Now that we’ve been in Kazan for awhile, Jeonghee and I are starting to make a few awesome friends who’ve been glad to show us around a bit. Gulnara is one super-nice girl who invited us last week to Karavon, a Russian music festival out in the countryside. We had to get up at six to make it out there, but on the plus side we were able to catch a free shuttle bus. The ride was only 30 minutes, but was very pleasant for a beautiful spring day. We passed several small towns of one-story wooden houses on the way, and Gulnara was able to shine some light on why they’re so common in the countryside.
It turns out the Soviet dachas, or country houses, weren’t just for Party officials to enjoy Crimea and Sochi. Small dachas were parceled out to groups of workers living in the city, so all the electricians would end up with small houses in one area, with all the carpenters in another. When I first heard students talking about going to the “village”, I assumed it was to their ancestral towns. However, the effect now is much the same, as younger people go out to the villages to visit their grandparents or tend their vegetable and flower gardens at their dachas. It goes to show how connected to nature Russians still are, as even the most urbane Kazan apartment-dweller likely leaves town on the weekend to picnic, plant, or pickle. Karavon takes place in one of those villages, around a pretty green, white-trimmed church. The main area is a chaos of stages for the myriad colorfully dressed traditional singing groups those same groups roaming around singing a capella, fair rides, food stands, stalls selling all kinds of tourist-trappy souvenirs like matryoshkas, expensive but pretty woven bark products, and staggeringly ugly dolls of various kinds.
We went for the matryoshkas… creepy ones.
As far as food goes, it’s the same as at every single other Russian outdoor event- shasklik (Georgian grilled meat). Good thing that’s delicious (big hunks of grilled pork always do the trick, provided they’re cooked all the way through that is). The discovery of the fest for me, though, was kvas- a fermented drink made from rye bread that reminded me a lot of Peruvian chicha in all its slightly sour, uncarbonated and unfiltered grainy goodness. It’s not as alcoholic, but nobody’s perfect. After enjoying our lunch and getting our fill of the crowded concourse, we walked down a small path to a pond surrounded by a few more idyllically located dachas. There was a singing group out here as well, and a small stand of birch trees full of picnickers escaping the strong rays of the sun. Beyond that was a wide meadow, grass waving green underneath the blue, near cloudless sky. Strains of traditional music wafted in the air behind us. Another perfect spring day.