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Plyos In Ivanovo Region Opens a Central Museum For Tourists

Plyos, the view of the Volga River (infotravel.ru)

I’ve been twice to Ivanovo Region in the last two years, and now the news has it that a new museum has been opened in Plyos, a beautiful small town half-way between Ivanovo and Kostroma. I have not been there yet.

The museum is called Prisutstvennye Mesta, which in a literal English translation means “government offices”. These provincial towns, as in England, used to be quaint regional creations in the 19th c. where government officials indeed went, sometimes to purchase the dead souls, as Nikolai Gogol told us. The regional authorities mostly likely meant that this is the central place for Sobornaya Gora tourist complex, so the verb “prisutstvovat'” is used in its literal meaning, as in “to be in the place”.

The museum (which reconstruction cost the regional budget RUB 130mln) contains a permanent exhibition following the age-long history of Plyos. The ground floor houses the offices of the local lore museum. More temporary exhibitions will unravel the little-known pages of Plyos’s history. The current exhibition that can be seen during the next 6 months is dedicated to the Time of Troubles of the early 17th c. The museum also accommodates tourists with disabilities.

The town of Plyos had been founded in 1410 by the Great Prince Vassily I. Later archaeological excavations revealed that earlier settlements in the area date as far back as 9-14th cc. During the Time of Troubles Plyos changed hands many times, going between Russians and Poles, until eventually it remained in Russian hands. The ancient wooden fortress perished in these battles and was never restored. The oldest cathedral dates back to 1699, but most cathedrals and churches were built in 19th c., some in commemoration of victory against Napoleon.

The development of Volga trading fleet led to the industry growth at Plyos. There were breweries, ten smithies, salt warehouse, and numerous stalls that sold silks and wool. A fabric plant was also opened in Plyos in the 19th c.

And like many Volga towns (Yaroslavl, Kineshma) Plyos boasted unforgettable landscapes that attracted many an artist. The Russian painter Isaac Levitan lived and worked in Plyos in 1888-1889. His museum was opened in 1970s at the house he rented while staying in Plyos

A Moment of 2011: Work

When I look back at 2011 I remember it as an absolutely amazing year. This year was marked by the following:

  • publications of my poetry and prose in Russian national press;
  • participation in a conference in Ivanovo, dedicated to the problems that post-Socialist cities face in modern times (a kind of urban reconversion, if you like); I spoke about Manchester;
  • six big conferences and events where I went as a journalist, e.g. Moscow Design Week 2011 and Moscow Tourism Week;
  • a trip to Yekaterinburg, when I also spent 25 hrs on the train each way;
  • publications at various authoritative web portals;
  • yet another photo inclusion (and that’s not Schmap!);
  • translation of two books into Russian;
  • very many translation and editorial engagements;
  • participation in a fascinating project, Bloggers Portraits;
  • big bossy time (as the editor-in-chief)…

I probably forgot to mention some projects, but even so I’m delighted to be finishing 2011 pleasantly tired. As they say, doing nothing is the hardest thing in the world, and nobody ever died from work. The full body massage I finally had two days after my birthday in December was very well-deserved, put it this way.

The good news is that even with this amount of work I managed to continue with Los Cuadernos de Julia; not only that, the amount of posts is mind-blowing even to me: 466, and it’ll be over 470 by January 1st.

And even better news is that I previously mentioned some technical support that I needed in the guise of gadgets, and last weekend I got everything I wanted. How good is that?

So, on Christmas Eve when I’m writing this I say a huge ‘thankyou’ to my Guide and Protector.

The Clash of Times in Post-Soviet Cities

Yekaterinburg: Komsomol and Cathedral

One of my vivid recollections of the visit to Yekaterinburg is the fact that many of its streets have not been renamed. As a result, the Cathedral on the Blood on the spot of Ipatyev House where the imperial family had been shot stands at the junction of Tolmachyov St and Karl Liebknecht St. Not far from there runs Rosa Luxemburg St, and there are plenty of streets and squares still carrying the names of October Revolution, the First Five-year Plan, and various professions and recreations, from Weavers to Mountaneers.

Similar situation stands true in other Russian cities. In Ivanovo, not only have the monuments to Lenin been preserved, and the streets still carry the names of Lenin and Stalin, there also stand monuments to other revolutionaries. The wave of renaming the streets and knocking down the statues only seriously affected Moscow and St. Petersburg. The other cities and towns get by without many changes, and the newly built cathedral stands face to face with the monument to the Komsomol of the Urals.

