Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers

Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers

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Peeling Out (a reflection)

August 26, 2018

What a trip.
To future bell ringers, and to anyone who might not understand the a-peal of bells:
The vast majority of this trip can only be experienced directly. Words can’t quite describe the strange and surreal experience of being led around Moscow by an energetic six-foot-three Russian Orthodox Hierodeacon with an inexhaustible passion for bell ringing and seemingly limitless access to every bell tower—no matter how tall or remote—in Russia.  Further, seeing Father Roman play is incredible.  The way his hands move—it’s like he is a sorcerer conjuring potions out of a cauldron, except the cauldrons are bells and the potions are peals.
At least once—once—every bell ringer should risk temporary deafness and listen to the Danilov bells without ear protection.
Hearing Mother Earth directly is something akin to hearing the voice of god.  It’s sublime: beautiful, terrifying, and possibly obliterating all at once.  You’re twenty years old, your ear drums will likely recover. Probably.

Jessica tells me that one of the thing she notices that distinguishes the original Danilov bells from the new ones at Lowell is the old ones sustain their sound for a lot longer.  Once the last peal has been struck, they just keep ringing, and ringing, and ringing for minutes upon minutes.  The new bells, they give up the ghost more quickly.  But I like to think these bells are always ringing just a little. Even when you can’t hear it.

All and all, I have to give this experience a ringing endorsement.


**No one in Russia calls Mother Earth “Mother Earth.”  They just call it “Bolshoy,” which means “Big.”  Apparently we Harvard kids made up the whole Mother Earth thing sometime later.

A Century of Graffiti

August 25, 2018

Mother Earth has a whole lot of graffiti in it!

Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to look up some of these folks in the old Lowell House directories and send them an email…

Gleb: “If someone helps me wash the mugs, we can have tea.” Isabelle (exhausted): “…someone wash me a cup.”

August 19, 2018

Ring My Bell

August 19, 2018

“It’s normal. It’s Russia.”—Gleb, upon pulling a door off its hinges.

August 19, 2018

“Psychology has only been around for what, a hundred years? Orthodoxy has been around for a thousand!”—Russian Bell Ringer, trying to convert us.

August 15, 2018

Aug 15 (Day 4): Artin’

August 15, 2018

Evan here.

Today’s Schedule
9-11 bells practice.
1:30-5 Tretyakov
5:30-7 Georgian food dinner
7-11 Russian Tea

The Tretyakov—the finest museum in Moscow.  The last time I visited here was nine years ago, on a trip during my gap year.  For me, it was a blast to see all these paintings again.  Especially walking around with an Orthodox Hierodeacon as my guide.  Here’s us artin’

One of the most interesting things Father Roman mentioned was about light sources in paintings in icons.  In short: there is no consistent source of light in icon paintings.  This is because the goal is to achieve an effect of light coming from the icon itself.  Light does not illuminate the icon, rather, the icon is the source of illumination.

I love Russian art.  What most interests me about Russian art is that there is really no European influence on it until Peter the Great (beginning of the 18th century).  From then on, Russians were regularly traveling to Europe, or European masters were coming to Russia to share aesthetics.  Much of Russian art ends up being relatively derivative of European art until the late nineteenth century—the 18th century is a struggle to achieve realistic figuration in portrait painting; the turn of the 19th century has a tremendous influx of Italian Grand Tour-style italianate painting.  What most excites me is when Russian artists absorb an outside style, mix it with something essentially Russian, and then produce a synthesis that is unique.  This is what you get with artists like Mikhail Vrubel:

This painting is epic.  The Demon Downcast (1902) depicts an angel being thrown from heaven.  It has the proportions of a vertical icon, but it is turned on its side because, well, it’s a demon not an angel.  The painting is an empedoclean mixture of feathers, mountains, and flood, all centered around the two hate-filled eyes of the demon, staring back at the height from which it was thrown.  Fitting to its time, the painting’s mixes a Pre-Raphaelite improvisation on mythical history, while also employing Mannierist figural elements (the body of the demon is strangely stretched an etiolated, like what we see in some Mannerist paintings), while the background is almost abstract, anticipating cubism.  I find it fascinating how this painting, though very much a painting, seems as though it might have been more suitable for stained glass, if only Vrubel had had the opportunity to collaborate with Tiffany or La Farge; this painting could be in a church.  Yet the most Russian aspect of this painting—what makes it really stand out—is the use of gold, which again, hearkens back to the gold of illuminated icons, or illuminated manuscripts, which makes up the wings of the fallen angel, which are almost Byzantine in their geometry as they melt into mountains an drivers.  If the source of light in a tradition icon ought to be the icon itself, the opposite occurs for Vrubel’s Demon; the demon’s body seems to be sucking in light, at the same time as the gold of its wings gives up its light and melts into the muted landscape.

Here’s a nice photo of us about 3 minutes before we got soaked by that oncoming storm cloud you can see there in the bathroom.IMG-20180816-WA0002

Later that evening, after drying off, we had a traditional Russian tea with a motley crew of other bell ringers from around Moscow.  I didn’t quite know what to expect on this one.  We showed up and, at first, the room was full of these bell ringers, 90% of whom didn’t speak any English, sitting there in perfect silence.  We sat with them for a bit, enjoying the silence.  It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, we had walked into a meeting of Bell Ringers Anonymous.  At any moment, in Quaker fashion, I expected one of them to be moved by the spirit, stand up, and declare “My name is Sasha, and I am addicted to Bell Ringing.” I wasn’t sure what I’d do if this began to happen.  I improvised for myself a bell ringing backstory, just in case they asked.  I embellished.  I’d tell them it began with reading The Polar Express as a child, you know, the Christmas book that comes with the little bell.  From there, I would tell them, I graduated to hand bells, then cow bells.  In high school, I started to drive and became obsessed with honking at any and every opportunity.  Finally, in college, I began studying poetry about bells.  Eventually, I would drink to overcome my bell ringing obsession with alcohol.

“I drink because I ring bells,” I would tell them “..and I ring bells because I drink.”

But then Father Roman showed up and we had a lovely conversation for nearly three hours which was, more or less, on the topic of bell obsession.

Danilovsky Foundry

August 15, 2018