This year by rare co-incidence Orthodox Easter fell on May 1st. Traditionally that's the Workers' Day Festival with all its Communist party marches. Although Communism is out of fashion and cunningly ignored by the press, the faithful still March through town in sizeable numbers with their red banners. But with Christianity undergoing a great revival, the churches will also be drawing the crowds. Researching on such a double holiday wouldn't be ideal with so much closed. So I treated myself to a day off and accepted the hospitality of a delightful homestay family in Krasnoyarsk's outer suburbs where the tower blocks look out straight into the forest. A wonderfully relaxing day of egg painting, football with the kids and lunch at granny's. A genuine low-key cultural experience. Now that's really travelling! I had arrived the evening before after three nights in trains or dormitories, and was extremely relieved to get a long-overdue hot shower. More than anything I was excited by the prospect of finally washing my rotting clothes before they crawled out of my bag in self disgust. We put on the first laundry load before my hosts, Oksana and Tole, went out for the evening. The washing machine, I was warned, was very temperamental. I should wait for their return rather than putting the next load in myself. I was rather glad they'd gone out once I noticed that the outflow of the washing machine drained into the bath. My evil clothes had created a muddy scum that coated the tub which I was able to wash off before they got home.
I had planned to go to the local church for midnight mass. But at midnight my hosts were still not home so I decided to wait, finally heading off when they came in around 1.20am. I needn't have worried. The church was still so packed that I couldn't even get close enough to the icons to light my token candle. Russian churches have no pews or seats and people come and go without staying for an entire, very lengthy 'service'. However the net arrivals still seemed to be outnumbering the departures. Priests with flowing beards and billowing incense cry out "Christ is Risen". In chorus all retort "Risen indeed!" Again and again. It's a wonderfully colourful scene. But I quickly scurried back again through the dark streets eerily hemmed with their ten-storey concrete towers which, were they at home, would have suggested a dangerous neighbourhood. Dodging a couple of shadowy figures in the back courtyard and fortunately remembering the building's door code, I nipped home again.
Next morning I awoke rather early, hoping to retrieve a second load from the washing machine. It would need a long time to dry on the freezing cold balcony. But the machine was empty. And a pile of my still-stinky clothes remained cloaked in their evil odours. I found Oksana busying herself with breakfast. She handed me a delicious plate of open salami sandwiches oozing with melted cheese. As we sipped our tea she apologised that the washing hadn't been done. "Tomorrow OK?" she asked softly. Tomorrow really wasn't OK as I was planning a train ride to Lesosibirsk and although I'd be back in Krasnoyarsk again later on, I wouldn't want to trek all the way back here for a bag of laundry.
"Well, it isn't too convenient..." I said as tactfully as possible. But what could we do if the machine was broken?
Surely no repairmen would work on Easter Sunday. Or May 1st. Let alone both!
"The machine's not broken" she countered. Then in what sounded like a total non sequitur she added.
"We're not religious people"
I could see that. They had no interest in going to church and had been out last night to a movie not a Christian festival.
"I don't follow"
"No, we're not religious but last night we came in after midnight"
"Yes. I know. So?"
"It was after midnight. And today is Easter. Working today is....". She took out a dictionary to show me the word that I didn't understand.
"Working today is a SIN".
"No problem. Let me do it. Just tell me what to do."
She looked at me dubiously, obviously unconvinced.
"It's OK. I'm not Russian. So for me, Easter falls on a different date altogether. So it wouldn't be a sin for me!"
And that's what we did.