We had a holiday in Russia this weekend. November 4th was the Day of National Unity. It’s a fairly new holiday—instated in 2005. Technically, it commemorates Moscow’s freedom from Polish occupation back in the 1600’s. However, most people seem to view it as a replacement for the beloved Soviet October Revolution Day, which used to be celebrated in splendid grandeur on November 7th. In any case, Russians may not get the extra hour of sleep from daylight savings time, but they do get an extra day to relax.
I rang in the weekend by falling on the ice (rather comically, I might add: I was glad I had opted not to buy eggs). I have since fallen three more times and almost fallen more times than I can count. I’d say I’m in for a long and treacherous winter—except I’m told I can have surgery done on my boots so that I won’t fall. A good investment. Speaking of good investments, I finally acquired a warm Russian winter coat. So take that, winter!!!
My спортивный weekend was a little less than спортивный this week. But if you’re of the persuasion that holidays should be about food and not exercise, then it was the perfect holiday weekend. Tennis was cancelled because of a tournament. Sauna and swimming were not very relaxing either—Rector and a former president of Buryatia decided to barge in and invite us to have some tea and liver. In awkward embarrassment, we ended our swim early. (Moral of the story: in Russia, there is no privacy.)
[There IS, however, excellent Chinese food, as I discovered later that night—one of the perks of living less than 300 miles from China!]
On Sunday morning, my students invited me to a митинг (which, contrary to what Google translate just told you, is not so much a meeting as a rally). I ventured out into the cold (-16 Celsius, or 0 degrees for you Fahrenheiters) to celebrate national unity. It was the shortest and smallest rally I’ve ever seen, but I had a lot of fun. I got to blow up a balloon and wave a huge Ulan-Ude banner. There were speeches and musical performances. And, best of all, the giant Lenin head was looming ominously in the background—as if watching in silent disapproval as we celebrated the holiday that replaced the anniversary of his great revolution.
I didn’t stay long—after about 15 minutes, my students whisked me away to a café to warm up. (There is in general a high level of concern for me not freezing to death in this ungodly cold—which is actually still “really warm.”) Within another 10 minutes, every single person who had been at the rally was also in that café drinking tea. The rally had ended, but there was a brief concert going on afterward. When we left the café, we stopped to hear the last number of the concert—a Buryat folk group.
Then Khanda chased down the singers and convinced them to take a picture with me. They were happy to oblige.
In the spirit of national unity, I spent the afternoon preparing and devouring a bountiful feast of pozy with some Buryat and Tuvan students. Pozy, or buuzi, are the national dish of Buryatia. Tuva also has a passion for pozy, though they make them differently (more decorative, folded like roses). I enjoyed an afternoon of Buryat, Tuvan, and Russian music, dozens of pozy that I made myself. And through superhuman strength and imagination, I was even able to enjoy a salad literally dripping with mayonnaise.
I closed out my three-day weekend with a concert by the orchestra of national Buryat instruments. This was super-interesting for me! I’ve never heard anything like it. It was not traditional music—this concert was the grand premier of new pieces by contemporary Buryat composers—but it was all played on traditional Buryat instruments and sung in Buryat, and it definitely sounded like Buryatia to me.
In one of my early posts, I said that Ulan-Ude was hard to get to know. Almost six weeks later, I feel really close to my city, to my Republic of Buryatia. I won’t claim to know it well—it is, after all, still an “умом Россию не понять” situation. But as one of my students has said, “Приехала американка, а в июне уедет бурятка.” (An American arrived, but in June a Buryat will leave). I don’t know how true that will be, but on this Day of National Unity, I believe anything’s possible.