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“No noise here, everything is very calm and quiet,
The place is charming, it can be compared to
Switzerland for its amazing beauty.”

Siverskiy: Prison or Refuge?

by Natalia Merkulova

Siversky in winter, as viewed
from the Yubileiny Bridge
One always finds the place where he grew up and which he left some time ago, touching and perhaps a bit pathetic… like old shabby toys, which you used to play with, or unfashionable clothes you used to like so much and have come to discard. It is usually some provincial area, a small town or village which you leave for a big city. It is difficult to describe this feeling of something so familiar and so dear to your heart and at the same time a feeling of pity for all those lost years and for that small, naive and lighthearted self deserted.

Autumn in Siversky
When I sometimes felt tired and depressed after living in Saint-Petersburg, I began to perceive Siverskiy as a sort of peaceful asylum. A cage turned into a shelter - a safe place to hide.

Siverskiy is incomparably beautiful in summer and autumn. There are so many pretty corners to be alone, to think, to observe the simple and at the same time unique nature of the place: gloomy fir-trees and mast-like pines, thick woods and parks, jovial red banks along the Oredezh river. I used to walk there during long and ink-dark autumn evenings with my friends, gabbing away. Sometimes arguing. Sometimes complaining. Sometimes discussing and reciting poetry… I sometimes think that I have never had such splendid moments in my life as I have on these small half-lit streets, in those pine woods, or on those steep red-sanded banks of Siverskiy. Perhaps some of my impressions of Saint-Petersburg have been tarnished by depression and painful episodes of my later life, while in Siverskiy I have spent the most innocent moments of my youth. I don’t know.

The famous red Devon sand banks along
the Oredezh river. They are considered to be
several thousand years old
Siverskiy has never held many opportunities for young people: it is only 67 kilometres from Saint-Petersburg, so almost everybody leaves for wider horizons, while some students continue to leave there and commute every day by train. So, it’s not as provincial as it could seem. We were taught the history of Siverskiy and its environs, and that we should be proud of the place. In the 19th century Siverskiy was the so-called capital of dacha resorts in Russia, as many poets and painters had country houses there (some of these houses can be found in Siverskiy even today, although in a very bad condition). The place could be considered as “Tiny Switzerland” or “Switzerland in miniature”, as among its environs one could visit memorable places, which were central to the biographies of Pushkin, Ryleev, Nabokov…

Lyalya’s meadow. A favourite place to swim
for both locals and holiday-makers
However, I could never feel this glorious past: when you are very young and ambitious, living near one of Russia’s biggest cities, how can you feel any pride for such a small and rural place? It seemed ridiculous at that time. I felt shackled there, as if locked in a narrow room with a low ceiling. How could I stay there?

I keep on saying that I won’t return there. Although, deep down inside I must confess that sometimes I miss those quiet summer evenings on the bank of the river, walking along winding, little paths, standing on the bridges and watching the river flow by, envying cyclists who pass me by (I have never had a bicycle – the flat was too small for it), saying hello to friends and acquaintances, playing guitar somewhere near the water, looking for a place away from the holiday-makers, who seem to invade the place in summer. And the scarlet sunsets. And half-rotten dilapidated wooden dachas. And those boring long-lasting rains in June. And endless conversations about everything under the sun, until my mom’s irritated voice called me home. And the “famous” Siverskiy Broadway – in the centre of town lined with several benches, where on week-ends one can hardly find a vacant seat; everybody is there, drinking beer, listening to music, waiting for somebody else to come, dating, and showing off their new boy-friends, new mobile phones or jeans. Broadway is the centre of young life (after all, wasn’t it me, who gave it this name?).

Now, when I go there I really don’t know what I will find there. Will it be a prison for my free thoughts and rebellious ideas or a shelter from a hostile world outside this peaceful and quiet Switzerland in miniature?

Or, is it just an illusion?

PS Special thanks to the photographers Alexei Lukas (who lives in Siversky and adores the place so much, that he returned there after graduating the University and doesn’t ever want to leave it; and to Sergei Ostashinsky, who visited Siversky only once, but loved it and took some lovely pictures).

1) S.Nadson, a Russian poet ( 1862-1887 ), a Russian poet, lived in Siverskiy at A.Plechsheev’s, a famous Russian poet

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