Photos, Travel

Brick by Brick in the Heart of Russia

IMG_6027Perm, Russia – Arriving at 3am, the taxi driver was unusually chatty, even inviting me to ask him questions. His Russian was like nothing I’d heard before. He seemed to roll every ‘r’ with such vigour that while pronouncing any other letter, there was an ‘rrrrr’ humming in the background waiting for its chance to rev again.

Dubbed ‘A Bilbao on Siberia’s Edge’ by the New York Times, Perm might not have the gleen of a Guggenheim city, but for a place so far off the map, it’s got soul.  The first thing I noticed was a tad of funk in the air at the airport. I asked the taxi driver and he pointed me off in the distance. It looked like another city, but was actually just a huge petro plant of some stripe.  Just as Bilbao has Durango near by, for all the cultural pomp a mayor can give a city, a once industrial place can never fully shake off its history.

Previously know for its salt mines, the first statue I came across outside my hotel was dedicated to ‘Permyak Salt Ears’.  Voted the ‘Strangest Russian Monument’ by Russian World Magazine, the city immediately struck me as a tad kooky.


Other than the actual funk and strange statues, there were lots of coffee shops (in the traditional sense), graffiti, beautiful architecture, a budding tourist infrastructure (see red, green, and gold lines), and generally nice people.

It wasn’t the cleanest place and going for a 5k run over the Kama after a wet snow probably wasn’t the wisest idea.  Despite wet feet and being sprayed by passing 4-lane traffic, it was pretty euphoric running along 70ft (20m) above a half-mile wide river in the middle of nowhere.  That was the furthest east I’d ever been, or run for that matter.

Although there for business, I found a good amount of time to wander. In said wandery, I went on an obsessive bent photographing brick buildings. The infrastructure could use a dose of ‘Sochi money’, so maybe my attention was on the things well preserved, but please don’t hate me for not photographing everything that was wrong in the city.

There are buildings like this in Moscow here and there, but to have them in such a compact area gave the feeling of a coherent city plan – the complete opposite to many periphery areas of the capital.

Now back to my linguistically leaning work in Moscow, I can’t help but recall all the expressions with the word ‘brick’ in them:

Like a ton of bricks, brickin’ it, another brick in the wall, few bricks short of a house, hit the bricks, built like a brick shithouse, throwing bricks, to be shitting bricks, to be up against a brick wall, brick and mortar…

Put my love of bricks down to my grandfather living in a beautiful old brick farmhouse in Orford, NH…must be

some sort of childish regression.

Or maybe it’s just my geometric eye that loves a few well placed shapes (hence, my love of fractals and Kandinsky). Regardless, they are architectural monuments to a time when brick laying was a craft, not a reference to a shit job, playing basketball poorly, or defecating.

A particularly lazy holiday season in Vermont, I remember watching a Discovery or History Channel special on bricks. Yes, it was as riveting as it sounds. There was some guy that collected bricks. He had a little stand for each. Wow.

Each one had a stamp on it from the factory. You could tell what it was made of, where it was made, how, the works.  It’s interesting to think how my grandfather’s house was built from bricks made right on the property and how prevalent they are in the global landscape… I wonder if other languages also have a heap of expressions related to bricks in their linguistic landscape?

I’ll leave you with a classy stamp I found painted on a utility box in the street near the Perm Opera House.


The continuation of Legendary Kungur Ice Cave story to come…



2 thoughts on “Brick by Brick in the Heart of Russia

  1. Judith Billard says:

    A wonderful read, Alex, and an unexpected delight to see the Orford homestead. Time to read Little Girl of Long Ago again. Do you have your own copy?


  2. Thanks! I planned to read it after my last trip to Orford, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll have a peek in the archives this summer!


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