More flaneuring posts, hurrah! Today’s flaneur, Michele Womble, takes us through Novosibirsk, Russia. I love the shivering cold, the images. This is a beautiful flaneuring essay. Enjoy.
(The first days of November in Novosibirsk, Russia – Siberia)
The snow’s been falling for days with fierceness determination, but this morning it has gentled and is drifting softly, soothing and comforting, apologizing for its early eagerness, asking forgiveness. Our apartment buildings are built around a courtyard, and the trees within it have all taken advantage of the snow’s change of heart and adorned themselves with white scarves, caps and shawls. Even the wind is caressing tenderly today, tolerating their vanity, letting them keep their frills, touching my cheeks lightly, cold – but not so very cold yet. 18 F. Next week it’ll drop to −30F.
I’m headed to a nearby shop to buy cream. It’s less than a five minute walk, but I’ve decided to go the long way. As I trudge up the hill leading out of the courtyard and to the street, my steps crunch and squeak – the snow resisting under my feet. If I turn right I’ll come to the remnants of a private neighborhood with four or five small log houses. Smoke from their coal fires tickles my nose and mingles with the crisp freshness of the air. I remember when there were many houses there, but in the last several years they’ve given way to multi-dwelling (and multi-level) buildings.
I turn left. Cars and buses and trolleybuses crowd each other and jockey for position on the road. Old soviet style buildings mingle with newer Russian buildings along the streets, while men and women who lived during the Soviet era hurry down the sidewalk beside young adults for whom the Soviet era was something you studied in school and stories told by your parents. At regular intervals steps lead up from the sidewalk to a landing before shop doors. Other staircases lead down to shops in the cellars. As a rule, stores are entered from the street side, while flats on the floors above are accessed by stairwells from courtyards behind the buildings. When I first moved here 20 years ago, shops were small and simple with a limited variety of products. Now we have 5 (or more?) large malls, several IMAX theaters, an IKEA, and the first McDonalds opened last summer. (I haven’t been to it, but it’s fun that we now have one.)
A blue and white trolleybus pulls up to the bus stop and the doors creak open. Exiting passengers exchange places with those who have been patiently waiting, (or not so patiently, there is a little pushing and bumping) and the bus sighs and moves on.
I turn another corner into a smaller street lined with kiosks. Some of them are closed for the winter. In the summer there are also stands with bright canopies, selling various fruits and vegetables. It’s too cold for them now, and fruits and vegetables are not as plentiful or as various. In the kiosks, cashiers retreat behind closed windows, warming themselves until a customer raps on the glass to get their attention.
A black and white magpie lands on a crate of oranges in front of one large kiosk. The kiosk window flies open and a woman with a gray wool sweater and gray wool shawl over her head bangs a plastic tray on the side under the window. He lifts, circles, and lands close by. She leans further out the window, pulls her gray wool shawl more tightly over her head and bangs again. The banging follows me as I move down the street.
Two middle-aged men in fur hats stand behind a narrow table set up beside the sidewalk. Fresh unpackaged meat covers the table. A young man passes by me going in the opposite direction, snow shovel carelessly flung over his shoulder. I pause to take a picture of a flock of pigeons fluffed up and huddled near each other to keep warm. They notice that I have noticed them; the whirr of wings alerts me as more pigeons descend, all moving toward me quickly now – most on foot, some flying. I turn and move farther down the street.
I have come the round about way to the small shop where I’ll buy cream, and I pull open the heavy door and go in.
Michele Womble lives in Novosibirsk, Russia (Siberia) with her husband and 2 teenage children. You can find her 2 albums, A Few Small Fish and The Calling of a Priest, on amazon, and iTunes. Visit her at brokenbreadandsmallfish.com, michelewomble.com, her facebook page or youtube channel.