Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Two new books arising from the Spine of Russia project afford a look at everyday life in the Russian Federation. In this preview of one of the books, Paul Richardson swaps notes with Igor, who is selling berries on a roadside in Karelia.

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Igor Drozdov is sitting next to a fire, about 30 metres from the road, when we stop several car lengths in front of five large buckets of cranberries he has displayed on the verge. Igor stands up from his fire and walks slowly towards the road, waiting for us to approach.

The camera hanging from Mikhail’s shoulder alerts Igor to the fact that this is not going to be a typical buy-and-sell operation. But he quickly seems at ease and talks freely with us about his life and business.

Igor is slim with close-cropped hair, teeth that have put in 52 good years, and he wears a smart, sporting outfit of stone-washed denim jeans, a Puma windbreaker and black baseball cap. He has the firm handshake of a farmer or sailor. Tattooed hands peek out from the sleeves of his jacket.

“I just got out in August,” he says after we exchange first names, explain what we are doing here, and ask him to tell us a bit about himself. “It was a 12-year stint.”

What his prison term was for, we don’t ask; that’s his business. We are here to talk berries.

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Paul E Richardson is a journalist, photographer and publisher. Based in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, he is also editor of Russian Life, a bimonthly magazine on Russian culture, history, travel and life. Paul is a much acclaimed translator, having won awards for his English editions of Ilf and Petrov's classic novel The Little Goden Calf and Vladimir Gilyarovsky's Moscow and Moscovites. Find out more about Paul on his website.

This article was published in hidden europe 49.