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Page 28 ( 6 pages)
Across the room an iPhone alarm rages.
I open my eyes. Or at least I think I do.
I cannot tell if I am asleep or awake, alive or dead.
An utterly absolute blackness surrounds me. Eyelids closed: pitch black. Eyelids open: pitch black. It is a very unsettling feeling, as if I could reach out and touch infinity, which I have no intention of doing.
Apparently (I later learn), the photographer I am traveling with decided to get up to shoot the stars just before dawn. He then thought better of it, shut off his alarm, and crawled back into bed.
I realize it is the middle of the night, yet it takes me a few moments to get my bearings. Gradually I remember that we are sleeping alongside a massive Russian stove in a century-old wooden house, which happens to be located about an hour’s drive west of Petrozavodsk and 60 kilometers off the E105.
We are in rural Karelia, in the tiny village of Kinerma, population 5.
Four of those five are the Kalmykov family.
Nadezhda Kalmykova, 48, says as a teen she would do all she could to avoid coming here. Her mother had been born in the village and the family would come back to Kinerma for vacations and weekends. And it was all work, something as a teen she obviously wanted to avoid.
But people change. Kalmykova changed. About 15 years ago, when she told someone she was from Petrozavodsk, they didn’t believe her. “You are always talking about ‘Kinerma, Kinerma,’” she recalls them saying. She soon realized that her future lay in the preservation of this tiny village.
In fact, Kinerma is the last extant Karelian village preserved in largely the state it was in 150 years ago. It has been saved by several historical flukes, but mainly because it does not sit on a lake or near a river, meaning it was never a highly desirable location for summer dachas. Also, Kinerma was home to “the only miracle-working icon in the Olonets region,” Kalmykova says. “I am sure that is what has really protected us.”
The village is arranged in a circle about its old, wooden chapel, which nestles in a tall pine copse, its grounds humpy and uneven from unmarked graves. The village has 11 buildings in various states of repair that either belong to those who live in them, or are kept in a family and passed on to descendants. Yet, unlike most Russian villages you come across in the North, only a few of the buildings are in dire condition. “People have started coming here from all over the world,” Kalmykova explains, “and many relatives of residents are living here all summer, and they have already started taking better care of their homes and yards. The village is being transformed.”
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