Evening 8:30

Pleasant evening in a typical Ulan-Ude neighborhood.

Pleasant evening in a typical Ulan-Ude neighborhood, ours.

Evening 8:30

Simple. The view from our balcony is simple. Forest fire smoke scents the air. Shirtless Ukrainian refugees sit on wrought iron, sucking cigarettes in the evening cool even as mamas stroll baby carriages or strollers. City swallows wheel, “screeing” at the joy of flight. Municipal trams rumble into the local stop, and away on the other side of this five story Communist construction. Children clamor on obligatory playground equipment, kindergarten cares their only burden. Neighborhood matriarchs water their tiny flower refuges. Sun settles; swallows scree. The silhouette of dark chokecherries hasten summer’s demise; but not yet, not yet. The richness of evening rests in this “not yetness”, this “summer is upon you, summer is stealing away” feeling which soothes the soul even as it harries the mind. Our favorite street doggies are quiet, trams roll, babies roll, sun rolls into twilight . . . into the scree of swallows.

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Siberian Chameleons

I became canary-yellow. My camera? Yellow. Chameleons, having shed their typical skin for indigo-emerald-vermillion-violet, painted the square. Puffs of bright chased on the breeze. Hot. Sweaty. Pleasure.

Yellow Holi High Jinks on Soviet Square, Ulan-Ude, Siberia.

Yellow Holi High Jinks on Soviet Square, Ulan-Ude, Siberia.

Multicolored selfies. Yes!

Multicolored selfies. Yes!

A color filled grin in the midst of pandemonium.

A color filled grin in the midst of pandemonium.

Holi has hit huge in Russia. The festival of colors is extremely popular with the youth culture across this country. I mean, who doesn’t want to spackle your mates multi-color? Holi powder is colored rice flour, or a synthetic equivalent. Here in Ulan-Ude, suppliers are selling 3.5 ounce bags at $3.00 a pop. An expression you hear often in Russia is: “Деньги на ветер”, which means spending money on the wind. I imagine many a sober minded grown-up here has uttered that expression in judgement of Holi. It is a racket, they are making money hand over fist, but, try quelling youth’s enthusiasm for a grand time! When the central square of your city becomes a frolicking rainbow mass of adolescent exuberance, you catch the wave.

A purple haze rises off humans celebrating.

A purple haze rises off humans celebrating.

I caught the wave, with a bunch of bright smiling teens/pre-teens who I met in the party on Soviet Square. They happily included me, quite pleased to have someone highlight their high jinks. In Russia, sharing is second nature, and I am always impressed with the generosity with which I am treated. Holi was no different. The crew I hooked up with made sure I had Holi powder to throw. Everywhere I looked, young people furnished Holi powder to whomever lacking. In Russia, people make sure everyone has fun. For photographers, Holi holds fantastic visuals, and the likelihood of maiming your camera. I know many of the photojournalists in Ulan-Ude. They were all up front, shooting from the stage, protecting their money-makers. Having thought about it, I knew the middle of the action was the place to be! Nikon D-60 resurrect!

Sprinkling citron satisfaction.

(*Note the photographers in the background safe on stage. :) Sprinkling citron satisfaction . . .

Fun

is fun . . .

on you! The camera takes a hit.

on you! My camera and I take a direct hit.

Holi transports everyone back to the joy of youth. You forget worries and laugh with strangers. It crosses barriers that are generally uncrossable. Life becomes a kaleidoscope of movement, vivid colors and grinning teeth. Possibly Holi is hot tinted nirvana!

Managing a dapper look, while painted green.

Managing a dapper look, while painted green.

My embed with the kids was indelible. If I see them around town, will I recognize them without the bright sheen of Holi pasted faces? The only one who didn’t crack a smile was Lenin, looming over Soviet Square in Ulan-Ude. Inside his stone facade, I wonder, was he red with indignation, or green with envy?

This is my favorite shot of the day. I love the contrast.

This is my favorite shot of the day. I love the contrast.

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Other festivals on Word Press. The colors of the blogosphere are here: ROY G. BIV

Starstruck in Siberia

Midnight solitude on Muhur Bay, Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Midnight solitude on Muhur Bay, Lake Baikal, Siberia.

