National Geographic : 1942 Dec
The National Geographic Magazine coat. How often, during that bitter winter in Transcaucasia, I regretted my indecision at the Nizhni Novgorod Fair! As I passed the stalls of accordions and icons, looked at the goldwork in Brazilian Passage, or fingered Persian carpets in the Caravanserai, the Fair was slowly dying. War had kept some dealers home. Private trading was on the decline. Even the ornate cathedrals seemed monu ments of the past. But in the little mosque, beside a canal near the back of the fair grounds, Moslems from Asia touched their foreheads to soft-colored rugs as they bowed toward Mecca, far to the south. Tatar Kazan Smells of Russian Leather The Asiatic aspect of Volga life becomes even more pronounced in Kazan, which smells of Russian leather. It has many humble mosques, although church domes and steeples dominate the skyline. Their presence symbol izes the triumph of Slavic Christians over Mo hammedan Turko-Mongols. But for Slavic success and Yermak's conquest of Siberian lands, the Volga, not the Urals, would be the edge of Asia. Since Kazan's name never smacked of tsar dom, it was kept as that of the capital of the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. This Tatar Republic is one of several such autonomous regions along the Volga. In each of them, loyalty to the Soviet Republic has developed without interference with local cul tures. The Maris, Chuvashes, Tatars, Volga Germans, and Kalmyks speak their own lan guages and retain many of their own customs and costumes. Although Kazan manufactures typewriters and movie film and has become a center for scientific factory production and agriculture, its Asiatic cast of countenance dates back to the Golden Horde. Led by descendants of Genghiz Khan, these Tatars swept across Europe to Hungary. They retreated to pitch their magnificent camp across the Volga from the site of Stalingrad and were crushed, after a century and a half of nomadic warfare, by Timur the Lame. High above the little Kazanka River is a Tatar tower which bears the name of a legen dary Princess Syuyumbeka, who threw herself from the 250-foot height when, after a long siege, Ivan the Terrible took Kazan in 1552. Below Kazan the clear waters of the Kama, sweeping in from the Urals to mix with the muddy Volga, brought passengers to the rail. From here on the Volga's course is to the south, and a high bank, cut by ravines down which passengers pour to the steamer, lies to the west. The low east bank is the western edge of steppe lands where Kirghiz and Mon gol roam between the Volga and China's Yel low River. Always on Volga River trips I would visit the crowded quarters below. Men, wo men, and children lolled about, resting wher ever they could, drinking boiled milk or kvass from upturned bottles, tearing the crinkly skin of freshly baked fish or eating the heavy black Russian bread. In the Days of "Wall Newspapers" All around were the "wall newspapers" which were long prominent in Soviet life. They were highly colored, and often embel lished with original cartoons. Combination poster and gossip sheet, these periodicals had a high ratio of readers per issue. When I tried to get one as a souvenir of awaking Russia, I was told the demand was so great that they were distributed by lottery to be come decorations of the home. Volga steamers burn mazut, a by-product of oil refining, and the throb of huge filling pipes to the thrust of the pumps is always a source of wonder as the steamers wait at landing stages. These may rise or fall as much as 50 feet between high water and low, depending on seasonal swelling. The Volga voyage in other days was as peaceful as it now is stark drama, when every available bottom is on war duty. Passengers slept late and spent long hours at table, but in one stretch paying attention to the scenery was a "must." Below Stavropol the steamer enters as much of a gorge as the landscape allows and circles the 100-mile Samara Bend to arrive at a spot only 13 miles away, across the neck. This is to become the greatest hydroelec tric center in Soviet Russia, and a vast area on the east bank, from Kuibyshev to Stalin grad ultimately is to be brought under irri gation. Since water diverted to irrigation will not reach the already shrinking Caspian, Rus sian scientists planned to tap a whole suc cession of rivers, reaching as far as the Dnieper. By making the Crimea an island and di verting fresh water into the Sea of Azov, this might be done without killing the Don-fed fish. As in America, reclamation engineers have to consider many problems. Samara Bend is the key to vast changes which will facilitate irrigation and river traffic and rob the Arctic of iceberg material in order to give thirsty central Asia a drink. The hydroelectric works at both ends of Samara Bend are major factors in this vast scheme.