‘A’ and ‘L’ and Irkutsk
There’s this damn background buzz. A robotic bee in a barrel, looming closer, then further. Or maybe a swept hand in front of a cheapo FM aerial. Whatever the superficial resemblance, it’s annoying and seems tied to someone leaning-in… or doing something: crossing two argumentative wires somewhere in a live internet link between my UK kitchen and Irkutsk.
It’s only late February and the year’s stale resignation has yet to set in. I’m trying to steal a march on that downside by doing things… anything interesting… generating projects from projects… leading on to other projects. Including interviewing disembodied voices on the other side of the world.
Right now “old” is the newest new and we are back full-circle to interview-posts; the kind I began blogging with back in the days of Calling Moscow. Progress is not about leaving good ideas behind. Although I did.
I heard that it had been a veritable heat-wave for winter Irkutsk, reclining in a balmy -17°C, especially when compared to the lowest recorded: a shade off -50°C. That’s unimaginable for the majority of us Brits, grumbling about -5°C and crashing our cars as if in protest because we just can’t handle that kind of pressure. There’s always a saloon or two being yanked out of the back-road ditches around here every winter… or the tell-tale flapping of blue-white police tape delineating the absence of someone’s polished pride-and-joy, recently plucked unceremoniously from a hedge.
Meanwhile, over in Sibera, on a bright, sunny day… the locals have dug broad looping trenches down through two feet of snow and are racing their cars around them, all smiles. There’s even someone dressed as a tiger (I’ve seen the footage) and the young and old enjoying a snowy tug-of-war. Could that happen here? I doubt it. Maybe back in The Little Ice Age with those Thames Frost Fairs held between the 15th and 19th centuries… OK, not the car-racing.
That damn buzz is still here and I’m fighting to mentally block it out… Onwards.
‘A’ and ‘L’ live in Irkutsk, one generation and 30 minutes apart in a city of around “650,000”, so ‘L’ tells me. That’s less than one tenth of the population of London, but my small town would still be lost in it like a drip in a pond. ‘A’ lives in the city centre and found his way into tourism via boating on Lake Baikal, ‘L’ has the half-hour commute into town and was invited by ‘A’ aboard both the career path and perhaps the boat too.
Fortunately for her Irkutsk is eminently navigable, she tells me that all you may need to see of the centre is within a 2 km walk or, tram, taxi, bus/minibus journey. OK, “minibus” to us is “Marshroutka” to them. I asked for ‘L’ to repeat that three times and even spell it out twice… and I still didn’t get it correct. Finally they sent me a text. Duh! After all that I’m bloody well going to tell you whether you like it or not: “Marshroutka” … let’s all say it.
It’s certainly a very cosy way to travel; snuggled up against complete strangers in a padded van. Your London Tube-mentality probably won’t fit here. Mind you, in an act of willful subterranean defiance, I always attempt to speak to at least one complete stranger and make unreasonable amounts of eye contact too. Don’t you just hate someone else’s unwritten rules?
Anyway, Irkutsk is well served by public transport as we’ve mentioned in a previous blog… it doesn’t have an underground, …was that a dumb question: asking if it had? Oh well. The old, narrow-street centre wasn’t designed for bustling combustion engines and it’s best to stay out of the melee during the day. So much then for the “Paris of Siberia”, I guess those broad boulevards must sweep along, away from the core whilst determined locals slug-it-out bumper to bumper. The collective “they” are doing something about the heavy congestion, I learn… through a road-widening program, but short of flattening the place, it’s knotty core must remain.
Next: More conversation with ‘A’ and ‘L’.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 69) ‘A’ and ‘L’ and Irkutsk Part 2: “Mentalities”
[Photo by rapidtravelchai]