Hey guys– I’m going to go ahead and post the text of this post. I’ll add in pictures later; apparently Nathan needs his computer now for something called “work.”

As you may remember, we went to Velikij Ustjug, a town in the far northeast of our region, to ring in the new year with the Katjas. Now, although Velikij Ustjug is a mere 600 km away from Cherepovets, it’s significantly further than the average Russian is used to traveling. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these 600 km take a whopping 12 hours by bus. Our traveling companions included not only the Katjas, but also Katja the Blond’s sister Dasha, a first-year student in the Tech Ed department.

Although the bus was very comfortable and appeared to be almost brand new, no one slept on the way, and when we pulled into the station at around 4:00, everyone was bleary-eyed. So after we bade Katja the Dark-Haired goodbye and climbed into Katja the Blond’s father’s tiny car (overloading it to the point that when you hit a bump the tires squealed against the body), we took only a few minutes to coo over the beauty of Russian winter and eat the bliny that Katja’s mom had prepared for us (!!) before marching off to bed. We woke up around noon and finished off the bliny, as well as some soup, sweets, and tea.

I’m going to pick up the pace now, mainly because a lot happens in a week, and you probably don’t care about most of it. Also because at some point tonight Nathan will want his computer back.  Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Now read it 4 more times, one for each day we were at the Katjas’. You now know 90% of what we did there. But until you experience it for yourself, you cannot fully comprehend the beautiful and terrible truth of my words.

Katja the Blond’s father looks exactly like you expect a Russian to, and he also looks exactly like some actor who plays Russians. Nathan insisted that his look-alike was Marlon Brando. Although this improved my cultural literacy, it was not the correct answer. His picture is in here later, at the zoo. Who do you think he looks like?

Here is Katja the Blond’s house, in the village of Blagovesh’e (population 400). Her father built it about 17 years ago (relatively recently for the village), which is why it’s so nice.

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Here is the view from the bus stop.

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Here is their church. It is no longer a working church, but in the basement there’s a disco.

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This is Katja the Blond with Nathan.

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The second day we went to see Father Frost. He has a whole estate complete with a casted fairytale forest, a zoo (where Katja’s dad works), and a huge house that has rooms for things like Christmas trees made by children and wedding announcements.

Ded Moroz himself came out to greet us, and he was easily the most excellent Santa I’ve ever seen. He was taller than Nathan and wore a beautiful embroidered robe, and he had a deep, booming voice that I’m sure would have been saying jolly things if only I had understood.

Back home, we complain about the epidemic of self-esteem, the idea that every person is a special little snowflake and is worthy of praise, even when really they just aren’t. The Russians have no such problems. So while we go to Santa, sit on his lap, and are automatically assumed to be good boys and girls deserving of toys, Ded Moroz expects you to prove your worth by reciting a poem. So Nathan recited “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and I did my standard Russian children’s poem about a chocolate-guzzling elephant (high culture in the Sewanee Russian department).

The path to Ded Moroz’s house.

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He has ice sculptures of himself.

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This is the map of his estate.

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You don’t sit on his lap, which I was just fine with.

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One of the first characters we met in the fairy-tale forest was Baba Yaga, a witch in Russian fairy tales. She carries a broom and flies around in a mortar and pestle. We couldn’t get any good pictures of her.

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A pechka, or Russian oven. This used to be the central item in the Russian home; all the cooking happened in it, and the choice spot to sleep was on a shelf above the oven (usually reserved for the grandmother). Katja the Blond still has a pechka; Katja the Dark replaced hers with a gas furnace about 7 years ago. In the city, of course, we don’t have them.

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Nathan sitting on a chair labeled “September” for his birthday. He actually smiled!

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Barrier for stopping by. And rocking out, apparently.

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Katja’s dad saved some bread to feed the animals so they would pay attention to us. LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THIS CAMEL.

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Did you know that owls hiss when they feel threatened or photographed?

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I touched that moose. It was pretty great.

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The entrance to Ded Moroz.

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Unfortunately, we failed to get a picture of Nathan with our hosts in front of the tree (at least on our camera). Anyway, here are Katja and Dasha. And me.

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Sadly, I don’t have pictures of Katja’s mother, Svetlana. Probably because she was always making more things for us to eat. But we did teach everyone to play Egyptian Ratscrew and Spoons, and it went over beautifully.

On New Year’s Eve, we met with Katja the Dark in the city, explored, and then we went home with her rather than the Blond. From here on out, it was one big party, as you will soon see.

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