I remember reading Leslie Blanch years ago, in Bora Bora of all places. It might have been “Journey into the Mind’s Eye”. She had a fascination for Russia and dreamt of getting to Irkutsk. Why? I can’t quite remember, except that she gave the name such magic that Bora Bora almost vanished to make place for snowy Siberian steppes. Odd. The magic is very often in the name and in the name only, like Irkutsk, labeled “the Paris of Siberia”. We’ll see.
Krasnoyarsk was nothing but a short stopover, and the rain last night didn’t make going out an appealing prospect. I just ran out to the supermarket across the street got a bottle of water, a bottle of beer and a tomato. Figuring out how to weigh the tomato was quite an undertaking. I had myself a fine snack of rye crackers, cheese and sliced tomato, all washed down with beer.
The sun was shining in the morning and I had exactly 3 hours to change some money and see the town. A good half-hour of that was taken by the crossing of the bridge over the majestic Yenisei River, the theoretical border between Europe and Asia.
As I was walking, I came across a few scruffy dogs on the loose who sniffed me suspiciously, but finally went away. I’ve met some vicious-looking dogs here: pit bull types with steely, glossy coats, cold eyes and a muzzle. That says it all. You better stay clear of them. I also saw the first black person since I’ve been in Russia: a tall, very, very handsome young man walking on the beam supporting the parapet, so as not to get his feet wet. Last night rain had accumulated on the bridge in several shallow puddles drowning the walkway.
It’s not always easy to find one’s way around in Russian town, since street signs can’t be expected to be found on every street corner. The doorman at the hotel clearly didn’t know how to read a map but I can’t say that the poor man didn’t try. I tried to say never mind but couldn’t and he wouldn’t stop trying to be helpful. A man walking his dog had to be a local, but he too sent me in the wrong direction. That ate another chunk of time.
Krasnoyarsk is the most Soviet-looking city so far. Lots of concrete and rusty balconies, but I had been told that there were also a few remaining wooden house and specimens of Art Nouveau architecture.
I even had the addresses, but not much time. I found a couple of weathered, once pretty, wooden cottages. They seemed abandoned, nobody obviously saw the need for preservation.
Passing by a public park, I noticed, that here as elsewhere in Siberia, their gardens were very much like our short lived Quebec gardens with their shivering, sturdy species and thriving weeds: petunias, begonias, marigolds and day lilies. With the lilac season over, the bushes have nothing to show but the modest remnants of their blooming glory: heart-shaped shrinking foliage; purple and white clusters long gone to brownish seed.
I rushed back on the bus. Yes, I managed to get on a bus, pay the fare and get to destination this time. Traveling in a country where everything is so foreign makes you feel rather slow-witted and every little accomplishment becomes a victory over your own ignorance and cluelessness.
I had to take my train at 12:17. I managed to get out of my confusion today as I realized that the departure board was on Moscow times, which always gave me the impression that I had missed my train. Well, that’s one mystery solved.
My companions today are Galina and Artiom, a mother and her 12-year old son from Krasnoyarsk on their way to their dacha on Lake Baïkal. We shared cucumbers from Galina’s mother’s garden. She is an accountant and the boy, from what I understood, is useless at math, to his mother’s great regret. They are quiet company, as they speak about as much English as I speak Russian, which makes for very laborious conversation. Still, I enjoy listening to her as she is reading her son a story.
Most of the afternoon was passed in slovenly torpor until I met an interesting trio: a French girl, an American guy and a Mexican one, all working and living in Moscow. Jaime, the Mexican, shared his hot sauce with me, which made the restaurant car pelmenyi much more palatable. We promised to touch base on Olkhon Island.
At 11. When I went back to my compartment, the sky was still limpid with the day’s refracted light.