The Yekaterinburg Skyshow

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Lari's Tank Sexytime

Lari's Tank Sexytime

The day is unbelievably hot. We never thought Russia was capable of such temperatures, but we’re all sweating a lot. We decide sitting in a café all afternoon is a good idea, but visit the Afghanistan war memorial on the way there. A central statue is flanked by two lines of huge curved poles, each marked with a year of the Russia – Afghanistan war. The poles contain the names of the local soldiers who died in the conflict, but it’s the three metre tall statue that is most telling of the local’s feelings. It is a soldier sitting down, exhausted, with head bowed forward and one arm resting on his knee as the other holds a Kalashnikov with its butt on the ground and barrel pointing skyward. The overwhelming feeling is the weary soldier, having done their duty, is now exhausted from the effort. I notice a young child playing on a little scooter in front of it; he is pushing himself back and forward in front of the statue, staring at it. After a minute he puts the scooter down and approaches the statue slowly. He reaches up to touch the man’s foot, whilst staring curiously up at his face. It’s a beautiful moment I become lost in.

Afghan War Memorial moment...

Afghan War Memorial moment...

Lari and I soon settle down in an airconditioned café sipping drinks and eating ice cream. Don has decided to try to dispose of the winter clothes he bought along for the trip by posting them back home. We warn him against the futility of attempting anything with a government office without fluent Russian language skills. He waves away our concerns and saunters off confidently. We’re singing a song by the time he marches angrily in an hour later; still clutching his bag of winter clothing.
“They’re all just…fucked”, he carefully explains after searching for the best possible word.
“I can’t post it because I’m not a citizen or something and it’s to a foreign country and it needs…something…I’m not sure, but whatever it was, I didn’t have it…or know what it was…or how to get it”, he splutters.
“It’s part of the Russian government, you knew it would be insane. If you don’t speak fluent Russian it’s just not worth it”, I remind him.
He looks deflated and waves the bag around in front of him in a way that reminds me of the tired Russian soldier statue.
“Now I get to carry this around all day too.”
Wrestling with the Russian government is a major trial and I hope one day to build a monument to all those who’ve attempted it. I think it would be in the shape of a ticket window with a closed sign on it. Behind the window someone sits talking on a phone and about to stamp some document with their free hand.

We enjoy more ice-cream, beer and discussions. The discussions are lengthy and fruitful with the only clear conclusions being that:
1. The Russian people we’ve met don’t seem to deserve the government they have, and
2. We need to head for the area of town featuring a certain fireworks shop.

Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk during Soviet times... now the hippies are here

Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk during Soviet times... now the hippies are here

Russian Police

Russian Police

We arrive near the shop and we are distracted by some awesome graffiti. It seems to be a good area for it, because with every turn down a side street we find more. While Don is photographing one of them I turn around to find a glass bottle perched in the window frame of an apartment. It looks like a large vodka bottle, but inside it there is a freshly dead snake that’s about forty centimetres long. I wonder for a moment if this could be from the crazy club back in Moscow with the drunken pig in a fishtank, so we examine it to see if the snake is part of the drink, like a tequila worm, or if it’s a later addition. With no obvious answer, or address for the club in Moscow evident, I decide to figure out exactly how ‘fireworks’ is written in Russian instead.

Snake Vodka Action

Snake Vodka Action

This leads me to the shop within a couple of minutes, as that’s exactly what’s written on the front of it in metre high letters. We enter and Don and I immediately return to our natural state as excited schoolboys. Lari sighs and sits down in a conveniently placed armchair as we take stock of the shop. There are two rooms lined with shelves from floor to ceiling and huge central tables and shelves in each room stacked with even more goodies. I saunter off one way, Don the other and we meet up about fifteen minutes later to compare notes. Our haul is extensive and costs about AUD$250. We just couldn’t stop once the opportunity arose. We wonder how legal they really are as we transport everything back across the middle of the city to enjoy a beer back in our café of the day as the sun begins to sink and the city cools down.

Dinner in the Park

Dinner in the Park

You want me! (To know me better)

You want me! (To know me better)

Don in his natural habitat

Don in his natural habitat

A real man! It can also mean a low, yobbo, redneck man too and I’m sure both are intended - much to my amusement

A real man! ..but looking like a dodgy catholic priest somehow...

We meet our Russian friends and they tell us they’ve been enjoying being around us crazy Australians as much as we’ve enjoyed visiting them. When we first arrived in town, a few of them had asked why we were staying in Yekaterinburg for so long, but now we felt the week had disappeared too quickly. In what was to become a common theme of the journey, we’ve engaged in very little traditional tourist activities, spending more time wandering in the city and enjoying events with the locals. Lari and Elven Nastya organise the food we’d bought and share it around with some beers as the sunset finishes and we enter the world of twilight. I’ve brought down my portable speakers and mp3 player to share some more sounds and set it playing some happy party music. With the arrival of the rest of the girls, Uralski Yulia announces that they have a presentation to make. They have bought each of us a T-shirt they think is most appropriate for us. We are very surprised at this and we haven’t brought anything in return. They tell us it doesn’t matter, it’s normal to give us something on parting. We all put on the shirts and wear them for the rest of the evening. I ask if anyone has some music requests and Singing Sasha immediately wants the salsa song from the Cat Empire again. I’m happy to accommodate and ask if anyone else knows how to salsa. Pasha and Uralski Yulia both do, they jump up as I do the same, grabbing Supermodel Nastya to teach her the basic moves. She is shy at first and keeps thinking too much about it, but with some encouragement she suddenly breaks through and dances perfectly. I get up to having her move smoothly through spins and turns when I notice there’s a line of couples dancing now, with Masha playing the song on repeat for everyone. I take a turn with Uralski Yulia and Princess Irina before we all collapse in a bundle of crazy laughing. We have managed to dance the twilight away and bring in the evening; now the time has come for pyromaniacal extravagance.

