Monday, January 26, 2015

Wandering Minsk

I'm getting to know my new hometown. Indeed today was my first opportunity to practice some solo wandering. Friends know that I joyfully anticipate the moment when I get lost in a new city. Losing my direction can be scary, of course, but it's the best way to orient myself.

In that moment, the need to remember landmarks, recognize patterns, and understand signage - particularly those Cyrillic characters - renders a place less "exotic," less a series of touristic snapshots, and more a matter of practical living. Such wandering attunes me first to the physicality of a place.

"так," ["So"] I say to myself, "the land grows more steep this way… the river is over there… the sun is moving in that direction." Then I come to recognize the logic of why people walk they way they do. "Sure, I might try to cross the street here, but… Oh yeah, that tall building offers no passage… the 'long way" is actually the faster path…"

I walk southwest toward Independence Square where a statue of Lenin, leaning against a sculpted podium to harangue his grand socialist future into being, stands near the Church of Saints Simon and Helena. I've read somewhere that folks aren't allowed to photograph this statue, most likely because of its proximity to the "Government House." So for now I forgo the opportunity.

Turning toward a construction zone, searching for street art, I notice that I'm the only person wearing light colored pants; the attire outside today tends toward more somber hues. Subject to typical touristic paranoia, I presume that everyone knows I'm an outsider. Still, I'm working to learn phrases that allow me some entrance to the courtesies of Minsk life: "Здравствуйте" [Formal "Hello"], "извините" ["Excuse me"], "спасибо" ["Thank you"]…

Later in the afternoon, I check out "My English Granny," a comfy restaurant decked out like (as one TripAdvisor reviewer put it) a "low-budget Sherlock Holmes film." A woman in the cloakroom, supposedly a "real" grandmother, gives me a plush toy keychain in exchange for my hat and coat. A nice meal and drinks comes to about 24 USD.

Sun sets early this time of year, and I end my day in Minsk's Upper Town, a refuge for pre-Soviet architecture near the frozen-over lake. Fat, fluffy birds wait for folks to throw bread near the Vilnius baroque-style church and convent that attracts strolling photographers. I spot A. Artimovich's "Solidarity" relief outside the "Haus of Fashion" - and commit to returning the next day when the light improves.

I wonder when the sun will finally appear.

My apartment facade at night

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