Travel & Culture
A self-made salad buffet at the Archstoyanie Festival
Mid-June, the lettuce plants arrive. The schoolkids and teachers can’t wait to get on with the planting. Arkadiy Nesterovich from Rijk Zwaan and two cultural managers are helping out; no doubt at all in their minds that vegetable growing falls under contemporary art. Lettuces safely planted, time to harvest the radishes. Everyone gets a bunch to take home and we sow a fresh batch. The managers mail me all the photos, so that I can see for myself, here in the Netherlands, the breathtakingly fast growth from mid-May.
Dry weather in June, so the plants need regular watering. The schookids lend a helping hand and Margarita, our resident gardener, impresses us with her skills. When I take a stroll through the plot on 28 June, I am struck by the continental climate and the fruitfulness of this soil. Having grown up in the marine climate of North Friesland, such extreme cold followed by fertile warmth seems a bit strange to me.
There’s a classroom in the school where I’m painting three large signposts: one for the exhibition, one for the shop and one for the road into the village. Three hand-painted signs in one week is a real feat of production for me. Well worth it because there is hardly any advertising in the village. What’s the verdict on the signposts? Some say the letters are too small or the colour isn’t striking enough. They could be right. I take it on board for the next time.
We eat home-grown lettuce every day in July. Olga Gartman (head manager of Artist in Residency in Zvizzchi) raves about our kohlrabi. Juicy, flavoursome, and we eat it raw. When Olga’s sister, Vera, comes to stay, we make pasta and potato salads for lunch. During the cooking I read aloud – from everything within reach, no matter what – and the Russian sentences and words that I struggle to get my tongue around (and don’t understand) are apparently recognizable to the listeners. I can read! The daily main meals are served by Natalya and Sergey Serova. They run a ‘garden café’ and all the vegetables are home-grown. The mashed potatoes are garnished with dill, which tastes wonderful with the cantarella mushrooms, freshly picked by Anatolia.
It’s the thirteenth. My birthday. The sun is shining, but in the evening, just before the barbecue, the skies open, the start of two weeks of heavy rain and intermittent thunder storms.
The exhibition opens on Saturday, 20 July. A TV camera arrives. Nikita, one of the pupils, appears on Kaluga TV and explains all about the school garden and how it’s cared for ( http://www.nikatv.ru/index.php/cultures/11102-2013-07-24-08-00-35.html ). The advertising starts for the village products and the postcards go on sale. Some have been enlarged on oilcloth and hang in the street. The shop display is ready and we love it. The sale of local handcrafts and foodstuffs can begin.
Our aim during the festival is to promote the village and its products. We make lots of friends simply by offering them some salad. Everyone gets a taste and there is a chef on hand who gives great tips for dressings. The pesto dressing seems to be the favourite. People come back for it. We ask the salad bar for a donation to the school garden so that it can be kept going for another year. They give generously. Our stand is next to the backstage of the festival’s performance group. After treading the architectural objects, suited and booted and zombie-like, they turn up in their lunch break for salad with kohlrabi and beetroot. The following Wednesday finds me on the plane, heading for home. In the seat right next to me is the leader of the performance group. We recognise each other from another TV feature (http://tvkultura.ru/article/show/article_id/96402). He knows about me and the lettuce and I know that he led the zombies. When we disembark at Hamburg to get our connecting flights I explain that the village is called Zvizzchi and that it is a productive and cultural village.