An unlikely adventure in sleepy Pskov

I counted 133 rungs, so I'll estimate over 200 feet.  At the time, it felt like the Tower of Babel.

I counted 133 rungs, so I'll estimate over 200 feet. At the time, it felt like the Tower of Babel.

With a day off in honor of  women’s day, we decided to get free from the metropolis and head to the ancient Russian city of Pskov.  We expected a lazy weekend of touring churches, but found a little adventure instead in the provincial city.

Peter the Great supposedly shanghaied hundreds of thousands of able-bodied souls from this booming civilization to toil and die in the godforsaken swamp that would become St. Petersburg.  Pskov was a world center at one time, boasting Europe’s largest kremlin, but this blow just about did the old nag in.  All that’s left now is an urbane Russian city, tens of churches in the Pskovian architectural style, and 20 meters of historical refuse buried from sight in the strange, gradual effect of Pompeii-syndrome.

Many banal and brutal things happened in Pskov that weekend, including a bumbling, wine-burping tango and too much Russkii Standart, pickles and carmalized milk cookies, but the height of the action came Sunday afternoon, when our afternoon stroll ended in the dark bowels of an old Soviet “elektrostantsia,” or power station.

The Estonian Jonas took a side path into a mysterious doorway that led into an old boiler room in the basement of the hulking behemoth.  We stood in the darkness for awhile, then prepared to turn around, when we noticed another set of steps leading up.  Up the steps, through the looking glass, and a few rooms later, and we realized we had stumbled upon something big.  Jonas had led us into the belly of the whale.

Hall after gargantuan hall was littered with debris, piles of crumbled cement and hundreds of penciled-in ledger sheets detailing power flows.  An old cart with a red star outlined in its wheels.  Coal funnels in the floor descended into darkness below.  The ceilings were 50 feet high, but above the first level was another, then an upper story, then the river.  It was on the roof I caught sight of the smokestack, rising twice as high as the hulking elektrostantsia.

"Mechtateli" (Dreamers): Jonas and I face the Kubrickian music.

"Mechtateli" (Dreamers): Jonas and I face the Kubrickian music.

My soul shrunk in fear, but I knew like a moth caught in the lamp’s orbit that the attraction was too strong — trying to resist now would be like flailing against the rush-hour tide in the metro.  I waited until everyone had disappeared back into the factory, then set off for the base of the stack.

Halfway up, someone called to me.  I paused to look down, and at that awful moment got a full grasp on the situation.  The wind was rushing fast by now, like the sound of a thousand steam engines reverberating into the infitesimal end of a conch shell.  I felt like Kong, swatting at planes, and the fall couldn’t be far off.

Almost turned back, but then I caught sight of a blue-domed cathedral in the distance.  It wasn’t a religious epiphany that struck me, however, but merely a realization — when would I get a better chance to suck straight from the adrenal gland of life?

And so onward!  At the top of the stack at last, I felt close to what Hunter S. Thompson described as “the rumored echo of a high white noise that most men never hear.”

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One Response to “An unlikely adventure in sleepy Pskov”

  1. Stephen Streed Says:

    What is a “kremlin”?

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