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March 13, 2005

Sakhalin: Festival of Spring

Having a festival to welcome the spring seemed to be jumping the gun a bit to me, held as it was in a football stadium blanketed in snow and attended by people in fur coats and hats. But okay, if they need to pretend that this is Spring, then so be it. I'd been told by Kostya that there would be pancakes (blinis) at the Maslenitsa Festival, so I trotted along on my day off and paid my 10 rubles entrance fee. Well, no pancakes to be found (just shaslik and vodka), but it was pretty entertaining watching the strength contests involving people in odd outfits on stage, and the giant effigy that apparently gets burnt at the end of the celebration. Kids were using the stadium stands as sled runs and there was an elderly lady with a mouthful of gold teeth and a winning smile (literally - it looked like she'd hit the jackpot and decided to keep the takings in her gums) selling unidentifiable food.

I walked through the markets - which sell everything from expensive coats to dried fish - and through the fresh snow to the museum. This is housed in one of two buildings in town left from when the Japanese lived here earlier last century (the rest were destroyed). The Sakhalin Region Art Gallery is in the other building, which used to be a bank and has great acoustics as the main hall was once a stock exchange. The art gallery has an interesting exhibition of works by a local artist, and some fascinating artefacts. I went there one evening after work to a guided tour event put on for employees of the company, and I was one of four, so we got the undivided attention of the docent and interpreter. I could have done with an interpreter at the museum since I couldn't understand a thing, but I suppose it means you use your imagination. There was a big display of Sakhalin wildlife, which was either very old or done by a pretty amateur taxidermist as you could see all the stitching and some of the stuffing was coming out. I'm fairly sure this fish didn't look quite like that when it was alive. There were some displays about Communism and one room devoted to a helicopter crash in 2003 where you had to wear special slippers. Every room had a lady sitting at the entrance like a bouncer who would eye you suspiciously as though you were going to make off with a stuffed weasel under your coat given half the chance. For my money, though, the only thing worth nicking would have been the gigantic sea lion. You can't really see it in the picture, but take my word for it, it was a beaut!

Posted by Rowena on March 13, 2005 07:33 AM
Category: Russia
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