There are few places that I liked in my rare peregrinations out of the beaten paths as much as Murmansk. In spite of its privileged location at the convergence between the narrow and long Kola bay, a diverticulum of the Barents’ sea and the mouth of the Tuloma river and notwithstanding the rich, deep green expanses, forests and wild plant grow, surrounding it like the mane of a domestic lion – the wild ones cannot afford such a bushy glory – the city is of outstanding ugliness. Seen from the air or easiest on the map, it appears to follow the eastern shore of the bay and has the shape of a sausage or, if you are a vegetarian, of this ubiquitous, partially flattened and partially inflated, Russian pancake draniki made of grated potatoes. I am not extremely fond of lengthy cities with weak eccentric center in spite of the fact that I could easily reach this one from my home by foot in less than fifteen minutes. On the other hand I had to take a one hour bus ride or more to get to an Uzbek restaurant nested in an ancient shabby soviet prehistoric mall at the southern extremity of the town. I reckon that when it comes to culture, – I was there after the Lagman, a rich and thick and red and spicy beef soup with noodles and vegetables – I do not spare neither money nor efforts.
It is time to man up and argument my incipient aesthetic statement. The cuboid architecture of the city, or prismatic if you like, or less didactically, the fact that it seems built of ungainly, bleak, uniform, enormous crates either horizontal or vertical, together with the sparse and undistinguished municipal gardening and the pompous marginal neo-classic few major communal buildings – municipality, theatre, museums – are very much responsible of the general mediocre urbanistic outlook. Add to that that some of the factory looking dwelling homes are badly dilapidated, that the system of house notation will fool a skilled navigator and that the abounding garbage dumping spots within the little plazas amid the buildings, encouraging a massive invasion of avian raucous pests such as crows, pigeons and extremely insolent sea gulls and you will recognize that my thumbs down judgment is still moderate.
I arrived there from the airy and romantic and often cozy and elegant and really multinational Astrakhan through a fantastic ride that made me cross Russia from South to North in a flash with only a short stop to change planes at the muscovite Pulkovo airport. Taxi sharks at Murmansk airport were asking for ridiculous prices in this internet time where everybody (except dumb ones and some old reactionaries) knows fees by heart. I kept firm and a good buddy drove me without special incidents and dumped me in an appalling neighborhood in front of a gloomy, depressing, enormous crate which seem to be a dwelling palace with endless flats, metal doors, code punching keys and secured windows with either bars or metal shades. There was no answer from the flat I rented through the damn viciously greedy Yankee Airbnb gang. Finally the owner, a quite good looking glacial lady arrived in a little fancy green or red car and let me in. It was a perfectly furnished kitsch and clean functional flat ready to accommodate a hefty family with a couple of brats. Is it my destiny to recurrently pay the price of celibacy?…Too late now! I ran to the nearby drugstore to get some vodka, was greeted by the local beggar, got rid of some change and soon after understood that the lady, short of being friendly, was helpful and efficient and that she was not the owner but the employee of a local mafia company which had 23 of these flats and is looking for more. Better that, than tackle live-in landlords turning around you like inquisitive ghosts any time that you are going into the kitchen or leaving the bathroom.
It was a turning point. My first bad impression began to dissipate and my natural paranoiac mistrust to fade. After all if you are looking with a magnifying glass you will find some flaws to Cleopatra’s cute little face. I was ready for good things to come. They did. Here I am two degrees above the polar circle satisfying my ardent desire to reach the end of the world, any kind of end, just far of crowds, the last bistro on the trail, and I am touristically complaining?
But this blessed spot is even better than the island of Cape Horn from which it was possible to swim straight to Antarctica, if you have some pinniped genes, regular seal will suffice, like my friend HaParitz, who invited me there, seemed to abundantly possess. What have I had in that desolate island I am asking you? Wind, cold fog and a long wooden exhausting staircase one has to climb to look into the nowhere? …. Here, when I woke up, prodded by age in the middle of the night, in this city with an amazingly short history, 100 years of existence, what did I get? I got the MIDNIGHT SUN…It was fascinating, forget the garbage, the celestial vault got the texture and the shine of the fairyland sky. I pushed the enthusiasm as far as to dress up and went out in spite of eventual purse-snatchers or thugs of any sorts and faith… The sky was dressed in a green blue stupendous mantle, both soft and transparent (philosophically) and decorated with amazing, floating, vaporous pale rose patches of exquisite glimmer and total lightness. I wrapped myself almost completely into that inestimable wizard quilt and for a couple of seconds I felt to be the king of the world. However, when very soon the cold begun to bite me and pushed me into the state of a frozen king, the northern pole being only 2335.75 km away and the midnight sun, let’s face it, was not to be seen, I, in full speed, felt again like myself and ran back to sleep.