It was a result of passion; our evening at Muhur Bay. Art, possibility and camping gear aligned like Orion’s winking belt, and delivered us to the shore of the bantam sea, or “Small Sea” strait that is separated from most of Baikal’s impossible gallons by mysterious Olkhon Island. Siberia’s black velvet is pierced by vibrant light; Baikal’s fathoms are mirror-like, reflecting the galaxy’s darkness back into a moonless night, magnifying countless crystal suns. Awesome.

Our intrepid crew each burn with a passion to capture impressions of transcendent wonder in a digital box. Tonight we are three star hunters. Oleg, my old friend from Irkutsk, is a contractor, and budding photographer.  Alexander, a new friend from Ulan-Ude, is photo-correspondent for our local news agency, and this Alexander, whose longing since boyhood is to sail among the cosmic luminaries. Alexander talked us into three empty seats on a bus hauling volunteers to evening berths, 50 km north from the ethnic festival we were covering.

Alexander and Oleg, about to hop the bus.

Alexander and Oleg, about to hop the bus.

Our northern hemisphere’s June evenings have been set aglow by Venus and Jupiter dallying on the western horizon. My desire to capture them over Baikal was thwarted by the hurry up and wait of festival admin drama. But hey! Do yourself a favor and look west about forty-five minutes after sunset, while it is still June. When you see Venus, you will know why she is goddess of beauty. Above her and left, about the width of your fist held at arms length, Jupiter shines golden.

Regardless of my missed rendezvous with Venus and Jupiter, the whole priceless sky had revealed herself, and Saturn remained all night. Original works of interstellar jewellery, the pearls of Cassiopeia, the Corona Borealis, Pegasus, and the Big and Little Bears (Dippers) glistens in our lenses. I can see for miles and miles and miles. Campfires have sprung up around the western end of the bay, speaking back to starlight. The boys made for a boat in dock shining sweetly in lights in Muhur Bay. But the proximity of fire on the beach under the starlit universe transfixed me. Two Russian families were absorbed in the warm glow of firelight discussion. I asked permission to photograph their vodka enhanced reverie. They accepted, expressing astonishment at an American appearing out darkness at their campfire.

Russian friends enjoy a pleasant June evening under the stars.

Russian friends enjoy a pleasant June evening under the stars.

Tour bases and campfires light the Western horizon beyond Muhur Bay.

The Milky Way over tour bases and campfires on the Western horizon beyond Muhur Bay.

Like the beginning of a good thriller, this photo suggests the otherworldly sound of death's approach.

Like the beginning of a good thriller, this photo suggests the otherworldly sound of the approach of the fearful unknown.

And that is the night’s tale. The star hunters shuttled between shore and campfire, between the silent solitude of water lapping a stellar sky, and laughter around a friendly fire. The sun began painting the eastern sky at 2:30 am. It was a battle to turn in, as pinks and oranges rallied toward Saturn’s early morning perch. I set my alarm for four thirty, to capture sunrise on Baikal, a phenomenon not to be missed. Two days of road weariness conspired to hood me in sleeps realm. At 5:15 the insistent solar star roused me. The sky was already bright as day. Silver water set off the charcoal shore that faded by degree in lightening shades of grey toward the horizon. We couldn’t keep our fingers off the shutter buttons, such was the morning’s magnificence. Finally we opened cans of silky pacific caught saury, to eat with black bread. We packed our tent, collected our camera gear, and hightailed it back to catch the bus full of sleepy headed volunteers. Our star hunt was successful; we were witnesses to wonder.

2:45 am. Incoming dawn.

2:45 am. Incoming dawn.

Muhur Bay, Small Sea Strait, under the morning shine of our Solar star. 5:49 am.

Muhur Bay, Small Sea Strait, under the morning shine of our Solar star. 5:49 am.

What remains. 6:07 am.

What remains. 6:07 am.

A fisherman works the waters on the horizon in Muhur Bay, on the Sacred Sea.

A fisherman works the silver waters of Muhur Bay, on the Sacred Sea. The mysterious Isle of Olkhon lies behind him.

Siberia: unfortunately off-season in most people’s minds.

Artist. Creator.

