Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slavianski Bazaar

In Chekhov’s time there was a hotel in Moscow called Slavianski Bazaar. Now it’s an annual music and arts festival in Vitebsk, Belarus. Whenever people talk about it they get very enthusiastic, but we’ve never been there because we kept going home in early July before the festival started. Our landlady got all excited for us and sent a friend of hers to buy some tickets to a couple of shows before we even got back from our spring travels. When we got here she informed us that we already had tickets to shows on Friday.

Alla and I didn’t get serious about the festival in time to book a hotel room, so we also had to take this friend’s offer to stay as her houseguests. The hot weather broke just in time, and we enjoyed a very comfortable ride to Vitebsk in a new Mercedes minibus. The air conditioning never gets to the back of those minibuses, so we count ourselves lucky. We enjoyed watching forests and meadows roll by, and finally passed the famous Vitebsk linen fields; pulling into town just as the interior of the bus began to warm up in the noonday sun.
I enjoyed the city itself more than the two shows we attended. I think we could have chosen better if we had done our own planning, but I did enjoy seeing the Igor Moiseev Ballet again. Vitebsk is an extraordinarily beautiful city, anchored by gorgeous churches and broad pedestrian areas built on the banks of a clean-looking river. We walked kilometer after kilometer, exploring the festival vendors’ stalls and the city itself. Remembering the nearby linen mills, we bought lightweight linen shirts for summer. If the weather gets hot again, we’ll be ready. If not, well, we like the shirts anyway.

We came home on the train and enjoyed different scenery. Most spectacularly, the sun set very slowly in a reddened sky over rye fields, streams and golden church domes. I had a hard time getting my homework finished because I kept having to look out the window, but I managed to finish the last paragraph of my Chekhov story just as we arrived in Minsk. I’m chagrined that we didn’t get to know Vitebsk sooner, and glad we finally made a trip. I’d send tourists there for sure, even without the Slavianski Bazaar.

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