Next day I woke up much smarter. I understood while wobbling between sleep and awareness the essential Murmansk. It was a battle station and it is very possible that it is still one. I know that people of the European pacifist stock, especially the ones who make a nice profit selling weapons, don’t like battles and wars and army. Especially they don’t like to speak about it otherwise than with indignation and contempt. Selling weapons is just a way to balance the budget of the nation and get some fine social adjustments for the single parent’s children. That is all. Sweden just sold last year for 11 billions krons of killing tools. Local critics complained https://www.thelocal.se/…/swedish-arms-exports-topped-11-billion-kronor-last-year but business is going on. Lip service will call it a mischievous one, like me, but this also passes unnoticed. So Murmansk was a battle station folks during the last two world wars and after. Die Krauts (friendly nickname for Germans) tried to conquer it in 1942, coming from Finland, but got the finger. So, Murmansk became a Hero City. The Slaves have the kick for military heroes till now. They call them BOGATYR. Kind of Tarzan. Doesn’t matter how advanced, technically and culturally the Teutons could be, the Slaves will beat them again and again. Will they beat spermatozoids empowered, demographically exploding Islam? I am not so sure…not that I care…So, Murmansk was a place from which weapons and martial devices, eventually energy, were coming in and an eventually trickling out. It was, and still is, discretely, the hub of the atomic fleet. Once it was the harbor of the Russian North war fleet. Today is a riddle! After the decomposition of the PARADISE prized by Bernard Shaw Romain Rolland, Paul Robeson, Howard Fast, H.G. Wells, Pablo Picasso, Jorge Amado, Pablo Neruda, György Lukacs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Diego Rivera et Frederic Joliot-Curie (famous humanitarians of course) * the city began to shrink but it is going back in shape today much more quickly than the American cities, notwithstanding Lump, the gross boasting incumbent or the extremely gentle and well intentioned democrat ladies, Pelosa cum Hilla the Hun.
Also, I began to realize that not everything was ugly in the city. I went to the harbor. Give me harbors and I feel happy. I like harbors much more than airports. Airports in spite of the people’ affluence are mightily dehumanized. Harbors were once enthralling travel junctions.They had bars, trading houses, great brothels, stores of loot, contraband and booty goodies and everything…Unfortunately today they are only ports of call for fat enormous floating hotels crowded by blokes after or before the face-lift. Eventually they offer one or two museums cum cafeteria but some of the ancient charm, feel of power, eventually action still hovers over active or passive industrial, mercantile and military contraptions. Harbors, dynamic or sleepy, are enticing….I went to see the cranes, there were a flock of them.I love cranes. They are the best modernist functional sculpture either as a single piece or as a bunch. They look to me like giraffe impersonators. Strange animal the giraffe, it seems to go in endless directions at the same time. Better not to look at it while drinking, it goes into a kind of obscene posture. Then, I have seen something big and black. One of the most giant relics in the world, a great combination of symbol, functionality and brain-washing. There was Lenin, the retired, the first and the unique atomic ice-breaker.. It carried a striking funerary aura. There is no more ice today, Lenin was dead for long and his nose is made of wax and not in fine condition; other communist superstars came on stage, Stalin, Mao, Fidel, they are dead too, so the dreadnaught became a museum. Museums, I like to see them from outside especially because on this outside was an exhibition of children drawings. The results of a national contest with thousand participants and thirteen winners. Probably the drawings were photographed and then silk printed. Give me children drawings and I feel wonderful. Each one is a gate to DREAMLAND.
And then I have seen a real BOGATYR. You know, a hero. Carved in stone, white, light grey stone, from one piece or many I was unable to know even when I came close to it. Despite the distance it looked enormous. It reeked of Babylonian. No Egyptian who were especially indulging themselves into the monumental but Babylonian. I don’t have any proofs, but I feel like this. His identity was very well known to me, I knew it by fame, through internet and also I met him when I was a child while he was steam-rolling a broken Nazi army. Die Krauts tried to chew too much…and after all, the Slavs were not the soft Europa…Thus, the BOGATYR was Alyosha. He was a Slav, Babylonian, Russian, Soviet, Nationalist, Socially Realist, War Stone Symbol. Alyosha is the diminutive of Alexander. He was Alexander the Great II, Alexander the colossal. He was the soldier who beat the Golden Horde heirs, the Turks, the Teutonic knights, the Swedes, the Poles (once known as Polacks), the Eagle of Caucase, Napoleon, the German Nazi Panzer divisions, but lost temporarily to Japs and screw up in Afganistan. Nobody beats Islam definitively! ** But let’s go back to Alyosha and try to restrain my propensity to exaggeration. It is only 35.5 meters high – much smaller than the Motherland Calls of Volgagrad which is 85 meters and has some fantastic, alas well covered, breasts and which, unfortunately, may tumble into the Volga one of these days, and the Rodina Mat (The Motherland) of Kiev, but that is in Ukraine, now Russia worst enemy or vice versa, which towers at 102 meters. Whatever, highly placed on a promontory, facing the bay, Alyosha was by far much more imposing and threatening that his two female counterparts.
