trial wasteland—abandoned vehicles buried in snow and empty industrial buildings with
gaping holes where windows used to be.
Sergei asks Nadezhda about her life. “She is saying there have been some sad events,”
he leans around to tell me from the front passenger seat. “But she doesn't like to talk about
We do learn that Nadezhda lived with her husband for fifteen years, but they divorced.
She is raising two daughters on her own—they are seven and thirteen.
“There is a quote from Lenin— Uchitsa, uchitsa, uchitsa [Study, study, study],” she says.
“Not for me. God meant for me to work, work, work.”
Nadezhda and her husband owned two hotels together. When they divorced, she kept
one—the Tranquility—and now runs it herself. On the side she also decorates cars for wed-
dings. In Russia weddings are elaborate—at times gaudy—affairs. Couples go over the top
to decorate cakes, and vehicles. To Americans, Russian wedding dresses are hideously over
the top. Rose actually kept a blog, and one of her favorite things to capture was the craziest
wedding dresses in this country.
“I make the fabrics and the artificial flowers to go on the wedding limousines,”
Nadezhda says. “This is a small town. At weddings I'll often ask couples how their parents
are doing. They'll say, 'oh, my mother and father drink too much.' It's a terrible thing.”
Ishim looks better in sunlight, with a fresh coating of snow. Trees line the streets. It's too
small a place to have any large buildings—in downtown there are mostly two- and three-
story structures with flower shops and restaurants. The place reminds me a bit of Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, where I went to high school. Ishim has the same population—around 65,000
people—and the same feel. Big enough to have some energy, small enough to feel tight-
Nadezhda pulls up to a restored building that is the city's museum. Since we have
checked out of the hotel and have a night train, we doubt we'll see Nadezhda again. Sergei
and I thank her and say good-bye, then head into the museum to meet Tatiana, the friend of
the Tatiana we met on the train.
Tatiana Savchenkova is a local history and literature scholar, a larger-than-life woman
with crooked yellow teeth and straight brown hair down to her chin, who speaks as loudly
as Marina from the sanatoriy —and wants just as much to be our tour guide.
“Let's start!” she says, beginning a dizzying tour that takes me and Sergei into every
room of the museum. She must be six feet tall, waving her finger near my face as she tells
me about the famous poet from Ishim, how Ishim once hosted a world's fair for Asian and
European merchants, and how this remote city in the snow, for reasons still not clear to me,
came to be known as Siberia's Italian city.
After our trip through the museum, Tatiana calls a taxi. The three of us climb in, and
she directs the driver to a pleasant spot near an attractive Russian Orthodox church. Onion-