By Yelena Bodrova
«Мышкин» на Яндекс.Фотках
Myshkin on the Upper Volga in the Yaroslavl Region is so small you can walk round it in two hours. There’s no public transport except for the route taxi, which was launched only recently. Life is flowing at quiet pace and the old mansions of the nobility on the banks of the Volga built in the style of classicism stay a glaring reminder of the bygone riches and prosperity of the owners. All this adds a particular charm to the town.
The town, which name means ‘a mouse’ in Russian, was founded in the 16th century. As legend has it, a prince who was hunting in the neighbourhood lay down to have a rest and fell asleep. He was suddenly woken up by a mouse just in time to see a snake crawling towards him. The prince deemed his salvation from being stung to death a miracle and built a wooden chapel in the place in honour of Saints Boris and Gleb, for the incident with the mouse happened on Saints Boris and Gleb Day. The prince provided the chapel with a watchman and the man’s hut was the first dwelling of a future town, Myshkin. When Myshkin got the status of a town in 1777, its coat of arms depicted a mouse along with the Yaroslavl bear with the axe.
The Russian author Ivan Aksakov visited Myshkin in 1850 and left the following description of the place:
“Myshkin on the Volga got populated with merchant peasantry, enterprising and hard-working. The merchants are rich, live in beautiful houses like one big family and make donations to the town budget. All are involved in wholesale commerce, there’s practically no trading inside. Up to six million eggs are sent to St.Petersburg from Myshkin, and the peasants here are well-off and engaged in big trade.”
The refusal by merchants to have a railroad built through the town left it with no chances for industrial development but re-established it in the status of laid-back, tranquil town with rich architecture. The merchants saw Myshkin a merchant capital where their dreams of wealth and freedom had come true. Their vast capitals went to adorn the town with cathedrals and mansions and give it a full cultural and scientific life, something which made Myshkin clearly distinguishable from other provincial towns.
With the arrival of the Soviets the cream of townsfolk descending from merchants and the nobility left or were deported. The tiny Myshkin was allotted no room in the far-going plans of the Soviet government, which deemed it unimportant and gave part of it to the Rybinsk water reservoir.
But the town lived on cherishing memories of its past, of the old mansions and vandalized churches, and fighting for a place under the Russian sun. The building of two pipelines and a gas compressor and oil pumping station inspired a new life into Myshkin and provided it with a chance to grow and develop.
As if a small mouse, the town of Myshkin sits huddled up from the bustle of modern life and is enjoying a tranquil life in a Volga hinterland. Occupying a mousy small territory, which you can cross in two hours, and populated by a mere 6,000 residents, the town has nevertheless become a tourist attraction. In the first place, it boasts the world’s only Museum of the Mouse, depicting more than 5,000 exhibits dedicated to the town’s symbol. The museum’s funny slogan calls for mice of all countries to join together in Myshkin, its mouse-devoted exhibits include drawings, embroidery, knitting, coins and items made of faience, clay, furs and other materials and it receives letters, handmade fancies, fairytales and pictures on mousy matters from all over the world.
The local history museum tells of the life of peasants, merchant and nobility on the Volga from the 18th century until now. The rare exhibits include a big writing desk divided into the woman’s and man’s section, with embroidery on the one and newspapers and specs on the other. There is an exposition telling of the Smirnov brothers, who were born in the town and became famous for their brainchild – the Smirnov vodka brand. And in the backyard a boy is making crocks at potter’s wheel.
An open-air museum has collected samples of oil machinery, including an engine. As the story goes, the museum was once visited by a young Japanese with his bride and he liked the engine so much that he wanted to take it home with him. But he was told it was impossible. Several years later the Japanese came to visit again, this time with his daughter, to tell that he had now an identical engine near his house and that he had assembled it himself.
And of course, there is the museum of valenki and linen at the factory producing valenki, the traditionally Russian footwear so indispensable in the Russian North. I couldn’t help buying a pair — mouse-style, with the muzzle, and the nose and the eyes, very elegant and warm. The governor of the Yaroslavl Region keeps his valenki in the museum. He wears them when he comes to visit and he says he’ll take them after he retires. Other exhibits include linen dollies, housewife helpers, who inspire a housewife into good cooking when she isn’t in the mood.
As we strolled through the town we dropped in at a canteen and had the most delicious and cheap by Moscow standards meal. Myshkin fully provides itself with food, natural only. The curds, the sour cream, the milk and the meat and the fish from the Volga, and the smoked bream was just out of this world.
A remote corner of Russia, Myshkin has preserved the atmosphere of a comfy Russian province of which they used to say in the old days that ‘where there is less sin there is more salvation to the soul’.
Source:The Voice of Russia