Handshake at the bus stop. A jaunt to a Soviet carriage. Modest. Scrapes with dings. Off-white paint. Passenger side door opens from the inside. No apologies. None needed. I duck out of the cutting spring wind. Anatoly commands the wheel. We scanter over dips and hollows. Small wood domiciles, still crouching after winter, populate our peripheries. We roll to a stop, and pop out, doors clicking behind us. Anatoly opens the gate, where the ubiquitous (to Russia) scruffy necessary wags his tail to greet us. One level, dark, self-constructed. Solid. Anatoly’s son chops wood in front of the outlying bathhouse turned “music studio”. We enter. He lays out tea. Sweet biscuits, milk whitened black tea. The interior is spare, one light bulb per room, rough wood in shades of natural brown. Simple.

We conversate, offering small pieces of the experiences that brought us to our point of intersection. Patiently we dig, sifting fumbled human words, for the chance to touch the face of meaning together. As we warm to our task, our lingua franca, wells up, filling in and smoothing over the cracks of our utterances. She leaps cultures, weaves viewpoints, she reveals that golden spark that hides under life’s ashes. We bend in, wondering. And now colors crackle, theory and influence, history, philosophy, passion, image-spirit-flow-connection. Art. Life blood of creation.

Anatoly birthing art.

Anatoly birthing art. “Let there be light!”

Expounding upon the finer points of perfection visual communication.

Expounding upon the finer points of perfecting visual communication.

Pregnant with possibility, Anatoly the creator struggles to birth new offspring from the long forgotten *Buryat School, buried in ashes of the scorched earth policy of Bolshevism in Siberia. But first he had to dig. He had to understand where to dig.

He studied four years of graphic arts at the Pedagogical Institute here in Ulan-Ude, three more in the Ulaanbaatar college of Art and Culture. From 94-96 he learned how to draw Buddhist tankas (Tibetan icons). Then wife, children, mouths, shelter, rat race for survival. He resurfaced in 2001 for breath, studying long distance at the Eastern Siberian State Academy of Culture and Art here in Ulan-Ude in tandem with manual labor for sustenance. In 2006 with a home built, and his art foundation sound, he filled his lungs, spread his pencil-feather wings and leapt.

Original vs Reproduction. Anatoly uses the reproduction to spot places in his drawings that need shoring up.

Original vs Reproduction. Anatoly uses the reproduction to spot places in his drawings that need shoring up.

His creations are cold fusion. Intricate scenes from the East, with Western technique applied for depth and emphasis. His human subjects are demure, slightly cheeky, his countrysides sprinkled with references bowing East and West, just as his people have done now for centuries, turning first toward Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, and Tibet, then toward Moscow. Buddhist temples, and Orthodox churches, Buryat and Russian children building snow men together. Anatoly wields tools of cosmic significance, calling things into being that have yet to be, at a table by the window of his wooden cottage.

What started as a “get to know you” conversation transfigured incrementally. Anatoly and I meet as strangers in a space that becomes sacred as our communication reveals one to the other. This communication transcends speech, flashing and flowing all imagery and color, the white hot могущество (able-power) of creativity coupled with community unveils shared marvel; apprehends the magnificence of a knowable beyond. This is recognizing the Creator in another creative. Real. Holy communion.

Nothing in Sunday school prepared me for this. Meeting the power that anchors stars in the sky in a person of another faith, this tangible presence of a consuming fire contained in the dust of another man. Why should I be surprised? Aren’t we all image-bearers? But I am surprised. When did I become so sure of where and when the Creator would put majesty on display? When did I think I could nail down Mystery? And when did Protestants give up the privilege of communicating in the divine tongue?

Art flows. It flows from a throne.

The artist.

The artist: Anatoly Tsidenov

(*The aforementioned Buryat School is a historical style.)

Steel Wranglin’ Vaqueros

Sasha cuttin' rail with a diamond bladed saw. I waited four nights to get this shot!

Sasha cuttin’ rail with a diamond bladed saw. I waited four nights to get this shot!

These boys bulldog steel!

Between cigarettes, these boys bulldog steel!

Sparks turn contemplative in the ambient glow of Uncle Vanya's cutting torch.

Sparks turn Lyoha and Seryoga contemplative in the ambient glow of Uncle Vanya’s cutting torch.

