Saturday, 27 September 2008

news from Ekatarinburg

Greetings from beyond the Urals. We have been 3 days in this city founded by Peter the Great in 1725, to exploit Siberian minerals. For 70 years the town was called Sverdlovsk, after the rogue who arrested and disposed of the Royal family. It reverted to Ekatarinburg in saner times in the 90's.(Saner, bar the Mafia, who were busy killing each other in immediate post-soviet days). From our hotel window we can see the new church, many-domed and golden, built only a few years ago, on the site of the merchant's house where in 1918 the Tsar and his family were held under house arrest. Here one grim night they were all murdered, and their bodies taken out of town to a desolate spot where they were consumed in acid and buried in a mineshaft.Yesterday we followed their route approximately in a Chrysler taxi, to find a whole nest of shrines and churches in the forest, and new ones springing up all around. The Romanovs have been canonised, and souvenirs confirm it in saintly postcards and prayer sheets. Much more moving are the old family photographs in a great display. Mostly they are informal, showing the family at play, smiling, relaxed. In one you see the shadow of the photographer, a woman with a slender waist! One of the princesses indulging her latest passion? I make an immediate bond with her across the decades - me the photographer, the catcher of the passing moment.
Leaving this moving shrine amongst the birches, we drive on to a paltry monument by the motorway which marks the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Newly-weds straddle the line in their finery, in the drizzle,for photographs. This dreary spot is enlivened by trees hung with coloured ribbons and empty champagne bottles.
The main Prospekt Lenina, back in town, is full of Modernist architectural masterpieces, and my camera clicks away in an ecstasy.
It took us 26 hours to get here from Moscow, in the company of a pleasant and neat Muslim gentleman in our four- berther, and tonight we leave after 11pm for our next destination, Novosibirsk.
This morning we had our first snow flurry, and wonder what awaits us further East.
People are much friendlier than I had imagined, although my paltry vocabulary does not get me far, but I have elicited smiles and chuckles, which melt away the FEAR of cold-war days.
We are all very well, and will repair now to our local Sherlock Holmes-themed restaurant for a late lunch. A bientot.