Saturday, 15 May 2010

City of Pine Nut Chewing

Irkutsk is pretty bleak. It is in Siberia, after all. In huge contrast to the heatwave we had in Moscow, May here seems like the duller parts of winter in Japan.

Irkutsk is grey weather, grey buildings, grey parks consisting of the same silver birch groves that make up the majority of this part of the world.
Many of the back streets are unpaved, and muddier than a Herefordshire farm track!
And here am I walking through the middle of it all in my bright green anorak. I get stared at a lot. I make a fool of myself going into shops and not knowing how to ask for anything, nor even quite how to pay for it. Roubles seem to flow away like sand through the fingers. This is apparently the case for everyone here, although melting snow is perhaps a better metaphor, suggested by a Moscovite I didn't quite meet.

Most of the men here seem to be chewing pine nuts from their shells, including the Uzbek immigrants who stopped me to ask if I knew David Beckham. I too have picked up pine nut habit since my chess opponent on the train recommended I buy a bag being sold cheap on one of the station platforms. The technique is to break the shells between the back teeth, and suck or roll the kernel out of the case. This characteristic action is seen all over the place, and is apparently an integral part of Siberian life.

In amongst Irkutsk's tumble-down and burnt out wooden houses and the crumbling concrete blocks, there are a few new glassy office developments, but even these appear somewhat unloved: the cracks and broken paving seem to appear as soon as a new development is completed.

Crossing the road here is like an extreme sport: the traffic doesn't stop, it just goes around the pedestrian. If you're caught in the middle of a long crossing, like this one outside the city hall, it can be very hairy.

There are hundreds of buses, none looking very official, mostly looking like they may fall apart at any moment, and all driving extremely fast, leaving a strong diesel-stench. The buses are generally crammed with people. I keep having to remind myself that I am still on planet Earth (the sky and the gravity are a dead giveaway) and every journey made in every car or bus going past (or staying still) - everyone I see - has a story.

A snippet of one of these stories is illustrated in this spur-of-the-moment film I made at a church (now a museum) near the city centre.

stones throw from Mark Baldwin on Vimeo.

While the carillon played its surreal repetitive melody, two boys who had been throwing stones at the church noticed that they had been noticed, by a man with a long grey beard. Wherever you go on planet earth, boys will throw stones; grown-ups will catch them at it; humans are humans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the soundtrack from the carillon. Quite hypnotic.