Opportunity knocked this fall. Actually, she bucked. Like an unbroke ten ton bronc, she rudely threw me about the cabin of the Ulan-Ude city tram, which is why I had taken to calling the tram lines in our region of the city “Rodeo Drive”. Accent on the first o. The steel rails climbing Bald Hill in Shishkovka, our gritty part of the city, humped and divoted their way up to our tram stop where we deposited ourselves; stumblers on solid pavement, eyes all a spin. Now I didn’t pay it no mind, riding roughshod up and down, back and forth between the city center. My gallop called forth the west where hard grinnin’ men lose their hats and seats on busting out beasts. I could feel the fairgrounds dust grit between my pearlies.

I failed to recognize that ride as opportunity, that is until the day I saw the iron vaqueros in their wheeled excavators, track loaders, and cranes converging like jaw licking wolves on a horse with a bum leg. The rails were about to make their exit, under cover of the Siberian night. Lacerating steel with blades and torches, men doing heavy work, that friends, is opportunity knocking to a fella bent on shooting his camera.

Uncle Vanya has got a fiery glint in his eye. Bolt cuttin' like nobody's business

Uncle Vanya has got a fiery glint in his eye. Bolt cuttin’ like nobody’s business

With bated breath, I slapped together my gear, slid into my long johns, and went to scout up the boss. The boys were cutting that steel, kicking hot sparks like meteors into the dark. That is what I wanted to capture. But permission from the headman would put me in everyone’s good graces. Who wants to agitate gents who fling rails like they were toothpicks, right?

Clearing the ties of extra weight. Each span of rail was approximately twenty yards in length.

Clearing the ties of extra weight. Each span of rail was approximately twenty yards in length.

Hammerin' spikes home like it ain't no thang.

Hammerin’ spikes home like it ain’t no thang.

The boss, Alexander, was pleased to make my acquaintance, in part because we were тёзки (tyozki) which means we have the same name. Alexander in Russia is as common as Jason in the States. I meet a passel of “samely named” hombres out here on the steppe, and it’s always a pleasure. Really. When a stern faced Russian breaks into full grin while bestowing a hearty handshake proclaiming “We are tyozki!”, you find yourself in friendly territory. Play your hand right, and you will win a new friend. In Siberia, finding a friend is better than finding Kolchack’s lost treasure.

I told Alexander what was on my mind, and he gave me free-reign to the work-site. He told me his crew would be rustling old track to lay down new from 8 pm to 6 am the next four days. Siberian Jackpot! Four glorious nights of dusty, diesel fueled steel wranglin’, amen.

It was time to meet the bread and butter of Ulan-Ude, a salty group no doubt, friendly, funny, and ready to share what they do with someone genuinely interested. Each night when I showed up out of the gloom to shoot more images, they met me with a grin. They were glad to have the American around, to joke with, ask questions of, and maybe show off just a bit to. If they were showing off, it was their skills, slangin’ sledges and rails like they were first graders visiting kindergarten again.

The Iron Vaqueros of Siberia. L-R Munkho, Lyoha, ?, Sasha "Handmade", Andrusha, and Seryoga

The Iron Vaqueros of Siberia. L-R Munkho, Lyoha, ?, Sasha “Handmade”, Andrusha, and Seryoga

Uncle Vanya, and Sasha whose last name literally means “hand made” were cutting bolts. Down the hill another fella operated a pavement saw, built by the hand of Sasha “Handmade” with miscellaneous parts found at the shop. Now that is Russian ingenuity! I clicked, clicked, and clicked torches and saws spitting flaming steel for the stars. When I showed Yulia, (my wife), a few images, she immediately suggested that the boys should be wearing protective masks. I queried Uncle Vanya on that very point, my answer coming in the form of an uninterested shrug. Around here, protective gear is for softies. About the only thing Uncle Vanya needed was a lit cigarette. If he had a smoke in his snout, his torch cut like butter. Now, when Uncle Vanya and I breached the subject of pike fishing, well . . . his eyes lit up like two cancer sticks burning bright, in the forests of the night. In heaven I know where I’ll find Uncle Vanya. He’ll be snaggin’ great pikes near the banks of the River of Life!

Uncle Vanya has a magic torch. And he thinks protective gear is for sissies.

Uncle Vanya has a magic torch. And he thinks protective gear is for sissies.

Uncle Vanya shows his golden tail.

Uncle Vanya shows his golden tail.

