SOLOVETSKY ISLAND: As I walked to one of the few stores on Solovetsky Island, I stopped to take some photos of sheep and a cow nearby. This older man walked over and began to chat with me. He said his family moved to Solovetsky Island from Belarus more than 50 years ago. Consequently, he grew up here. Now 55, he said he is retired. When the conversation ended, I excused myself and said I was headed to the store. He said he was going there as well to get a bottle, but quickly explained, "I will not drink tomorrow. I am going into the forest." I asked if he was going to the forest for some sort of part-time work. Timber after all is one of the main sectors of the North Russia economy. ''I am going to gather mushrooms," he said. Autumn is the season to pick mushrooms, which are plentiful in the northern forests.
ARKHANGELSK: ''I don't give myself a specific goal of, say, 5 kilometers to walk. I just walk back and forth along the seaside while I enjoy it,'' said this grandmother and retiree living in Arkhangelsk. She was out walking on a Sunday afternoon using her Scandinavian walking sticks. Several others were walking with such sticks in Arkhangelsk. She said it had become more popular in recent years. This retiree said she also goes to the gym a few times a week to exercise with machines and weights, something her doctor recommended. I asked her what she thought of it. ''I really like it. I feel good each time I go.''
Sergei, 60, a career secret service employee, moved his family from Kazakhstan to Moscow to give his son a better education. Years later, his son is giving Sergei a chance to stay active in retirement. Sergei helps his son Dmitry produce titanium bicycle frames in a machine-filled room in a Soviet-era factory in Moscow. Five people, including Sergei, work on producing the frames. It took him time to adjust to the blue-collar job. ''I never worked with machines before and, at first, I feared I would make mistakes. With practice, I became confident.'' Sergei says he sometimes comes to work on the weekends and is motivated by ''customers smiling when they pick up their bikes.''
It was a beautiful snowstorm…only slightly below zero, so the snow was soft. But it was coming down by the shovel full on this early January morning. Lyudmila didn’t mind as the snow stuck to her outfit and landed on the face – she was focused on exercising in the small stadium near her home in a small west Ukrainian town.
RAMENSKOE, MOSCOW SUBURBS: I could see a group of school children from across a pond playing on the ice. One was skating in circles with a hockey stick. As I git closer, I realized the hockey player was an adult. As I got around to that end of the pond, I realized it was a pensioner. He said his name was Nikolai and had worked his whole life as a machine factory. Now in his mid 60s and retired, he got back into ice skating a few years ago to stay in shape. He said he had gone a few decades without skating, but quickly got back in the grove.
Before I continue with my Minsk photos, I want to post a two portraits from last 24h in Moscow to show how very different people were spending the holiday. I met Stanislav, a 77 yo accordion player, nearly a year ago at the Izmailovsky souvenir market, where he plays as tourists and Russians pass on their way to buy gifts. Today, I randomly saw him in the underpass near Izmailovsky as he dragged his accordion on a cart with one hand and used a sightseeing stick with the other. He had come to play for the holiday crowds, but the market was closed, so he was trying to find a populated place near the park. Nearly blind due - as he put it - to a bad operation, he says he won't stop playing regardless of how difficult it is to drag his stuff through the snow. "If I stop playing music, I will die. It is a holy cause." He said he was proud of his daughter, who has followed in his musical footsteps and often tours Europe to play.