Tikhvin

It took longer than I thought, but I'm finally writing about my trip to Tikhvin.

Tikhvin is a little town to the east of St. Petersburg, but still in Leningrad Oblast (Ленинградская Область). It's very historical and is most famous for being the ancestral home of the Rimsky-Korsakov family and the location of the Tikhvin icon, which apparently is officially known as the "Theotokos of Tikhvin". The icon is housed in the Tikhvin Assumption Monastery (again, I'm getting this name from Wikipedia - when I was there people just referred to it as "the monastery"). I went there with my friend Natasha to visit her family.

My trip to Tikhvin was very different from my trip to Kingisepp. First of all, the weather was horrible. It rained the whole weekend, and since it's October in Russia, that meant icy cold rain. The rain made it a bit hard to enjoy the town, because most of the interesting stuff to do involves walking around outside, which isn't that fun if it's forty degrees and raining. Second, Natasha's parents live in an apartment, and so they don't grow their own food like Oksana's parents do. That wasn't a bad thing - I still ate a lot of tasty stuff. It was just different. Third, instead of a cute dog, Natasha has a cute six-year-old brother, whose cuteness was very dependent on whether he was behaving himself or screaming because he wanted attention.

Despite the rain, Natasha and I did walk around Tikhvin and I did see some of the major sights. Natasha's mom is friends with a woman who works as a tour guide in Tikhvin, and this woman (who's name I have, unfortunately, forgotten) took us on a little excursion around the town. I have to admit that I wasn't paying that much attention to everything she said. It was cold and rainy and so my ability to follow her Russian and ask clarifying questions where necessary was rather attenuated. We went to the Rimsky-Korsakov museum, which I really enjoyed, even though the composer Rimsky-Korsakov only lived there in his early childhood. I liked it, though, because unlike many writers' house museums I've been to in St. Petersburg, it had a lot of miscellaneous artifacts that really allowed me to imagine what it might have been like to be a member of the intelligentsia in the late 19th century. Things like furniture, old letters, writing supplies: somehow these things all helped conjure a different world for me. We also went to the monastery. In general, I find going to monasteries in Russia fascinating. I've gone to three different Russian monasteries in my life (in Novgorod, Pskov, and Tikhvin) and all three times being in that space has made me think a lot about religion and God. Faith, a belief in something that does not need to be supported by facts, is such a powerful phenomenon. It's the phenomenon that builds richly decorated churches, and preserves them through the ages. It's the phenomenon that convinces certain people to devote their life to worship. It's the phenomenon that causes people to line up to pray before a specific icon.

Yes, people were waiting in line to pray before the Tikhvin icon. It's famous because it's believed to have granted several famous miracles, and is further believed to grant miracles for those who pray before it. Natasha said that after she was born, doctors told her parents that they would not be able to have any more children. But her mother went to pray before the Tikhvin icon, and then her little brother was born. Because of the line and because I am not an Eastern Orthodox believer, I wasn't able to see the Tikhvin Icon myself. It seemed deeply inappropriate for me to wait in the line just so that I could look at the icon, when people were waiting to ask it for miracles.

When we weren't walking around Tikhvin, Natasha and I just hung out at her apartment. We watched some TV (mostly орел и решка, "heads or tails", a Ukranian Russian-language travel show) and movies, played games (scrabble, a jigsaw puzzle), and chatted with her parents. Natasha didn't tell me this until we were actually on our way back to St. Petersburg, but apparently Natasha's mom actually entered the green card lottery several years ago, and was very interested in possibly moving to the United States. I wish I'd learned that earlier, because it would have contextualized the seemingly endless stream of questions Natasha's mother asked me all weekend about life in the U.S., from what people tend to spend money on to what apartments are like to what kind of food I like to cook and eat. I ended up showing them pictures of kale and trying (and failing) to describe stir-fry. 

Here are some pictures: