Diving In

For the title of this update, I was scouring my brian for all water-related phrases, as only these could aptly describe my experiences this past week. Russia has begun the great thaw and with temperatures in the 50s (10 C?), this thaw is occurring at an awfully fast pace. Everywhere you look there is water. It flows down streets like rivers, utterly soaking my shoes, socks and feet. Pedestrians walk the obstacle course that are the sidewalks, skillfully sidestepping the vast oceans… also known as puddles.. and occasionally having to jump out of the way before being completely drenched by a passing car. Water is also streaming down the walls of my living room and drips from multiple places in my 100-year-old ceiling. At one point my roommate donned a camouflage rain jacket, flipped the hood over his head and engaged in acts of heroism as he emptied and rearranged the buckets dispersed on the floor. Three days later, things are starting to calm down.

When I wrote last week’s update, I hadn’t yet remembered that Orthodox Christianity follows the Julian calendar, so instead of photographing Easter last Sunday, I photographed Palm Sunday (Easter will occur this Sunday). Part of the ceremony of Palm Sunday involves parishioners having their palm fronds (or in this case, pussywillows) blessed with holy water. Hoards of people crowded the altar as the priest doused them with water using an implement resembling a cat-o-nine tails. I was photographing from a position between the priest and some of the parishioners and was therefore also blessed by this water. The crowd loved every second of it and with every spray of water they became increasingly animated.

In non-water related news, I also photographed a competition of student and professional designers of Muslim clothing. It was a fantastic event and brought back memories of making a short film about the Miss Austin and Miss Austin Teen Pageant. The majority, if not all, of the models were Russian so it was really a great mix of people.

I have been receiving emails about my update from last week, with comments particularly about babushkas. This got me thinking more about babushkas (a general pastime of mine) and why there are so many of them. Yes, Russia has a shorter life expectancy than most countries in the West and you could believe the stereotype that Russia’s people, particularly her men, meet an early death due to alcohol and smoking, but really, what I am actually seeing is the lasting effects of WWII. Russia lost almost an entire generation of men in that war (here it’s known as the Great Patriotic War); a million soldiers died in the battle of Stalingrad- in just one battle! On May 9th, Russia celebrates Victory Day, the day they defeated the Germans in 1945. It’s a very big event in Russia and I’m glad to be here to photograph it.

I’m gearing up for a very big weekend. The archbishop of Tatarstan will take part in Saturday’s midnight service and Tatarstan’s president will attend Sunday’s services. Should be exciting!

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