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Blog of the week – 52 North 16

Irkutsk is easily the most excellent city in the whole wide world.  It’s commonly known as the Paris of Siberia, because all the Decembrist’s exiled by Tsar Alexander II brought ‘culture’ with them.  (French culture was big in Russia at the time).  Irkutsk is also next to Lake Baikal, the deepest freshwater lake in the world.  It’s also where I lived for the best part of a year. 

And now, it’s where Calvin lives.  He’s inIrkutsk for a year on the Middlebury Schools program and is recording a journal in the form of his blog – 52 North 16.  He doesn’t say which university he is at (there are a fair few in the town) but if he isn’t at Irksutsk State Technical University he’s missing out on some of the coolest nuttiest teachers around.

Anyway, right about now in Irkutsk, winter is drawing in.  It’s the time when all the foolish students (like me) who arrived naively expecting the ‘winter coat’ they brought to be sufficient finally stop kidding themselves and go buy a real Russian coat (made in Turkey, of course).  It’s a task which can bamboozle the most capable* of us, and Calvin is no exception:

I spent a few days in October looking around, getting to know the friendly and familiar tactics of the women who work in the little shops that sell coats. The Shanghai market is another, different story. More on that later. These women were all, without exception, between the ages of 35 and 40, and I was between the ages of 4 and 8. And I had done something wrong. That was the dynamic between me and whomever I was battling against in my quest to not get fleeced. Even when I was smarter, more eloquent (ok, that never happened), older, louder, etc., I was always a small child, and they were always a perturbed mother, or aunt.

He’s also been to Mongolia, Buryatia, The Vienna Cafe (which although not a date cafe does some of the best pastries around) and, of course, Lake Baikal where he experienced Banya.

I miss Irkutsk.

*Disclaimer:  I do not at all wish to imply that I was capable.  The only reason I survived the winter was because I managed to persuade a Russian friend to come shopping with me and steer me away from the summerwear range.

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