It is getting more and more social on the flight when there are only a few Russian people left after the stop in Nizhniy Novgorod and whose final destination is also Perm. Perm is located in the last part of Europe just before Asia starts. It is the most afforested oblast (province) in the Russian Federation on the spurs of the Ural Mountains. The Russians poor each other in from their own brought bottles of booze and sing out loudly. The peace returns when we prepare for landing 2 hours later in the pitch-dark. The bright enlightened, snow covered airport looks like an immense twinkling star in the night.
It is 5.30, before dawn and it is freezing. After arrival each passenger is checked intensively on visa, passport and looks. The dull drones of the stamps on the papers needed sound to us like a warm welcome on Russian territory and luckily also our luggage has arrived. Natasja Kataeva, founder of the first Russian Teddy Bear Club, greets us warmly and in the middle of the night she takes us to our hotel together with her son Sascha. My watch has to be adjusted 4 hours ahead of time, my legs feel like walking on clouds, and my ears are somewhat deaf. But I have to pull myself together since my ‘master-class’ will begin within a few hours time. My pupils are very eager to learn, ask the right questions and work steady on the teddy-to-be thanks to my interpreter Olga. I explain them my tricks of the trade and give away little secrets, explain them where to pay attention to when stuffing the head and limps of the teddy and the apotheosis follows when we apply some shades on nose, eye sockets and ears with a brush, paint and water. It is getting somewhat hectic when television crews like to take an interview too. Obviously is ‘Making Teddy Bears’ news and ‘hot’. After the class has finished Natasja guides us to a small exposition room, where dozens of teddy bears are competing for the best place. I can only choose one favorite, but that appears to be difficult: all bears look so cute, full of creativity and have a lot of appeal.
The next day we are offered a city tour through Perm and we learn that this metropolis, with a surface of 2800 km2 , and with no less than 1,2 million inhabitants, was left out on purpose of all maps before 15 years ago, nor were the roads leading to the city indicated. Perm is an industrial city for techniques in space travel, launching systems for rockets, weapons and engines for airplanes. But that this city could have been kept as a ‘secret’ for such a long time is a great miracle considering the fact that it was the home city of big names as composer Tjaikovski, prima ballerina Anna Pavlona and the multi talented Diaghilev. The river Kama, sometimes even wider than 4 km, splits up the city and is rich of minerals and a huge variety of fish. I try to imagine how it will be in summertime when people are sun bathing on the small beaches, swim, fish, or make trips on a boat in the river. Perm proudly carries a brown bear in its city-arms and that is shown everywhere. But the real bears living here nearby, Russia’s national symbol, are luckily in hibernation. In the evening we get a big surprise: a visit at the banya, a steam sauna where you beat your body up with intervals with an ice cold, soaking wet bunch of twigs. We look like red lobsters when we are cooling down outdoors a little bit later and we are bursting out laughing.
The ice caves in Kungur with underground glaciers and huge natural ice sculptures are another high-light of this trip. When we have to say goodbye to Natasja a few days later, we promise to return soon again but then in a more sunny and warmer season.
The Kama-Express train will bring us to Moscow in no less than 23 hours, partly over the Trans Siberian track. On the little table in our compartment I display all food and drinks we brought: we could easily survive a week with this forage, due to the incredible Russian hospitality.
When we leave Perm millions of birches and steppe fields are alternating each other. A wreath of smoke here and there give away that there must be life in the simple wooden houses. It is getting dark early and late getting light. Our provodnik (the conductress in our wagon) smiles a ‘good morning’ to us. We make tea and coffee with the boiling hot water from the samovar, an odd looking tap located in every wagon. There are still a few more hours to go before we will reach the station Yaroslavskaya in Moscow. The sky looks grey and it drizzles when we arrive. We are just about to look for a porter when Gemma Cadge rushes forward. With the help of our best Russian and her best English we understand that she is taking us to the hotel first and that she will introduce us to the 2nd Teddymania tomorrow. The Teddymania is both an exposition and a show and is organized by Gemma and her friend Anastia Kuptsova. Our hotel is located right opposite the Kremlin and we enjoy a stunning view on the brightly-colored spiraling onion domes: this is dreamland! In the Art-Trofi Gallery, where the bears of the Teddymania found a hospitable place, is a lot going on: 4 female musicians are preparing themselves for the musical setting, television crews are testing the best light and the mother of Gemma is putting together the drinks and snacks. With endless patience my interpreter Alexandra helps me to fill in the forms of the jury and I am concentrating myself on the overall look and the quality of the teddy’s I have to judge. Just like last year I notice how big the creativity is in Russia, how humoristic, full of symbolic and original. For that reason it isn’t easy at all to make the right selection from the 200 entries. A little later the official opening of the event takes place: speeches, words of ‘thank you’, flashes, buzzing of cameras, flowers, cheers and music. A hearty gathering with many familiar faces. Co-member of the jury Dr. Alexandr Grekov invites us to visit his toy museum in Sergyev Posad the next day. Posad is a well known centre of artisans skilled in making wooden toys and also the matrioshka’s are originated here. The difference between the excessive neon-lighted centre of Moscow and the grey looking outskirts is big, but the concrete soon changes into the dasja’s (cottages of which nearly every Russian family owns one) in the afforested surrounding outside the city. Just before dark we are welcomed by mister Grekov. With appropriate proud he shows us the collections and the period rooms. Curiously we are guessing the origin and age of the old Russian teddy bears, many made from fabric, which will get their definite place in the museum in the near future. Right across the museum is the beautiful Trinity Monastery of St. Sergei located, a place of pilgrimage. Of course we will light candles in the little church and we will take home the holy water from the well. One more night and we have to say goodbye to everyone. The suitcases are heavy because of the Russian liberality: at home we will say ‘cheers’ to the teddy-ists from Perm and Moscow for a very long time!
Till next time,
Anna Koetse, Netherlands