This post is dedicated to Christy Morgan, a great friend, with a lovely smile who braved a new culture and a coooooold winter to love on Siberians. She is getting married to her Jonathon this very fine day in Florida. Yahoo! And wishing you both our very best.
Ever wonder what the view looks like out someone’s window on the other side of our bantam blue planet? What some Indian businessman gazes upon as he contemplatively buttons his shirt in the warmth of a Bangalore summer morning? What a Chinese child might spy out her autumn Kunming window after her studies? What frosty winter view stretches before a Siberian wife sipping darjeeling tea? Oh! To find common ground with a Mechanic from Davao or Cleric from Alexandria observing life outside their window. To meet some deep human need of understanding in a shared, silent gaze at life through glass. Window views from Bangalore, Alexandria, Davao or Kunming I can’t do. But if you have longed for a view on Ulan-Ude from someone’s window, come stand next to me, and let’s see what we can see.
Ulan-Ude, capital of the Buryat Republic, snuggles between hills sheathed in Siberian pine, marches toward the banks of the Selenga river and spills across her current out onto the sprawling steppe. It has changed drastically since I first visited this fair settlement of former nomads in January of 1999. I remember searching the whole east side in vain for a place to eat; now there are cafes on every other block across the city. Fourteen years ago there was one shopping center, the Univermag (Universal Shop) on Lenin Street. Now swank shopping centers spring up from under your feet. The city has become a real patron of the arts, planting sculptures of nomadic archers, warriors, maidens, birds and beasts liberally upon her squares and bridges.
Generally though, art is not what you see out your window. Rather, you see white ten-story prefab apartment buildings, or five-story versions in weathered shades of amber, pumpkin and brick. You might see people chopping wood, walking their house dogs, upbraiding itinerant packs of feral dogs, hauling water from public water pumps, shopping, strolling, sledding, chilling in land cruisers, waiting for trams, picking through trash bins, or just chatting.
Trees near your window are a boon indeed, as they cater to feathered flutterers who visit your windows unannounced. I am unfamiliar with many bird species here, and so don’t know their equivalent names in English. A few favorite visitors I do know, such as Great Titmice, Azure-Winged Magpies and Bohemian Waxwings. These Waxwings seem to show up on schedule right around noon at our kitchen window. Puffed up against the Siberian cold, they look like a ball of down fluff with a beak.
As it turns out their are three species of the Waxwing: Bohemian, Cedar, and Japanese. I have always been mystified as to why these birds are called “Waxwing”. The etymology of the English name of the bird is fascinating. Waxwings have brilliant red tips of “wax” on the inside, or secondary feathers of their wings. The red reminded people of red wax used for sealing letters, hence the name Waxwing! Bohemian is a reference to gypsies or Roma from the East who are known to wander throughout Europe, and Asia. To English speakers, Bohemia used to be known as a place “somewhere far to the east”. Perhaps they should be renamed Siberian Waxwings, as Siberia is much farther East than Bohemia and the Roma roam here still. These little aptly named wanderers continue in the traditional nomadic culture of much of the East, handed down to them by their fore-bird-fathers.
Growing up in a railroad town, I have always wondered at diesel dragons appearing from nowhere to roar through town, stopping people in their tracks, kicking up a hub-bub and then disappearing, leaving peace in their wake. In Irkutsk, I lived in a region called Universitetski (University) where I could see the great Trans-Siberian beast rumble through the city. When I walked to Russian class I crossed the railroad. Yes, more than once I stopped to squish a few rubles under the steel wheels of the dragon.
While we can’t see the Trans-Siberian railway from our flat, we have friends who can. Behold a frosty afternoon vista from their window, through the smoke of a thousand fires keeping the cold at bay one more night.
You may never come to our part of the blue earth. But you have now seen her through typical windows . . . windows on the exotic East, the Siberian Orient. (Follow this link to see a post on traditional decorative Siberian windows : http://transformsiberia.com/siberia-and-its-peoples/windows-on-siberia/ )