During our train trip to our second city, Omsk, we met people: a woman who was knitting and asked us not to show her face, and a man and a woman from Perm, who both met in the train: the man was going to see his cousin for a job in Novosibirsk, the woman was going to meet some friends in Irkutsk and then spend four days in the Olkhon island on Lake Baikal.
It was night, and night is a time for thoughts, thoughts about your achievements, your failures, the meaning you would like to find in life and the meaning you would like to give, but also the changes you would like to make in the world. It looked as if some of our travel mates had been drinking a little bit, and this made melancholic… although, at some point I thought it was the train itself to put this layer of melancholy around every talk. The train, swinging and rocking the people to sleep and to have dreams in the soul, without stopping to stare at the landscape, seconds of life passing by the window as you sit and enjoy the slowness of your own travelling time.
On the Trans-Siberian you have no idea what time is. All the trains and stations are set on Moscow Time Zone and you’ll always have to check both Moscow and local time before you go anywhere. That is why it is quite difficult for me to remember what time it was when we got to Omsk: I know it was about breakfast for me, though we were offered lunch when we got there.
Our couchsurfer in Omsk was Pavel, an actor, married to Olga, his director, and Olga’s son. Pavel and Olga both work in Omsk’s Dandyliony Theatre (dandyliony means “daffodils”) and they live in a nice, bright apartment in a residential area not far from the Irtysh banks. Pavel and his family practice hinduism: in their big living room we were offered to sleep on the mat on the floor just by the altar. In the same living room, as soon as we arrived, we sat on the floor around the table and had borsh, the typical Russian beetroot soup, and melon.
When we arrived in Omsk it was the last day of the city’s festival. We were taken to two outdoor events: the first one with loads of folk music and the second one, called Shchit Sibiri (the Shield of Siberia) which hosted a celtic music group called X-Pipes. On the way from the first concert to the second, we walked through the Victory Park. Each Russian town has got its memorial park, dedicated to veterans and victims of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.
On the same day, we walked along the Irtysh river and had long talks about how we include God in our lives. This part was quite interesting: Andrey is atheist, Pavel is hinduist, I was raised catholic but don’t feel confortable in my church and, surprisingly, I agree with both. In other words, I am like the pastor in the Soviet film Beregis’ Avtomobilya, who says: “All people believe in something. Some believe that there is God, some believe that there is not. Both one statement and the other can’t be proved.”
At night we stayed home with Pavel and his wife, Olga, and we got lots of love and care. Olga and I exchanged gifts: I took for each one of my hosts along the Trans-Siberian a postcard from my beloved Amalfi Coast, Olga gave me a postcard made by herself and a souvenir magnet made by her son.
On the second day, Pavel walked us around the city. Did you know that Omsk is the city where Dostoevsky went through forced labour for having taken part in a subversive political group? In the city centre you can find a park in the place where was the camp he used to live in during that period. In the same park, a monument and a memorial plaque are dedicated to him.
Another interesting about Omsk is that there is only one underground station which doesn’t get you anywhere. Apparently, the city’s administration had promised to invest money received from the central government in the underground project, but this didn’t really happen, and what is left of that good resolution is just an underground crossing with an “M” on top of it.
During our walk we bought a postcard for one of our readers: it showed the old firefighters’ watch tower Pavel told us about. It doesn’t work as a watch tower anymore, but it is a headquarter of the Ministry of Emergencies and Pavel has had the opportunity to work there during the making of a video for the Omsk Prize.
Omsk is also home to a famous person I had never heard of before: the ethnographer Chokan Valikhanov. The main city’s promenade is named after him and along this street a plaque dedicated to him can be found on the façade of the Consulate of Kazakhstan: Chokan himself was a Kazakh and, although he died at the age of 29, he travelled a lot around Russia and was the first to collect and translate into Russian the main Kyrgyz epic and other popular fairy tales.
We finished our walk with a nice lunch in Pavel’s favourite café over a talk about mental illness and how my prince without fear nor fault avoided military service.
Pavel drove us to the station, we took the ritual selphie. Andrey and I headed off to Krasnoyarsk.