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Home > Impressions > Spring 2012

In this issue:

Martha Patterson's Reflections on the June 2012 Visit for the 95th Anniversary of the Founding of Kotlas

I departed for Russia with fellow Kotlas Committee member Mark Fisher on June 4 to join our sister city, Kotlas, in the celebration of its 95th birthday and to spend precious moments with my Russian friends. We were met at the Moscow airport by my dear friend Arina Pavlova and Markís friend Dimitri Krasykov, an actor and sportscaster on Moscow television and radio. After warm greetings and a taxi ride to the train station where we stored our luggage for a late evening departure, we toured Moscow among millions of fashionably dressed people swiftly walking to their destinations. Red Square was filled with the excitement of fairs and entertainment in anticipation of the Russian holiday. It took a mere few seconds for my first impressions...industrious, warm, religious, stylish, physically fit and proud people, ornate buildings and churches, and streets adorned with flowers and fountains. After several hours of walking, visiting churches filled with icons and viewing historical sites, we stopped to purchase Christmas ornaments for the Kotlas Committee with Arina and Dimitri counting the rubles. A Russian salad buffet in scenic Red Square was enjoyed by all. Reluctantly, we boarded an express train for St. Petersburg in the late evening. Accompanied by Arina on the train, we chatted about the excitement of our first day and took a power nap to help compensate for the eight-hour time difference.


The train ride to Kotlas was amusing as we mingled with Russian children, ordered a Russian dinner delivery aboard the train, and got a view of the vast countryside. Arina briefed us on the details of our agenda and visit to Kotlas. Twenty-four hours later and after some welcome rest, our highly anticipated arrival in Kotlas was upon us.


On June 9 some Waterville Committee members and friends greeted us with flowers, chocolates, and gifts. We had a brief time to prepare for our first day. We began at school with a traditional Russian greeting. The schoolchildren dressed in uniforms stood in line to greet us while a lady in traditional Russian costume sang and presented us with bread to dip in salt. Inside the school we attended the Waterville Committee meeting where they discussed the agenda for our time in Kotlas. A traditional Russian luncheon followed in Privodino with the committee members and some friends. The rooms were filled with Russian ambience and culture. Gifts and speeches of good will were exchanged. Following lunch, I went to a childrenís theatre with some committee members where talent and competition brought laughter and applause. I am grateful to Irina Reznichenko and the committee for this day. The evening was full of emotion as I walked towards Anna Abakumova, the mother of Marina. An endearing moment with tears of happiness and disbelief spoke volumes. Annaís sister was present to assist her as she served a scrumptious dinner of soup, potato and cheese pies, mashed potatoes, meat, homemade pickles and tasty desserts. Arina translated for us. The evening was unforgettable. I thank Anna for entrusting her only child to me, a stranger halfway across the world. I happily accepted the invitation of Zina Yegorova and Yulia Sorokina on June 10th for a trip to Veliki Ustyug. Zinaís husband, Leonid, drove us to a countryside of wild flowers. Our first stop was at a dacha where we saw vegetable and flower gardens. Inside the dacha was cozy and warm. Eager schoolchildren joined us for spinach, onion, and cheese pies. The hostess, a friend of Zina, was gracious and the visit was relaxing. The bumpy road ahead led us to the gold factory. I thank Zina and Yulia for their expert help and patience. It was a perfect place for Christmas shopping. A mistake by the clerk with my credit card led us to many ATMs for cash for my purchases. It was an experience I will not forget. We toured Zinaís hometown of many old churches, saw her old school, and sat on her special rock at the riverbank. All of the sights were dear to her heart. We stopped at Grandfather Frostís gift shop and had photos taken. On the way home, we stopped for a short visit at Krasovino, the home village of Sergei Peremin, the young sailor who died averting a nuclear submarine explosion that would have been disastrous for our own Atlantic coast. I am grateful to Zina and Yulia for this magical day.


In the evening I went to Lyceum 18 where Marinaís niece and her partner performed a series of dances which won them first place in the competitions. They were extremely talented young children. I enjoyed a visit with Tatiana Pyatina who joined us at the Lyceum. After the outstanding performance, I had dinner with little Marina, her mom, and her Aunt Anna. I tasted my first big fish wrapped in bread. We enjoyed videos of my own childrenís, Rob and Mary, visit to Kotlas several years ago. Then came the true test of my communication skills. I spent the night with Anna. Marina checked in with us frequently on her cell phone. Although we started with gestures, we quickly learned words and phrases from each other. In the end we understood each other perfectly. In the morning we ate pancakes and made apple pies together. I learned there is no language barrier that cannot be overcome with thanks to Anna. On June 11, Oleg drove us to Andrei Palkinís brick and lumber factory. Andrei explained how he ran his factories. Above all, I noted that his employees were treated nicely. They had basketball courts, pool tables, saunas, and places to rest. Andrei had a reception for us and explained that business was plentiful and profitable within Russia. Oleg then gave us a tour of his sawmill and took us to his restaurant which was decorated with prize wildlife. Compliments to Oleg for a delightful lunch and thanks to Oleg and Andrei for their time. An International Official Russian Forum was scheduled for the afternoon. The theme was focused on how people of different nationalities live together in the city. The event was formal with entertainment. People dressed in their cultural attire and speeches were formal. I presented a speech on behalf of our city with Tanya Shelygina as my translator. After photos were taken with the mayor and governor, we enjoyed a fair with some of the committee members. There was a vast array of booths. In the late afternoon, I attended a soccer game. At the field, Arinaís friend treated us to smoked fish and barbecued lamb. Thank you, Vladimir.


