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«Выходные в Вологде» [A Weekend in Vologda] Posted by on Jan 19, 2010 in Culture, History

The famous and magnificently beautiful «Софийский собор» [Saint Sofia Cathedral] where Shalamov’s father, «Тихон Шаламов» [Tikhon Shalamov], worked as «православный священник» [an Orthodox priest] in «Вологда» [Vologda] in the early 20th century upon his return from missionary work in Alaska. Behind it you can sneak a preview of the house where Shalamov was born, which is now a museum

Saying «Россия – большая страна» [Russia is a big country] would be an understatement of as great proportions as this country itself. I think it would be better to describe the Motherland as a «огромная страна» [huge country] or even better yet a «громадная страна» [enormous country]. Because Russia is so big and vast I have – naturally – not been able to visit most of it, even though I’ve been to more than twenty Russian cities. Most of the places I’ve managed to visit during my five plus years in this country – except for «Санкт-Петербург» [Saint Petersburg] and «Москва» [Moscow] – have been either «в Сибири» [in Siberia] or «на Урале» [in the Urals]. This is also natural, since I’ve spent most of my time in this country living in cities located in Siberia and in the Urals and thus traveling around ‘locally’ has always been the easiest for me. Up until the past weekend I hadn’t seen anything or been anywhere in the big and beautiful «европейская часть Российской федерации» [European part of the Russian Federation], something I have dreamed of doing for many years now. This past weekend I finally got to see more of this great country when I visited the beautiful city of «Вологда» [Vologda], located in «русский север» [the Russian north]. In order to get there all the way from «Екатеринбург» [Yekaterinburg] I first had to fly to Moscow, which takes about two hours, and then take the train north for another ten hours. Yes, that’s how BIG this country really is – so vast that one can travel for days and days and still remain within one and the same country, meeting people who speak one and the same language… The reason as to why I did this was to attend «вечер памяти» [a memorial evening] for my favorite writer Varlam Shalamov there on the 17th of January, the date of his death in 1982.

 The museum «Шаламовский дом» [Shalamov house] is located in the center of Vologda, not far from the bank of the river with the same name. Most of it is now «картинная галерея» [an art gallery], but two whole rooms on the first floor are dedicated only to the great Russian writer’s memory.

Those of you who have followed this blog for some time now probably know very well that this is far from the first time that I’ve mentioned the name of this splendid Russian 20th century poet here. If you’ve missed the previous posts on this subject, (in all of which I’ve tried my best not to go over the top with my borderline obsessive passion for him and his works) I would recommend you to take a quick look at such posts as A Great Russian Writer: «Варлам Шаламов» [Varlam Shalamov], «По уральским местам Варлама Шаламова» [Visiting Varlam Shalamov’s Ural ‘Sites’] and “Listen While You Read, or -Read as You Listen”. This trip to Vologda was very special to me for two reasons: first of all because it was my first time in the town where he was born; secondly because I was given the opportunity to travel there not alone but as a part of a «дружеский коллектив» [friendly collective (group of people)] made up of me and seven other young Russians. With these young Russians I share the same fascination for Shalamov and they are all tightly connected with the splendid Russian site dedicated to him. How did I get this opportunity? you might be wondering. Well, this journey in fact began already in September with a correspondence with the website’s administrator, both concerning my own scholarly research on Shalamov (which soon will be published on the site) as well as a discussion of some comments left on this blog by him… One thing led to another and all of the sudden we were friendly enough to be «на ты» with each other. And when he told me sometime during the past fall that a group of people were going to Vologda in January 2010, I asked if I could tag along.

And of course there’s a «памятная доска» [memorial board] on the wall of the house where the poet was born. Written on it is the following: «В этом доме 18 (восемнадцатого) июня 1907 (тысяча девятьсот седьмого) года родился и жил до 1924 (тысяча девятьсот двадцать четвёртого) года великий русский писатель Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (1907-1982)» [In this house on the 18th of June 1907 was born and lived until 1924 the great Russian writer Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov (1907-1982)].

After a day of walking around with him in the busy and chaotic Moscow, Vologda made the impression on me of being a very quiet and cozy provincial town (though this is not entirely true as the city has almost half a million inhabitants). The city center is highly picturesque, with plenty of old wooden buildings as well as many beautiful churches, and it was a pure pleasure to walk around there taking picture of everything. It was very cold during the weekend that I was there and thus the river Vologda was both frozen as well as covered with a heavy layer of glittering white snow. On and around the river Russians of all ages were enjoying their Saturday and Sunday off by skiing on or riding down the slopes. Looking out over this stunning winter landscape was almost like looking at a great painting…

Located across the street from the house where Shalamov’s family lived is «шаламовские горки» [‘Shalamov hills’], named not after Varlam but after his older brother Sergey. The hill is popular as a place for kids to slope down on in wintertime, something that we know Shalamov did often in childhood. And something that I have now also done… surviving the steep slope without breaking anything!

During my trip to Vologda I not only made friends with other young future Shalamov scholars, but also with the leading Russian scholar on his works «Валерий Васильевич Есипов» [Valery Vasil’evich Yesipov] who lives and works there. For me it was a great honor to meet him in person, to also be a guest in his house on Saturday, and to even be able to make more than a couple of toasts in vodka with him… On Sunday he gave our group a tour of the museum where he works, «музей “Вологодская ссылка”» [The Museum of Exile in Vologda], which was highly interesting. Many famous people in Russian history, including Stalin himself, have been exiled to this northern town during the centuries. On Sunday evening the event for which we had traveled all the way there for took place, and even I was asked to say a couple of words in front of the audience. The trip was finished in the usual grand Russian manner of endless hospitality – with plenty to eat and plenty to drink in a local little restaurant called «Погребник» [‘The Little Cellar’].

Another museum worth visiting while in Vologda is «музей “Вологодская ссылка”» [the museum of Exile in Vologda] located in a 19th century building known as  «дом Сталина» [the house of Stalin] for it was here that the future «отец народа» spent a month and a half renting a room during the winter of 1911-1912 before escaping.

But I think one of the absolute best parts of this trip was on the way back on the train when all eight of us sat together and read poetry by heart to each other… It was already late, the lights on the train had already been dimmed, and so as not to wake the other passengers we were almost whispering the poems one after the other… It was a truly wonderful experience. An experience that made me realize that in order to be able to play this game better in the future I must learn more Russian poetry by heart…

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  1. Sasha:

    Где же моя темноглазая где
    В Вологде-где-где-где
    В Вологде-где
    В доме где резной палисад

  2. Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira:

    Shouldn’t it be страна́?

    I love your blog.

  3. Stephen:

    Yes, страна́, писа́тель, and коллекти́в.

  4. Josefina:

    Luciano and Stephen – sure looks like my stress was all over the place when I wrote this post! I’m so sorry… I’ll fix it. Don’t want you to be prouncing crucial Russian words like “писатель” wrong 😉