato puree at the bus station. But the rock-hard baklava was the real specimen. I might as well have been trying to cut through a quarry’s layers—not a dessert’s. While wrestling with the “delicacy,” my bus left. Failing to read my ticket thoroughly, I didn’t notice that the terminal stop of the bus I was supposed to be on was not Pskov, but Sebezh. A pit formed in my stomach. Whether it was disappointment and regret or the baklava coming to life is still unknown, but what I did know is that I was still going to Pskov. After some more stupidity on my part, I ended up getting a ticket for the next bus that stops in Pskov. Andre, the patient administrator no older than 25, greeted me as I burst through the hostel door half an hour late for check in. I got registered and given a five second tour of the small hostel. It was just an apartment with the rooms cleared out and filled with bunk beds. Being the only guest, once he left I had the whole place to myself—or so I thought.

I awoke Saturday and immediately heard rifling in the hallway. I assume it’s just Andre or another employee. No signs of life on my way there, but walking the three steps back from the bathroom, a babushka with an eye-patch rounded the corner (you read that right), asking if I know where Andre is and how to get to Lenin’s Square. I didn’t know the answer to either question, but instead was left with several of my own.

I left the hostel and began walking towards the center, taking detours as I saw fit. I covered a lot of ground. I moseyed along the banks of the Great River as yet another kremlin wall loomed over me. I visited the main kremlin itself, where two men asked about, and informed me of, the recent film that had been shot within its walls. (I later read in the newspaper that they are actually filming a TV show about Ivan the Terrible’s grandmother.) I decided to cross the Pskov River and walk along a street named in honor of my Russian university’s namesake—Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen. The road split, and I opted for the rutted dirt road running atop an embankment. From here I observed families and friends enjoying the quintessential summertime trinity of sun, heat and cool, pleasant water. I myself investigated the nearby ruins of a rampart and the tower to which it led. For an ancient city so proud of its history, Pskov isn’t pretentious in its preservation. On the contrary, all are always welcome to immerse themselves in its history. Forgoing the urge to ford the river, I crossed a bridge and meandered beside the kremlin wall upon which I write this blog. An eternal flame dedicated to those Pskovians who perished fighting the “White Army bandits” during the Russian Civil burns ahead of me, literally adding fuel to the already scorching day’s fire. Beyond it, mounted to the tall stonewall, are four metal plaques. The closest memorializes the victims of the Siege of Leningrad, while the second remembers the woman and children killed under Nazi occupation. However, the other two are far more interesting in their uniqueness. One is dedicated to the soldiers who died during campaigns in Afghanistan—one of the few times I’ve seen the casualties of that war being honored. The other was a true first for me. It is devoted to the Pskovians who died as a result of the tragedy in Chernobyl, raising some interesting questions regarding the relationship between Pskov and its people to the city of Chernobyl until (and after) the disaster in 1986.

I ate two dinners that night. I had worked up quite an appetite from all the walking. They were pretty tasty, but this lunch tops them both. After the dinners, I went into “Beer Land,” figuring it was a bar, but being surprised when the 4×6 foot closet-like space turned out to be nothing more than a counter that sells beer. Not wanting to walk back towards to center, yet having a hankering for a brew, I bought a $2 liter to go drink in my room. I had roommates now, a young couple that left at 6am and a cute Siberian girl.

While siting here writing and munching at 1:30pm on this drizzly Sunday, I’m feeling thankful I got my exploration done yesterday. Earlier today, I went to the neat State Museum of Pskov, which combines the history of Pskov during WWII with an art museum. Not sure what I’ll do to conclude my trip. Perhaps I’ll take another walk.

Rain has a funny effect on the world. It refreshes the Earth and revitalizes nature, but makes us humans hide. The banks of the Pskov River were practically deserted today, save for a few brave souls. It’s a shame, really, because feeling cooled under the clouds and comforted by the softly falling raindrops, I enjoyed an absolutely marvelous stroll through the recreational park opposite the stone tower I explored yesterday.

Now on the train back to Saint Petersburg, I am already missing Pskov. Its pace of life and spatial qualities reminded me of my hometown. As the city relates to my current research interests and has left an impression on my soul, I am confident I will return.

By: Anthony Stasulli

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)

Summer 2016

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