When we stepped into our boat on the River Neva, we also stepped into a world without internet connections.
For the first time 150 people experienced life before instant access. It took us a few days–and many attempts with texting–to realize that we had stepped back in technological time. No longer could we instantly discover what the weather would be every hour, what might be happening back home. E-readers didn’t work: emails were inaccessible.
For me, my newly acquired habit of blogging stopped completely.
As we boated through the waterway gradually built up to modern capacity through the years since St. Petersburg was built, we were carried away into other times and spaces as well. In Kizhi we walked through the first wooden church built when Christianity had taken over the pagan culture of the time. Yaroslavl and Rostov the Great we were taken back to the Times of Troubles when Russia was a series of provinces attempting to emerge out of Tatar, Polish and Lithuanian domination. In Uglich we were reminded that in Russia churches, not monuments, were put up to commemorate actions, people and events. There a lovely church recalls the death of 7-year-old Dmitry, the last of the Rurik dynasty. A huge fresco opposite the iconostasis records the event. At least it records one of the two versions: Dmitry’s death at the hands of the usurper, Boris Gudenov. The church stands beside the last remnant of the house where Dmitry and his mother lived. Its spires are visible from the river and the town, a permanent part of the town’s memory and the nation’s history.
My only way of communicating all of this was through postcards, the time-honored way of all Western travelers since the time of mail service. Two weeks from the sending date, those postcards will arrive at their addresses–long after I get internet access again.
I have truly been experiencing another time and place. Once one has cleared one’s expectations, it’s like being on a retreat.