“David, he suggests we go to an overlook to see a view of the area, then we go to the
hydroelectric dam, which he says is very interesting, then we come back.”
Rose and I are officially ready to let go of Stolby.
Russia being Russia, the chaotic confusion suddenly turns serene and enjoyable. Sergei
pulls over at a scenic overlook where the parking lot is full of limousines—wedding parties.
Rose is overjoyed—more pictures for her wedding dress blog.
Sergei, Rose, and I hike out to a spot overlooking a stunning valley. There is a platform
surrounded by red metal fencing, and I snap some of my favorite photos from the
trip—wedding couples posing, the mountains and valley behind them, with wind blowing
through the brides' veils—the red from the railing, the white from the dresses, the black
from the tuxedos are gorgeous in front of the natural backdrop.
“Yeshcho raz, yeshcho raz [Another time, another time]!” one groom keeps yelling to
the photographer, urging him to snap more shots of his bride. This scene—newlyweds
surrounded by their families and friends, laughing and celebrating—makes all the bad
thoughts I was having about Russia melt away. Rose is feeling the same.
“I can't believe we're in Russia,” she says. “Feels like somewhere else.”
“I know,” I say, as we walk back toward the car. “But it makes me angry. This all feels
so free and hang-loose. And then I think about what people here are sometimes up against.”
I think about the beating of Oleg Kashin, the trouble Nadezhda goes through, the call
to Olga's family from the FSB. Why can't everyone just let people in this country alone ?
This is still on my mind when we return to the car, and begin driving toward the well-hyped
Sergei, our driver, is in his forties, a pleasant, stocky guy with brown hair who seems
eager to chat. He talks to himself while driving. “Spasibo, spasibo,” he says when other
drivers let him into a lane. “Oh, yolki palki!” he says whenever we go over a bump.
I tell Sergei how I was struck by the free spirit and joy I witnessed at that overlook.
“Sure, a person feels free if he has means,” Sergei our driver says. “When a person gets
up in the morning, what does he think about? His job and making money for his family.
Today people don't feel secure that they can do that. Compare this life to socialism. Our
old life was comparable to what countries like Sweden and Finland have today. But here?
Bureaucrats are the only people who live good lives, and they don't care about common
He graduated from a university in Krasnoyarsk and became head of a transportation
company. But his job evaporated during the recent economic crisis. “So I decided why
not work as a taxi driver? I have to support my family—my wife and seventeen-year-old