Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sochi - where many nations met

Sochi -Where Many Nations Met

 A Lezginka Dancer from Adygheya in the Causcuses

For many years my view of Russia has been coloured by my experiences in the early 1980s when Mami and I would sometimes buy cheap aeroflot tickets to go to Japan.  On one occasion we had to wait for several hours in Moscow airport for our connection. I remember we found leather benches in a lighted area of the terminal where we could at least sit and wait for our plane in the otherwise dark and deserted building.   Another of our flights included an overnight stopover in Moscow.  On this occasion our passports were taken from us before we were chaperoned by a stern lady member of the Communist party to a shabby hotel which served us tough overcooked steak.  In our room we found the windows had been barred and there was a radio without an on-off switch or tuning controls, just a volume knob to turn down the sound of the music station that had been chosen for us by our Russian hosts. Since that time I have felt little interest in visiting bleak Russia.

It was Mami who secretly bought the tickets for our trip to Sochi and on Christmas day announced our forthcoming holiday.  Because of the expense she could not afford more than five nights, and 3 tickets; one for pairs skating finals and two for a Japanese speciality; men's freestyle skating.  I am allergic to watching sports and was not sure what to expect or look forward to.  This is what happened:

There are no direct flights to Sochi, so again we had four hours to waste in Moscow airport.  The terminal was now brightly lit and crowded with people, trendy shops and restaurants.  It could have been any airport in the world. Mami commented to me that the Russians seemed to be wearing masks, they do not smile spontaneously, but as we were to find out later this was a misleading first impression. The terminal was too crowded to find somewhere to sit or draw, but I did manage to make sketches of this child with her father. 

Father and child at Moscow Airport

The flight from Moscow to Sochi takes about two hours so it was already ten in the evening (Russian Time) when we at last arrived at Sochi.  On arrival the Russians became very Russian; they excel at security which was duplicated and thorough everywhere!  There favourite word is "Niet", which means "don't argue with us because you will get nowhere".  I later discovered the antidote is a big smile against which they have no defences, it sends  them to pieces and disarms them. It took us four hours to get through all several layers of security that entailed leaving the airport and booking into our rooms which were on board a huge cruise liner that was moored in the port. We finally got to bed at in the morning  During our stay we were searched, scanned and frisked between 8 - 10 times a day so I had to do a lot of smiling.  Much of the following day was taken up arranging passes to go on to the Olympic site, we finally made it onto the Park in mid afternoon where we had lunch in the Japanese  house, we then went to the evening program of freestyle skating.  I had done no drawing all day and was becoming grumpy, Mami's secret holiday arrangements were going horribly wrong for her!

On the second day we had more time to explore the "Olympic Park". The huge and modern site is situated in Adler, about 40 minutes train journey from Sochi.

The Olympic Park at Adler

The small city nestles on the flatness of a narrow plane between the Black sea and the rocky snow covered mountains which are about 5 - 10 miles inland.  Throughout our stay the air was still and the hot sun shone causing the temperatures to rise to 20c.  As we had no commitments until the evening so we visited a huge building near the entrance where there were displays about the various regions of Russia.  We ambled through endless displays about Siberia and the Urals until our eyes alighted on mannequins dressed with beautiful silk and velvet costumes from the Caucus region which is between the Black and Caspian sea. On the stand staff were dressed in these costumes, at last I had found somewhere inspiring to do some drawing.  I took out my drawing pad and the world changed instantly.

Within two minutes the organisers were all over me, "Would you like a chair" "Can we bring you some Tea"  "This is a present I have for you, they are socks knitted by my grandmother".  My hosts were from Muslim Dagestan, a small region on the old silk road which sort of curls round troubled Chechnia.  I have to admit I was again hampered from drawing, but at last I was amongst people and things that interested me. 
Here I am sitting on my chair with my drawing pad being looked after by Sofya

This is Saida who is a student who speaks easy English and told us she lives to dance, her body impulsively swaying and pulsating every time she heard music from neighbouring stands

Saida Radzcabova making dance movements

I made many drawings Saida, but never really catching the structure of her face.  This is a photo of how she really looked veiled in soft  "Lezginka" pink silks.
Saida Radzcabova

And this Saida's gentle friend Ahigova who was dressed in an elaborate satin white dress.  

Ahigova who was dancing alongside Saida

And this is a photo of Ahigova with one of her elegant menfolk

And this is the vivacious and perfect English speaking Diana, round faced like Saida's and lovely in the most up to date chic fashion
"My name is Diana, as in Princes Diana"
I stayed on this stand for the rest of the afternoon, talking about their tiny Russian region which is amongst the most ethnically diverse in world, and then it was time for us to leave to go to the evening event which was the rigged Olympic contest called the "men's figure skating short program".   It was a scam.

On the way we passed a small open air theatre where a small band of Russians were playing traditional songs, a slightly portly woman at front of stage with a strong high voice belted out the lyrics.

 A slightly portly woman belted out the lyrics

and I saw Russian children responding spontaneously by dancing
 Children Dancing

Dance permeates Russian culture.  In the next act a large Father Christmas figure, with a booming base voice and a huge white beard, came down from the stage to walk amongst the children.  They linked hands and followed him in a chain as he walked through the crowd singing a long Russian ballad.  I wish I had had more time to make drawings of this act which I found very moving.

The following day we arrived early to watch the rehearsals for the Men's skating where I made some sketches.

before returning to the cultural building where there were some dance performances scheduled to take place on an open air platform.  The dancing acts were superb.  

Rows of elegant women came on stage wearing long dresses that covered their feet, their costumes made of richly coloured silk and velvets ornamented with golden braids.  Their swaying bodies with gentle undulating arms seemed to float across the stage like clockwork toys into ever changing formations.

and the men arrived on stage like cockerels, virile and elegant, strutted their stuff in front of their womenfolk. They jumped and span in the air landing on their knees.  

and played with knives

Backstage I could see girls in white satin dresses like Angilhova had been wearing on the stand.

They came out and performed different dances

From Dagestan there were dancers in yellow ochre tunics and pantaloons

and by now the Russians in the watching crowd had started dancing too.

Sometimes old ladies came out to sing on stage

waiving handkerchiefs or with tambourines

and the crowd would melt away to almost nothing

until they were summoned back by the drummers

and more dancers

doing different dances

A Russian called Vlad, who had been watching my enjoyment, came up to me and said in his best broken English "I love my Country" and I had to agree with him that Russia and it's peoples are very special.  When the masks drop they become exuberant.  I saw this happen many times in queues.  We would be waiting, the Russians around looking sultry or serious, and then a commotion would erupt because one of them had had enough.  Exchanges became excited and the scene would become very Italian.

I like the Russians!  I also want to visit my friends in Dagestan who are the most delightful, friendly and interesting people who deserve our support, although maybe it will be difficult given the instability in Chechnia which is spilling into neighbouring regions. 


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