June 12 began with a meeting with Mayor Melentev. Warm greetings and gifts were exchanged between our cities in the mayorís office. Irina Reznichenko and Lyuba Zinovkina were present. I presented Mayor Melentev with a watercolor painting of the Two Cent Bridge by Milton Christianson and a leatherbound letter written in English and Russian from the City of Waterville, thanks to the Mayor Karen Heck and her assistant, Amanda. He received a lighthouse wall hanging from our committee. The mayor delighted in showing us his photos of previous exchange visits as well as his gifts. He presented gifts in exchange. We shared tea and Russian cakes with the other sister city of Kotlas that is in Poland. From the VIP seats, we watched the parade with Irina and Lyuba. Tatiana Persa, who was sent by the mayor, joined us. All of working Kotlas was represented, each section carrying balloons. Soldiers formed a line and speeches were given. A fair followed the parade once again with many booths. Irina, Lyuba, Mark and I were interviewed by Russian TV. A tribute was made to Natalia Kempers, a founder of the Kotlas Connection, by the riverbank. We spoke with the two delightful girls who were Marilyn Hallís guests last spring, Maria Baeva and Mariya Dudnikova. Joining us for lunch at Prada were Pavel and Valentina Sukhanovsky. Pavel had come to Waterville as part of the Kotlas delegation for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of our sister city connection.


I then made a journey to Turovyets, a traditional holy place where people bathe in cold water during August. It is a custom, explained Lyuba. We were accompanied to the mayorís dinner by Irina and Lyuba. It was full of positive energy with lively entertainment. I was asked to present one of the speeches and delivered a congratulatory speech to our sister city filled with warm wishes for our relationships. Lyuba was my translator. We spoke with Victoria who was invited by her sister. Arina and I joined in concerts and dancing by the riverbank and watched the spectacular fireworks display. It was a memorable day. On June 13, the day for me began at the Childrenís Rehabilitation Center. I was accompanied by Yulia and a second Zina. The facility was top-notch with cleanliness, tasteful dťcor, beautiful colors, and cleverly equipped rooms for different disabilities. Moms were allowed to spend the night. The dedication of the employees was impressive. The manager was proud of her facility and deserves praise. She asked that I spread the news that Kotlas welcomes and cares with love for the disabled children. The next stop on my journey was the kindergarten. I was accompanied by Yulia and Tatiana P. It exceeded all my expectations. I was greeted with children singing and performing skits. The children were neatly dressed, happy, and extremely well-behaved. Their art work appeared to be professional. They were served four meals a day using real dishes, silverware, and cups. They had a long day with a two-hour nap time. Their beds were perfectly made. I was astonished as many students performed upon demand. I handed out many American pencils and pens and only wish I had brought more. They were a delight to observe and their teachers are to be commended. Irinaís sister, the principal of the kindergarten, treated us to tea and Russian cakes. I highly commend her and her teachers for their outstanding work with children. In the afternoon, we visited a technical college similar to KVCC. Anton Eltsovís mom, Anna, drove us on the bumpy road. We had a tour and a meeting with the president. She expressed an interest in communicating with our technical college. We had a nice luncheon with Vasiliy Klepikovsky and his wife, Tanya. Darya Shestakova met us for a visit at the college and joined us for lunch. We took a ferry boat ride to Solvichegodsk and we were lucky see Stalinís house and an old church, both of which were closed but miraculously opened as we arrived. The last evening was spent at Ivan Reshetnikovís home. His mom and dad graciously served us a typical Russian dinner followed by magical tricks from Markís friend, warm conversation, laughter, and generous gifts made by Ivanís mom. The boys had fun together with Mark.


On June 14, the time of departure had arrived. We said our goodbyes to 17 friends at the train station where we were smothered with gifts and food, including fresh apple pies, ham, cheese, fruits, nuts, breads, cookies, chocolates, and drinks. Mark and I were overwhelmed with all the kindnesses, warm hearts, and cherished friendships. We thank the Waterville Committee, the mayor, our hosts and hostesses, and our friends for making our first journey to Russia so memorable. A special thanks to my hostess, Arina, who kept my busy schedule flowing smoothly and to her partner, Victor, for the use of their flat. There is so much that we share that itís time weíre aware itís a small word after all!