September 01, 2013

Red Star over Leipzig

Red Star over Leipzig

Morning, a time to rush, and the sun is already high in the sky, its rays catching the red star that sits atop the Achilleion. The trams are nudging through the city, while the elderly woman who always sells solyanka by the station is opening up her stall for the day. At the junction of Tolstoy and Gogol, Natalia and Irena meet — just as they do each Wednesday morning. The two women will take a tram out to the western suburbs, a half-hour ride past old mills and over the river. Along the way, they will chat as older women do. They will speak with nostalgia of the old days in the Volga region, of the tough times and of the good times.

When Irena and Natalia reach the end of the tram line, they will walk through the edgelands — the raw terrain where city collides with countryside. The two will walk past colorful apartment blocks to the Gshelka, a community center where those who once lived in the Volga region often come together to meet.

Gshelka is decorated just as you might expect, with the characteristic cobalt blue and white mix that recalls the famous porcelain from Gzhel (Гжель), a township about an hour's drive east of Moscow. There is hardly a household in Russia that does not have a piece or two of Gzhel — whether an elegant vase or one of the novelty porcelain rockets that Gzhel once produced in millions to mark Russia's prowess in space exploration.

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