Sasha, Andrei, Munkho, Lyoha and Sergei are bruisers. It was something watching the boys set upon new rail, line it up, ram it flush, bolt it in and spike it home. Real steel wranglers. It’s a manly pleasure, using combustion, pneumatic pressure, and torque to put tons of steel were you damn well please. When their minds were set, they became like a single being willing the steel to do their bidding. Each knew the other so well that barely a word bawled over the wail of steel rail under sledge hammer. Business. Got. Done.

Munkho, ready to dig to . . . hmm, China isn't that far . . . Oh, I know! Puerto Natales, Chile! It is the anitpode of Ulan-Ude. Antipode? Global opposite.

Munkho, ready to dig to . . . hmm, China isn’t that far . . . Oh, I know! He’s ready to tunnel to Puerto Natales, Chile. It is the anitpode of Ulan-Ude. Antipode? Antipodes are two spots directly opposite one another on the globe.

Munkho takes a breather. He looking like a stoic Greek philosopher-poet. He was full of funny stories and quick retorts.

Munkho takes a breather, looking all stoic Greek philosopher-poet. He was full of funny stories and quick retorts.

While the boys waited for the Alexander the crane operator to lasso the next span of rail into place, or the excavator to tear up the old rail bed, we shot the breeze. Subjects for confab included river spearfishing, ale, the Ukraine, English study, profanity and other Russian language specifics, the fairer sex, similarities and differences between Siberia and Montana/USA and of course vodka. I find myself satisfying similar questions time and again, but I don’t sweat it. Them questions are expected. I am the lone ‘Merican they have chanced upon. I answer those questions faster than I can bulldog a steer, granted, I ain’t never bulldogged no steer!

This is another Alexander, crane operator. He could lay thirty tons neatly on your head. He fulfilled every boys dream when he let me climb on his crane!

This is another Alexander, crane operator. He could lay thirty tons neatly on your head. He fulfilled every boys dream when he let me climb on his crane!

Alexander, crane operating angel.

Alexander, patron saint of heavy construction and steel workers. He’s got a halo and everything.

I hung out with those boys for hours. I enjoy immensely the opportunity to kick it with Siberians, it’s a pleasure. Recording authentic people in their element is how you get to know a place. Politicians, oligarchs, and movie stars? Reckon I’d rather you pluck my teeth with pliers! Give me the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker every time. Now them are people!

I called her an evening, and ambled into the homestead just as wife was pulling piping banana bread out the caboose. She said, “You wanna treat the boys?” First and only time those fellas get hot from the oven, home made and hand delivered sweet bread from an American in Siberia. I’d stake my life on that. The boys offered thanks, demolished aforementioned bread and got straight back to business.

Four hours and several spans later, with all new track laid, Rodeo drive was transformed. I thank those boys every time I take a smooth tram ride home. After five nights of slavin’ in rain and snow, they stretched their weary bones, rubbed their sleepy peepers and packed it in. With only one thing on their mind, they mounted their diesel equines, and road off into the . . .  *ahem* sunrise, lookin’ for a bed to bunk in.

Ridin' bolts of Rodeo drive. (The streets is really called Young Communist St.)

Ridin’ bolts of Rodeo drive. (The streets is really called Young Communist St.)

Seryoga has a knack for whackin' track into place. Andrusha, right, gifted me whole bag of home roasted pine nuts. Thank you Andrusha!

Seryoga has a knack for whackin’ track into place. He patiently answered all my questions, and seemed to quietly will the tracks into their bed.  Andrusha, right, gifted me whole bag of home roasted pine nuts. Thank you, Andrusha!

Sasha "Handmade" was a master with many tools, and wasn't too shy to pick up a shovel.

Sasha “Handmade” was a master with many tools, and wasn’t too shy to pick up a shovel.

Now you seem him, now he's gone. Uncle Vanya vanishes into the dark Siberian night.

The ghost of Uncle Vanya appears and vanishes into the dark Siberian night.

Adventure? New experiences with new faces is a rousing form of social adventure. You mightn’t have the coin, occasion, or inclination for transcontinental jet-setting, but that’s OK. A someone adventure can’t be more than a few doors down from your familial stomping grounds. Going new places is grand. Learning new folks grander yet. World exploration by befriending her people in your own back yard has never been easier. Travel the world you might, but you will never know a place, if you don’t engage her people. So engage people, people!

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