Every September is a month-long flashback for me. A bit of the retrospective autumn sadness, the time my memory and thoughts go back to my childhood and my home town – the beautiful Brest that is not in France, but in Belarus.
Recently I’ve read an article on the peculiarities of human memory and the fact that we remember almost nothing from our childhood. Nothing but some episodes floating on the surface of the information sea of our inner hard disk. One of those memory shipwreck survivors for me is the recall of Sovetskaya Street, one of Brest’s main streets.
In the 90ies of the 20th century, some time after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite an anonymous place: deserted, open to traffic, with huge cracks in the greyish asphalt, few open stores and very few customers in them, the faded look of the so-called ‘two-story‘ Brest, some forgotten cinemas open by mistake or by force of habit, a huge and ugly monster with an empty belly and hollow dark eyes of the meant-to-be unfinished hotel concrete construction – a punch in an eye.
I guess that Ulitsa Sovetskaya, the one I remember from my childhood, was a perfect reflection of its time: the emphatic decadence of our being confused and at a loss.
And I can‘t but be happy and a bit proud of its being so different today.
After the whole street underwent a complete reconstruction and renovation, it became pedestrian, changed its face and conquered back the fame of one of the most beautiful streets in the city and a meeting point for its citizens and visitors. The facades of many historical buildings were saved from unrepairable damage and complete destruction and are now under protection of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
In one way or another, all that had to be done. But there was something else, something more, something I would define a cherry on top.
In 2009 Sovetskaya acquired a new old tradition and a new attraction for the residents and tourists. 17 kerosene lanterns were put at the beginning of the street – the Lantern Alley – to recall the 19th century Brest-Litovsk. Every evening at sunset and every morning at sunrise a lanternlighter wearing a dark blue uniform, dating back to the times of Peter the Great, turns the lights in the street on and off. Only after the ceremony is over, the rest of the city can be illuminated, too. The time of sunset changes throughout the year together with the seasons. But every day a clock at the beginning of the street shows the exact time at which to expect the lanternlighter, who is, by the way, always the same person – Victor Petrovich Kirisiuk. Every day he climbs his ladder 68 times (making about 14 kilometres a year!). He works in any weather, be it rain, record heat or minus-thirty frost. He has neither days off nor vacations (which, for sure, cannot be a reason for joy of any workers’ union). They say that if you touch or hold for a while one of the buttons on his uniform making a wish, the latter will become true. Sceptical? You can always prove it right or wrong trying the trick: the lanternlighter is always very friendly, available and even eager to pose for a picture or lend one of his buttons for a good reason. Victor Petrovich can tell you many stories on those dreams that became true and the lucky guys coming back to him to express their gratitude.
To which the lanternlighter replies ‘ You have to believe, one cannot live without hope’.
So I do hope that the transformation Sovetskaya has undergone in all these years could also mean that the times are changing. But this is something that someone else’s childhood memories will evaluate. Meanwhile, on your way from the West to the East do not miss a chance to see the lamplighter turn on the lights of Brest.
Photo and title credit: Machs Gut ©.