Ivanovo Graffiti (and a Blog Query)


I have just discovered one of the most beautiful queries that landed someone on Los Cuadernos:

one man’s graffitti is another man’s picasso phrases

While you ponder this and wonder at various ways of interpreting it, here are a couple of graffitis I saw on my recent trip to Ivanovo. One of them says, pointing towards the houses: “Warning! There you may be blinded by the beauty of the nicest, most charming, and best girl in the world!”

“I love you, Yulka!”
In the student quarter


The Russian Manchester in the post-Soviet Era

Article first published as The Russian Manchester: How Ivanovo Is Finding Its Way in Post-Soviet Russia on Blogcritics.

People of Manchester, rejoice! No longer is Venice the only enviable comparison for a city – Manchester is, too.

In case you didn’t know, there are several “Manchesters” already existing. The historic English town was minutely described by Friedrich Engels, who had had the pleasure of studying the place while sharing a desk at the Cheetham School with Karl Marx. The rise in popularity of Marx and Engels’ works, as well as of the working class movement, led to many other European towns trying on Mancunian clothes for size. Usually being industrial, especially having cotton mills, and boasting a high percentage of working class people meant that a town might be described as another Manchester. Such were Lodz in Poland, Lille in France, Chemnitz in Germany, and Tampere in Finland.

In Russia, it was Ivanovo, or Ivanovo-Voznesensk, as it was called between 1871 and 1932. The town in the Volga region, not far from the millennium-old Yaroslavl, acquired a host of nicknames, affectionate and not, that would put many a city to shame. “The red Manchester”, “the Russian Manchester”, “the city of brides”, “the third proletarian capital”, “the city of red weavers”, “the textile capital”, as well as a few pejoratives, is just a selection of those descriptors that nonetheless gives a fine idea as to what “manchesterisation” means: red (reminding of brick, Revolution and Socialism), industrial and textile, and capital-worthy, although provincial.

At the dawn of the Soviet era, during the first Russian revolutions, Ivanovo was building on its historic experience of producing political advisors. It was from here that the Prince Pozharsky went to Moscow during the Mutiny Time in the first half of the 17th century when the Poles had quite literally seized power over Russia. It was here, as well, that the first Sovet (the Russian for “counsel” and “council”) had been formed in the beginning of the 20th century. Ivanovo’s reputation as a Sovet-ski town was sealed, but little used.

This monument commemorating the revolutionary ladies of Ivanovo greets you upon arrival to the railway stationIn Soviet times it came to be known as a city of brides, thanks to a film song. Intended as a gentle joke, that also pointed a finger at the real state of things: the number of cotton mills and calico factories was as high as the previous number of churches, and it was mostly women who worked there. At-home dads were a reality in Ivanovo before the same fate befell Western men. During the Revolution years, Ivanovo ladies had led the crowds; in Soviet times, they led the textile production. In both cases monuments to heroines were erected, although the statue to the Hero of Labour Valentina Golubeva was eventually removed because of the notoriety produced by Nikolai Obukhovich’s film, Our Mother Is a Hero (1979).

Following the demise of the USSR, Ivanovo, like nearly all Russian cities and towns, declined under economic stress and the overwhelming crisis of expectations. Much as the economy may have improved, the overwhelm remains. As with Manchester, the 19th century had been the springboard for Ivanovo’s economic growth, and throughout most of the 20th century its status as a proletarian capital was a comfortable cultural cushion. Unfortunately, unlike Manchester, Ivanovo failed to produce any zany music style or otherwise establish itself firmly as a fashionable threat to either Moscow or St. Petersburg. The famous Textile Academy is an alma mater for many designers, but most of them are determined to work in one of the two “real” capitals. The noughties turned out to be the time of having to come to terms with whatever was lost and of trying to find, exactly what to do next.

A house in the so-called workers' district. Some of the houses are over 80 years oldSome of these questions were raised recently at a conference dedicated to the town’s 140th anniversary. There is a funny ambiguity here: it is Ivanovo-Voznesensk, not Ivanovo, that is turning 140. Ivanovo itself is over 400 years old, but nobody appears to either celebrate this date, or to want to rename the city. The tendency towards nostalgia has been revealed, though. For historians, philosophers, geographers, and philologists this is not so much nostalgia for Stalin’s iron arm, but for the sense of security, including that of Ivanovo’s historical heritage. Over the past quarter of a century a lot of historic buildings and sights either vanished, were majorly remade, or entered a state of severe decline.

