There’s an annual celebration here called Day of Yakutsk. It’s celebrated over not one day but three, as far as I can tell, with activities happening in several of the town’s squares. I haven’t ascertained if it’s scheduled for a specific day or days every year so all I can say as a fact is that this year it took place over the second weekend of September.
Many people at my school seem to have forgotten about it, focussed as they were on work, because I’ve found that they’re pretty good about letting us know about local events. On that Friday many of us teachers (local and international) went to school for a seminar. Afterwards, as we scattered in different directions, someone sent a picture in one of our WhatsApp groups showing mink and other furs for sale in one the squares near another branch of our school . Mink as in, the dead animal with its head and feet still on it. There were ready-to-wear fur products, as well.
That was when people started to remember that it was the Day of Yakutsk weekend and a couple of kind people posted calendars of events for Saturday and Sunday that anyone could attend for free. There was a film festival, for example, showing movies and documentaries from Sweden, India, Russia and right here in Yakutia. There were also costumes, various types of exhibitions, and more.
I wanted to see the exhibition of furry winter clothes since I’ve never seen real fur coats and such for myself, but I had work to finish on Friday afternoon so I couldn’t go then. I also wanted to try and catch one or two of the movies at the film festival on Saturday, but since I had to work until around 3 pm, I decided that I most likely wouldn’t feel like going out or socialising (you know how I am when it gets to the end of the work week) so I settled on a simple plan for Saturday. After I was finished for the day, I walked from school to the square where they had the fur coats and things, about 2 km away. I invited someone to walk with me but she had lessons to plan for Monday morning and couldn’t come, so I went alone. So that’s what I did for Day of Yakutsk on Saturday – a walk to see real Yakutian winter furs.
On Sunday, I walked for 19 km over the course of eight hours. The day was cloudy and chilly – it was 48 degrees Fahrenheit when I left home – and it stayed that way for most of the day. I didn’t mind at all because the most important thing was that it wasn’t hot. I left home at exactly 10:30 am to walk to Lenin Square at the centre of town, only a twenty minute walk away from where I live. There I met two of my colleagues, one local and one international, and we spent the rest of the day together. First, we walked to the nearby old town where there was lots and lots of traditional food being sold in that square. I only bought a potato stuffed pastry because I had eaten a good breakfast not long before and I was trying to conserve my dwindling cash reserves, what with pay day still over two weeks away. There were also art exhibitions in that square and traditional costumes on show.
From there we wandered in a different direction and stumbled upon a newly opened museum. It was so newly opened that my local colleague didn’t even know it had been opened. It’s a wooden structure that used to be one of the watch towers in the city’s outer walls back when it was still built like a fort with outer and inner walls. We climbed up to the second level just to have a look around and my international colleague and I ended up being interviewed for a children’s TV show that I think was filming a Day of Yakutsk special.
From there we walked to a different part of town, near to the port, where we had a delicious pizza for lunch at a Japanese restaurant (you read that right). It was the most delicious pizza I’ve had in a long time. Chicken, mushrooms, onions, curry and sour cream. Yum!
After lunch, we walked to a nearby park, which is actually a large piece of acreage with woods and through which a tributary of the Lena river runs. The Lena is a big feature of this part of the country and I’ll talk about that some more at another time, I’m sure.
We spent a good two hours or so tramping through the woods, skirting mud puddles (it had rained in previous days) and jumping across streams. I was a good thing I had decided to wear my hiking boots, not because I expected this part of the walk but because I wanted my feet to be comfortable for the long walkabout I knew I’d do that day. We walked until we got to the river, where we stayed for about five minutes, most of which I spent trying to dig what we thought was a pottery bowl out of the sand. It turned out to be a metal electrical fixture that had probably broken loose from whatever it was originally attached to.
After we left the park, we walked to a nearby polling station so our local colleague could cast her vote in the mayoral elections, then our other international colleague left us, pleading fatigue. By this time it was about 4:30 pm and we had been wandering all over the city for six hours. We continued walking (this was when the rude teenagers passed us) until we made our way back to Lenin Square, where a concert was underway. Eventually, we got our takeaway food then the drunk guy called me a nigger then we ate while watching a traditional dance exhibition in the square closest to my place. As we sat chatting and eating, a woman came and asked us to do a radio interview; my local colleague did most of the talking and I answered one question.
By now it was after 6 pm and we were both tired after our long day of walking. We had planned to go back to the old town square where the food exhibition had been because there was a fireworks show later in the evening. However, we both decided that we were tired and ready to go home. So she headed off to the bus stop and I ambled home, by way of the mini mart to pick up a couple of items. At 6:30 pm I was opening the door to my building, exactly eight hours after I had pushed it open to leave.
Day of Yakutsk wasn’t exciting for me but I thoroughly enjoyed it since it incorporated several of my favourite things: walking, nature, good company and experiencing another culture.