Friday, August 20, 2010

Frozen culture in a fiery land

Definitely worth a read… I disagree, though, with the bit near the end where the author speaks of culture surviving the Bolsheviks… No, that’s simply wrong. The only reason that phenomena like the one described in the article (almost incredible reverence for high culture) managed to survive the ravages of the twentieth century is that they were frozen there, in Russia, but the atavistic and idealistic Soviet regime…

An Oasis of Culture in a Fiery Russian Summer


TARUSA, RUSSIA — As the world knows by now, this was Russia’s summer of “zhara,” the great heat, and “dym,” the unstoppable smoke.

Never have our annual days at the dacha here nearly 160 kilometers, or about 100 miles, south of Moscow, elicited so much attention; friends as far afield as Chicago worried that we were caught in the deadly forest and peat fires or suffering from the record drought and heat.

In fact, our slice of earth along the Oka River was spared the worst. The heat transformed everything into a kind of Russian Florida: un-air-conditioned, peopled by tanned bodies in shorts and flocking to the 24-hour store for a cool beer at 3 a.m. On nighttime terraces, where we usually shiver as the wind stirs the trees or an owl telegraphs its presence, we sat in sundresses.


Among those who recognized Tarusa’s charm was the late Russian pianist Svyatoslav Richter. Fifty years ago he erected one of the most striking, original structures of Soviet times: an austere wooden tower of a dacha commanding a stunning view of the Oka and its forested banks, with a small amphitheater for performances.

As recently as 2003, the annual pilgrimage to this dacha by devotees of Tarusa’s summer music festival to honor Mr. Richter was a matter of a few dozen loyalists boarding a single boat and scrambling up the banks to the forlorn building. Solemn toasts were raised to “Svyatoslav Teofilovich” in the reverence Russians reserve for their artists, above all their late, lamented artists.

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