For someone who lived in the English Manchester, like I did for seven years, the story of Ivanovo is neither surprising nor unique. In fact, there are areas in Manchester that are also in a state of decline. The Ancoats Building Preservation Trust has worked hard and partnered with many UK organisations to renovate two of the historic mills and to actually give the district its second chance. Meanwhile, you need only leave Manchester city centre to find yourself face to face with the sites the British media usually keep private: derelict houses, ghost lanes where the windows and doors of all houses have been covered with iron or wooden boards, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and pretty much everything else you may expect to find at the backstage of an industrial and commercial megalopolis.

One of Ivanovo's factories looks like any normal historic sight...In this sense, Ivanovo, with its derelict factory standing a stones-throw away from a few museums, is hardly different. The decline is deftly hidden behind the imposing red-and-white brick walls, and is a curious, if terrifying, marriage of a quasi-war site and a place of an unknown epidemic. The epidemic had swept aside all the equipment and people; the invisible troops destroyed the building on the inside. A few sites you may come across in Manchester, Sheffield, and elsewhere in the UK are not quite dissimilar. They all cause a state of shock, followed by astonishment: how can this exist in a place that is otherwise advanced and cultured?

One of the streets in Sheffield, U.K.And yet, in Manchester and elsewhere, sites like this usually make a very fleeting impression. Perhaps this is how the efforts of the city developers pay off: you feel that something will be done sooner rather than later, and the mill will come back to life as flats, or offices. Where does the difference lie then? Is it the notorious East-West divide that harks back to Orientalist concepts and threatens to place Russia in the wrong cultural context? Or is it just an indication that Russia has yet to catch on to the development of media and advertising that successfully construct images that are not necessarily true to life?

The feeling of unworthiness certainly impedes the development of many Russian cities. Yekaterinburg, the real industrial capital sitting on the border between the European and Asian parts of Russia, is struggling to overcome its image as a bedsit of factorial monstrosity and pollution, also created by exiles. The quest for an alternative “image” is likely to be a sword of Damocles for many cities that historically relied on a single craft or industry to support their economy and justify their existence. And in this case some of them will inevitably feel that they do not have what it takes to become glamorous, if polluted. No wonder Ivanovo still feels more comfortable with its “revolutionary” branding. Little else seems to fit yet.

Hopefully, studying the examples of British and European Manchesters will help put the things into perspective. There was the time when Manchester was overshadowed by Salford; they have long swapped places. What the Russian Manchester really needs is a handful of resourceful, determined people who will be able to see the city’s potential in the political and cultural context of the new Russia, people who will rebrand the city and direct it towards new growth.

Manchester's Beetham Tower certainly possesses a strong symbolic powerThe only two things that currently seem to be in short supply in Russia are faith and enthusiasm. Or perhaps, they are just being diverted to a somewhat outdated, or irrelevant, cause. It is important to restore the churches and explore our religious faith, of course, but this is unlikely to improve the economy, attract the necessary foreign capital, or solve cultural problems. Ivanovo, along with most of Russia, needs to invest in its own potential, which goes well beyond religious beliefs. It has to find the audacity to be excited about its extra-capital status, to position itself vis-a-vis not only Moscow or St. Petersburg, but pretty much any other place on Earth. If there is anything the Russian Manchester can learn from its British elder sister, it is exactly this kind of bravura. But if a handful of places in Europe have already gone “Mense”, why cannot Russia?

Funny Moments in Russian Manchester

Yes, I spent two days in Ivanovo, formerly known as Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the so-called Russian Manchester. The town, too, used to be famous for its calico production; nowadays, sadly, some of the factories lie in ruins. I wanted to share a few “funny” photos, as there will be a few posts looking at the more sober sights of this provincial town.

I went on my own, but didn’t miss the chance to pose between two handsome guys. On the left – Travel advert


The Jolly Roger on board!


This inconspicuous building houses the Actor House bar
The monument to Revolution greets everyone who leaves Ivanovo Railway Station
One of the best adverts I’ve seen. “I’m tired of waiting!“the girl says. The second ring comes free of charge
A play on words: “pyatachok” means both “piglet” and “a five-copek coin” in Russian
A tattoo studio
One of the doggies willingly posed for me and a colleague
A sausage dog is liberally used as a bench
A monument to a famous Ivanovo chansonnier
I called this “Lenin in Context”
The Soviet mural. The boards on the balconies advertise an Internet Centre. The van delivers matresses.
Bespoke Ivanovo art: swans made of car wheels
And another sculpture: The well.
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