Thursday, 5 February 2009

Man writes about excruciatingly cold town you've never heard of and have no interest in

Oh wait, that could just be the name of my whole blog.


Let's start again.

Yekaterinburg, Yekaterinburg: we've all dreamed of it. For some it haunts us nightly. But few of us truly dared believe that hallowe'd place of legend truly exists.

Oh hold on.

You haven't heard of it, have you?

Yeah, well, it's good, but I was there a week ago and want to write about the train and kind of need a wee and this Chinese internet cafe has no facilities IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, so I might be relatively terse, mightn't I?

Yekaterinburg is the capital of the Urals, and is also the place where Tzar Nicholas and his family were gunned down then bayoneted by the Soviets (or in the case of his sister, lobbed down a well and then gassed - niiiiiiiiiiiice). Anyway, byproducts of this are a sort of slavishly apologetic demi-cult that revolves around an insanely expensive Russian Orthodox cathedral built on the site of said killings. Weirdly the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia only deems them martyrs, but the Russian Orthodox Church OUTSIDE Russia (yup, 'parently it's big business) has them down as saints. This in effect means that they are treated as saints, the cathedral bedecked in sacred icons of the whole family gathered together, including reputedly the priciest icon in Russia. So if you're feeling ill or infirm, you can pray to the Romanov family, a bunch whose chief special skill was getting shot, and aren't technically saints in their own country. This makes so little sense I've just made myself ill writing that sentence, but in conclusion, the Russians are a surprisingly guilt-ridden bunch.

What else, what else... oh yeah, when we arrived it was -24C, and it got rather colder at night. I'm somewhat conscious from the hordes of indolent yuppies and silver spoon suckling toffs that I choose to call my friends that a lot of you have been skiing and it was probably -235 Kelvin and your mulled wine got cold, but for me this was a novel experience. The only thing I can really compare it to is dental anaesthetic.

I have taken up with the Suttons, two brothers from Sheffield that fans of the second half of my last blog may be familiar with. We have been drinking, which is nice, the highlight of our Yekaterinburg drinking being a visit to Beatles-themed bar known as Yellow Submarine. It was fun: arguably the worst covers band I have ever seen bashed out a peculiar mix of Beatles and Nirvana tracks (they probably set some sort of record for Worst Band In The World With Two Drummers), through frisson was added for the locals by the fact that the town mayor's vodka-blasted son was on guitar... apparently he was lucky that none of Yekaterinburg's apparently vociferous/very very bored paparazzi were in the house. I took a photo. I might sell it. Break into Russian regional press. Not sure it's a growth industry, mind.

Got talking to a student called Ekaterina. She was dressed like Britney Spears in the Baby One More Time video, only set off with a t-shirt imprinted with Paris Hilton's face. She was - no joke - by far the most ardent communist I met in all of Russia, something all her friends found hilarious. By the end of the night we were both utterly battered and having what has to be the shittest argument to have ever occurred between capitalist and commie. It can roughly be boiled down thusly:

Me: "Yeah, well you can't possibly like Stalin"
Her: "He was a great man!"
Me: "Oh, fuck off. I mean, not in a bad way. Sorry. Um. But you know. He was a cunt. I mean. Sorry. I mean, I suppose he had a right to kill your lot, though not really, but, um, Polish, yeah?"
Her: "What?"

It was fun.

Oh, and husky dog sledding occurred. I was expecting it to be a lot like reindeer sledding, and really it was, with one crucial exception: I had to get out and push. Were there a medal for canine laziness in the face of Western thrill-seeking decadence (which let's face it, there might be) then these fuckers would have scooped it. It was actually enormous fun after about the second kilometre, when my very genuine rage had finally become palpable to the stupid mutts/there were no more nasty hills to go up.

Um, this may read a bit deadpan. I liked Yekaterinburg - the pisstaking cold was a larf from a tourist perspective, and our uncanny ability to continuously bump into people who were not only friendly but also flawless speakers of English (big shout out to Olga the tour guide) has probably given us a grotesquely skewed - but entirely positive - view of the place. So good for the Tzar, and good for Communism - if him and his crew of saints/martyrs hadn't been shot there, we wouldn't have come to Yekaterinburg, and wouldn't have had the spiritual and moral vacuum present in all who don't know or care where Yekaterinburg is purged from within us.

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