Salsa in the city

Salsa in the city

Don and I set about clearing a small area of the gravel pathway and set off five of the volcano style fireworks all at once. By themselves, these are the most boring fireworks, but in groups they look good. I consider the dangers of holding one and throwing it into the air just as I’m lighting it and pitching it as high as I can. It flies through the air, curving and rolling in wide arcs; looking spectacular. Don has a go too then we set up another block of four and ask who wants to light some. Masha and Irina are front and centre quickly and after some quick instructions, they set off the next four together. While that’s happening Don and I prepare some sets of small rockets that we poke into the grass either side of the pathway ready to set off straight away. We enter a frenzy of fire madness for a while as everyone takes turns lighting them off in bundles and we all enjoy the spectacle of noise, smoke and coloured spray.

We establish it’s high time we get the mortar out and Don sets it up on a level piece of concrete at the base of a statue before loading the first one. It is launched with a massive ‘whoomp’ and we see the ball sail high in the air before exploding into a shower of multicoloured sparks before finishing with crackling silver sparkles. We burst into cheering for this wonderful excess and barely stop for a sip of beer before launching a few of them in quick array.

“So the Australian accent is quite easy for us to understand”, Uralski Yulia comments.
“None of us have strong accents though”, Lari tells her.
“It’s true, do you want to hear us talk with REAL Australian accents using a lot of local language?”  I offer.  There is a surge of interest in the idea and Lari, Don and I look at each other for a moment.  We all switch to heavy country Australian accents, thick on the twang and speaking quite quickly.
“Youse wanna fuckin’ beer or what?”  I ask.
“Yeah, fuck yeah”, Lari replies.
“aint none ‘ere but…. Fuckin’ tragedy”, Don adds
“No wuckers mate, I’ve got some left here”
“There’s a ‘kin barbie and no ‘kin snags…not even some frickin Roo for us love”, Don complains to Lari.
“’kin oath.  Youse guys want salad instead?”  Lari asks, and we respond together in perfect time,
“Fuck off, that’s rabbit food”.  Everyone laughs at the fact we both speak exactly the same words at the same time.
“Youse guys are dickheads, it’s good for youse”, Lari finishes with a flourish.
“Well, there’s only one word I understood in all of that”, Uralski Yulia says with a naughty smile.
“And what fuckin’ word would that be for fuck’s sake?”  I ask innocently.

I think launching the medium sized rockets in sets of two is what brings the angry man down from a nearby apartment. Pasha immediately moves to engage him to see what’s happening and we pause frivolities for a moment. We three Australians have already been concerned by passing police cars, but all the locals assure us it’s perfectly legal and the police won’t be bothered by it in the slightest. The cars had indeed all driven past. After a long discussion with the man, Pasha returns to say he’d been bothered by the noise, since he has a young child trying to sleep upstairs. The man walks off slowly at this point, yelling something back to us. I ask if there’s somewhere else we can go that’s away from him; so they start the inevitable discussion in Russian. At the end of this the men want to stay and finish, but the women want to relocate down by the riverside. We start packing everything up for the move.

Sasha stealing the booty!

Sasha stealing the booty!

Me, Don and Pasha are the guilty parties

Me, Don and Pasha are the guilty parties

Don and I agree we now just want to set off the two huge rockets and we’re happy to leave the remaining smaller ones for some other time. These two are the size of a heavy rolling pin strapped to a metre long piece of pine. The explosions should be the finale we’re looking for. So we all wind our way down to the bank of the Iset River right near the city centre. I’m slightly surprised to find we’ve managed to come past the point where we had eaten bread and salami in a park during our first few hours in the city. I can see the Order of Lenin assigned to the city on the main bridge about a hundred metres in front of us. I look at Don as we both notice a spot with a stone fence running along the riverside that looks about the perfect height to launch the rockets. We stroll over to it feeling particularly happy and triumphant.
“Some people visit other countries and spend their time moving from hotel to hotel, taking pictures of buildings and statues they know nothing about”, I begin, Don smiles knowingly and continues.
“..and other people might pay money to stay in backpacker hostels meeting people from every country except the one they have taken the time to visit.”
“Still more people might come to Russia and get on a train in Moscow and not get off it until they reach the end of the line in China”, I continue as we both setup the rockets ready for launching.
“But we..”, Don begins, then breaks into a huge smile,
“..WE”, I emphasise,
“..We dance salsa in the parks with beautiful Russian women, we launch a vast amount of fireworks into the centre of their city, we share their homes and their lives for this short adventure, living their reality as closely as we can, not something created for tourists…we are the real travellers”.
We both pause and share a huge hug.
“I love you brother”, Don says.
“I love you too my crazy brother”, I return wholeheartedly as we finish the hug.
With that we turn to the rockets and light the long fuses. They launch within a split second of each other and both soar into the night sky trailing a shower of orange sparks. There seems to be an interminable length of time as they continue climbing and then angle their path across the river itself. We’re rewarded with an enormous double explosion of light and sound that a professional show would have been proud of. Our friends are all smiling and laughing as we are, people at a nearby café join in the merriment with cheers and applause. Our group of friends strings slowly along the riverbank; walking placidly into the cool night.

Clockwise from bottom left corner: Uralski Yulia, Lari, Don, Pasha and Elven Nastya in the middle

Clockwise from bottom left corner: Uralski Yulia, Lari, Don, Pasha and Elven Nastya in the middle

Being touched by the city

Touched by the city and its people

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