Provincial Town Sketch

Provincial Town Sketch


For the life of me, this grumpy shaggy blackie (see photo 1), that barked at me as I came to the square in the provincial town of Kalyazin, reminded me of the cunning dog from ‘Chameleon,’ a short story by Anton Chekhov, which bit the finger of the goldsmith Hryukin.


In the story, the police superintendent Otchumyelov catches Hryukin chasing a borzoy puppy in the marketplace early in the morning. In a very meticulous way, as required by statute, he gives gapers the third degree: “Whose dog is it?”

“I fancy it's General Zhigalov's,” says someone in the crowd. “The General has valuable dogs, thoroughbred, and this is goodness knows what! No coat, no shape… A low creature,” someone else said. People’s answers did not help Otchumyelov much.

I didn’t get bitten in Kalyazin, thank God. The dog reacted to the photoshoot only with hoarse and unfriendly barking.

It evoked a vague memory of the age-old backyard Russia in the finest sense of this word. So did the bathing of local garment factory workers in the Volga. The women went in the water in their dresses, cheerfully and noisily. Indeed, it was the only way to escape the sizzling 33-degree heat. Where in Moscow would you spend your lunchtime in this way? The Russian artist Boris Kustodiev would have loved to paint this scene.

As for the Kalyazin architecture, the places I liked the most are the luxurious merchant's house with carved door trims at 1, Kommunisticheskaya Street (now the Usadba hotel), the Civil Registry Office building on Karl Marx Street and the pretty bench with monogrammed hearts for newlyweds in its courtyard.

Alas, the town population is inexorably decreasing. It has fallen from 16,000 to 13,000 since 1992, and this means that fewer newlyweds use the sacral bench for sacred purposes with each passing year. At the moment, it was quiet and empty in the yard. It is a pity... During the COVID-19 pandemic Kalyazin saw a surge in coronaphobic guests from Moscow, Tver, and neighboring towns who increased the district population to 80,000 or even more. Admittedly, it is a blessed area. One look at the richly green forests, river bends, and church domes will cure aching souls, damaged lungs and thinning visual nerves.

I could not fail to notice the monument to St. Macarius, the founder of the town-forming Trinity Monastery. The monument stands very close to the Volga shore. It looks like St.Macarius calls out to people: “What have you done, godless people? Why have you flooded the monastery lands?” Indeed, the waters of the Uglich reservoir flooded the town square and all temple buildings in 1939. Only the partially submerged bell tower of St. Nicholas is still there. It served first as a beacon for river ships and then a parachute tower for training. Then nobody used it. A couple of years ago the money was finally found to restore it.

An artificial island was created and restorers rebuilt and strengthened the walls. The works are still underway, but the hour is nigh when the bell will be returned to its place. According to the project’s plan, the bell tower will be decorated with bright, colorful backlighting, and the bell tower itself will finally decorate the Volga and once again become a monument of Russian architecture. More precisely, a monument to the Russian temple architecture, all of its tragic history of births, destructions, and resurrections.

And here I have to finish my story. I was traveling through Kalyazin for a couple of hours and could not get the lowdown on town life, so taking about it at length would be wrong. I will only say that now, as I am typing these words in the phone, I see in my mind’s eye the passionate carved-out-of-stone Makarius, St. Nicholas bell tower restorers, the merry fairy-needlewomen, whose cheerful laughter resounded over the Volga and the grumpy stray dog who barked at me, and rightly so: don’t disturb the drowsy provincial peace! Go back to the capital and tell your tales there. And so I did.

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