Sunday, June 19, 2016

Russian Festival Reality

By Stephen Wilson

             "If you have just come out to be drunk then don't be surprised when you find you wake up the next morning with your tents flooded with water", warned a fire acrobat performer who asked us to address him as John. A young woman in his team also echoed this belief when she told people: "Yesterday's  bad weather was caused by the misbehaviour of the campers." Those sentiments reflect deep rooted beliefs that mother nature is so sensitive to human
behaviour that it will respond by punishing bad behaviour with heavy rainfall, floods and hurricanes. In other words, 'the Mother Damp Earth' must be respected.  Well whether the atrocious weather of constant rain, wind and aching cold was caused by the campers I can't and won't vouch.

               But we experienced no problems from the campers.

               I, along with other participants from the Storytelling Sessions group had been invited to the 6th Independent Festival  of Modern art called 'Be good and kind'. We had been asked to tell old folk-tales. The festival has been organised since 2011 and last year attracted an estimated 8000- 10,000 visitors. This year, according to Vladimir who
had visited the festival last year, there were approximately 5000 as the dire weather conditions had deterred many. We set out to the festival on the 11th of June, which was a forested area in the Tula region approximately not more than 200 km from Moscow. People who wish to stay overnight must bring their own tents to pitch down.

               The festival is not mere amusement or light entertaiment but appears to practise its own philosophy. The main idea is that entertainment at the festival is free and accessible to everyone, that it is a non-commercial and non-political  body that it promotes a healthy way of life, encourages people to be creative and revive the traditional morals of people. Hence the slogan: 'Be kind and good', which is issued on each of the performer's special passes. This means that everyone should be polite, helpful and
respect people as well as the environment around them. They should not leave rubbish around, cut down trees or become hooligans.

               Previously I had been told : "This is a Hippy festival"  where oddballs would be taking drugs and just getting drunk" . Some people even expressed anxiety about this. This was a misnomer. There were all kinds of people from different backgrounds. Rather than having horns
sprouting out of  their heads they were very warm, helpful and hospitable to us. For example, I had not put up a tent for 31 years and discovered the whole design of modern tents had radically changed . I and Maria were stumped. How would be put this up?  We asked another middle-aged Russian to assist us who was also clueless but found us someone with the know-how.

               We had been forewarned that the conditions would be terrible and that we must bring warm clothes, rubber boots and our own water supplies. Mud was almost everywhere. You had to wade through mud to get to the stage to perform . To walk around you constantly had to avoid the deepest mud or risk becoming too dirty. Not everyone had come prepared. So some people had wrapped their feet in water-proof plastic. The more daring simply walked around on barefoot.

               I was surprised to see many people wearing kilts.

               This was not just a hippy festival. Practically every musical taste was catered to here. You had Reggie bands, Heavy Metal, Jazz and even Folk music. One of the best performers sang superbly in Portugese before we ourselves went on stage. I heard many brilliant singers performing. The names of some bands indicates a kind of romantic aspect: External Wanderers, Fox Valley, and The William Wallace Band.'

               On the first day we like other performers were plagued by technical problems. The time schedule was constantly altered, the lighting and sound system broke down but some somehow we managed.

               My colleague, Maria Koroleva told the first Russian Folk tale to be recorded which was about Ivan the Terrible being given a huge turnip as a present from a simple peasant. The story had been recorded and published by an Englishman called Samuel Collins in the late 17th century. In contrast to modern history, the Ivan the Terrible folklore Tsar is not cruel but a very kind and benevolent tsar who protects the poor form wicked boyars.

               The next day, the William Wallace band which was meant to come before us did not turn up. This disappointed some kilted Russians who had come specifically for the purpose of hearing them. One of their fans offered me a swig of ale he was carrying around with him. This meant we could begin earlier which turned out to be a blessing. We performed much better than the previous evening.

                On the whole there was a lively, warm and friendly spirited atmosphere at the festival. I did not witness any scuffles or scandals which many people had been anticipating. We were treated very well. A lot of people were
surprised when they heard that a Scotman was at their festival. Perhaps this indicates that the festival does not see many visitors from abroad.

                It was very difficult to get to sleep because of the cold and often blaring loud music around the camp. Most of the campers listened and played music all through the evenings. When I rose up very early at a Sunday morning, I and few others were walking around an empty desert.

               The worst thing of all was finding a decent toilet. There were none. What you had were crude curtains in wooden shacks which were often blown away by the wind. There were no pans but a wooden hole where you had to sit carefully down. It would have been far easier to go into the bushes but there were a lot of security around who forbade such 'calls of nature'. I found the cleanest shack and somehow managed to do this. You might ask me "Why all the fuss about the toilet?" Perhaps it is because I recalled an amusing anecdote by Daniel Ogan. During the late 1990's , he and a poor Englishman Steven Allport were driving a bus from Saint Petersburg to Moscow to aid the homeless.

               They stopped at some garage for a break. Steven Allport was smartly dressed in a good suit and asked Daniel, "Could I use the toilet. I'm dying for it. " Daniel replied: "I really don't think it is a good idea. The toilet is in such bad condition".

               But Allport was insistent. When he climbed up a wet staircase to the toilet he stumbled and plunged headfirst through the hole into heap of excrement below.

                When he emerged his whole head was covered with dirt and his suit ruined.

              Daniel and his colleague burst into laughter. 'We did warn you", chuckled Daniel.

              But Steve Allport was not amused. For the rest of the journey, Allport retained a sullen and accusative silence. Daniel later philosophically mused: "And that was how Steven Allport was brought face to face with the Russian reality".

              Well, I avoided the worst scenario of that Russian reality. But one reality we could not fly over were Russian roads. While wading all around some mud I was bemused to find that I was actually wandering around a road. It turned out to be a bog. Russian roads are notorious for being pock-marked with holes, swamps and disintegrating asphalt. The poet Pushkins reckoned it would take 500 years before roads were fully repaired. Many proverbs go, 'The road is death, Home life' and 'There is no comfort on the road. 'When we left the camp to return to the car the road seemed to endlessly stretch on for ever. But nothing terrible happened. No feared hurricane erupted, our car was not swallowed by mud and our tents were not engulfed by a flood. The flood only happened in the folk tale I told called  'Mirage'.

              The festival turned out to be hard but still wonderful. We felt grateful to be there and greatly appreciated how helpful and kind people were.

               It was a well-worth adventure!

1 comment:

  1. Thank You for the kind review friendly! To us it is especially important now!

    Best Regards, Alex aka Lazy,
    one of the organizers of the festival.