I arrived in Kazan on March 28th to the most picturesque scene straight out of a Russian fairytale. The evening sun was pushing itself through a layer of thick grey clouds, casting a stunning glow of pinks and oranges over the forests, pastures and dachas still engulfed in snow. But instead of a white horse-drawn carriage, I was met by two friends in a tiny red Lada hatchback. We crammed my bags into the trunk area and proceeded towards town. Once on the highway, I leaned back in my seat which then pressed on my bag which then pressed on the latch to the trunk which then opened. The car kept speeding on while I quickly turned around and somehow managed to grab my bag before my things emptied onto the highway. We pulled over, rearranged and carried on…until the car broke down. For half an hour we sat by the side of the road, my friends laughing and chain-smoking cigarettes, as that’s what you do when things break down. As the non-smoker, I was in charge of thinking positive thoughts that would then get the car moving again. And indeed, it did. About 40 minutes later, I arrived safely at my apartment in the city center.
Kazan already feels like a second home and everyone is welcoming me back like family. The past few days I have connecting with friends and acquaintances, finding out all that I’ve missed since I’ve been gone. Just the other day a friend asked me to name a few specific things- sights, sounds, smells- that really give me that feeling of being in Russia. I thought for a moment and came up with a small list: the sound of my neighbors quarreling in Russian, the smell of dill, the experience of riding local transport (to which my friend heartily laughed as it is a subject I wrote about on my blog last year which everyone found quite amusing), and last, but most certainly not least, babushkas. Babushka is the Russian word for grandmother but it is also an affectionate word for elderly women. Now, everywhere in the world there are elderly women, but really only in Russia are there babushkas. It is difficult to list the qualities that differentiate babushkas from all other elderly women. There are the physical aspects- the stalky body, the round face, the floral headscarf tied under the chin, but then there are the more intangible qualities, a very specific Russian-ness that any Russophile would adore. There is something solid and immovable about them, like no matter which direction this country moves in, there has always been and will always be the Russian babushka.
Alas, Easter is this weekend and I’m off to make arrangements to photograph the celebration. It seems a very suiting way to begin.