Anyway let’s leave the two Amazons, in spite of my staunch love for the female characters, out of the discourse. Notwithstanding some sexy ladies being today defense ministers in Europe, when it is up to war, I have discreetly to avow that I still prefer male fighters. To get to Alyosha, who was 3.3 km away from the harbor and the street going up progressively but conspicuously, I needed all my spirits if I wanted the legs to do the job and not to piteously run out of breath in the middle of the slope. To stay on the safe side I stopped for a little while to take some stills of the Monument of Sailors and Soldiers who died during Peace Time which hulked on an elevated ridge across the road. I didn’t have any intention to visit it for many reasons among which the fact that it had the shape of a light tower. This kind of cheap symbolism – a beacon for the departed? a lantern for the souls? going where? – was disturbing me. However, the big and colorful watch on the slope underneath the tower had a kind of Lego appeal which I found funny. Later I discovered that the city longitude and latitude were marked on it. It made me glad that for the second time in my life, the first was in Quito when I straddled the equator, if you can believe it, a leg in each hemisphere – I had here beyond doubts an exact knowledge of where I was. Otherwise I haven’t the foggiest idea whether I am here or there. I reckon that the same kind of corporeal apprehension that birds or other kind of inferior animals, Monarch butterfly for example, experience during their migration or within their regular ambling I will never get. And we are called the kings of creation…
Just before reaching the Alyosha monument I got a genial idea I wanted to present in writing to the president Puttini. Time is ripe to build a monument in memory of people who died quietly in bed during their sleep. Is not that a boon? Call it the Shrine of the Happy Departed or Quietly Vanished or something similar! My great grandfather from the mother side had this bliss at the age of 97. The son of a gun was piloted by good fortune all his life long! Unfortunately my natural laziness took over and the proposal has still to be written.
So I resumed my heroic walk and on the way I made some decisive discoveries. The first it was that Alyosha is made to be seen more from far away than from nearby. The closer you come the less you see. When you are really nearby you quite lose him. Further I remarked that his canon, the proportion between the length of the body and the size of the head, goes far beyond the Gothic canon which is already exaggerated. He has a very little head. This fantastic colossus has the puny head of an idiot? Microcephaly? Worse! Alyosha, from what I could distinguish carries a baby face. Instead of getting nose to nose so to speak with a kind of furious berserk, you know, the mad Viking warriors, we were very close to Norway there, you met a kindergarten boarder? That causes some conceptual turbulence……However, idiot head or not Alyosha, still forwards for free, to the Western World a formidable warning. Don’t mess with me, just keep barking! I am on the move again, yesterday Damascus, today Caracas, tomorrow in your backyard buddy……The esplanade on which he was raised offers some great views of the city, you can see the cranes flock and admire the bay. But more interesting than anything else is its floral decoration which has the dimension of a cult. Russian are indulging in crowns, both quantity and quality. Fresh crowns, one more beautiful than another abound. It is a kind of funerary delirium. It must cost a fortune to have them all the time around the year in such pristine condition especially thinking that they are made of paper and wire.
Thank you my revered patron for your benevolent patience, tomorrow I am going back to nature, the nature at the end of the world, it should be very appealing, eventually appalling (tundra is a strange animal!) or both. Teriberka is the name of the target, the end station, a tiny, half abandoned fishermen village to hail the open Barents’ sea and to dream of the Arctic Ocean.
*Great brains, intellectual superstars, POETS AND SCIENTISTS, outstanding moral luminaries, have a liking for caudillos, RED caudillos, backed by vicious SECURITY tormentors and tanks’ brigades, with the condition, that they stay in office for LIFE, on the behalf of the POOR. Hail the happy POOR!
**At 732 Charles Martel routed at Poitiers, 341.1 km from Paris, an Arab expeditionary corps of 50.000 (their number and the importance of the battle is decreasing continuously in the French history books); in 1830 French brutish soldiery and mercenaries under Charles the X, a disgusting imperialist, conquered Algeria; in 1958 the genial strategist and military leader de Gaulie shouted at Oran “Vive l’Algerie Française”, the man had the knack for lapidary impotent formulas; in 2019 there are some 6.000.000 Muslims in France doing fine and actively waiting to double by 2050. The culture will change a little bit but I have to avow that I have enough of Marie Antoinette and her brioches, the bobo Le Monde and the Boré (bourgeois revolutionary) Liberation and that I adore couscous, burnous and kid leather babouches . To accelerate of what appears to be a NATURAL historic process I propose to hang the vicious supremacist and ladies’ man Houellebecq and execute the fat nationalist leader-lady Marina de le Penne Morte in Place de Grève.