Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dima and Tatiana build their new home

Just about two blocks off of the two main streets in Gorno-Altaisk, busy with traffic and lined by shops (Magazines) and apartment buildings where people own 1 to 4 room flats (like the one we are living in), you find you are in the small hills that line this valley town and you are also into homes (Doma's).  All are complete with a kitchen garden, often with a hoop house or greenhouse to extend the growing season, and often with a Banya (traditional Russian bathing house - not to be missed whenever there is an opportunity!!!).  It feels like a different world to me out here. 
The houses range from the traditional small, square wooden log house with rough but ornately carved wood trim and colorful paint around the windows, to larger, sometimes brick, sometimes cinder block, and sometimes vinyl sided.. sometimes interesting combinations of these materials. Almost inevitably, the garden  this time of year has the last of the capusta (cabbage) and maybe some squash, and certainly beautiful flowers around the edge or all over mixed in.  We haven't had frost yet in the City and the flowers are still in bloom.  Many are familiar: cosmos, asters, snap dragons, big dalias.  I love walking here in the morning and peering over the makeshift fences that seperate these goreous little pieces of someones carefully cared for paradise.

I followed Tatiana (Tanya) into the house throught the door in
the basement
The roads are mostly unpaved once you get off the main drag and no one plows them in the winter. Well, at least it is no ones specific job!! Tatiana told me this when I asked as we wound our way up the narrow and bumpy dirt road to the building site of their new home, not far from the apartment which has grown too small for them and their 3 growing children. Tatiana is a colleague at the University and a new friend. Her husband Dima (short for Dimetrie) is a technical wizz and a bit old fashioned in the choices he has made for building their home. We were on our way to run other errands and I noticed the back seat was full of bags of dried leaves. I asked about their use and Tatiana said that Dima was using them for insulation in the new house... I had to see at that point! They did me the honor of taking me there so I could see.

On the bottom floor is the stove that burns both wood and coal and it will be the back up heat when its needed in the winter. I was reminded of so many Adirondack basements, where, while we use mostly propane and oil or kerosene, the auxillary heating units live to keep pipes from freezing or maintain a minimum temperature while the owners are away for a while. It looks durable and functional!

I follow Tatiana up the winding staircase to the main floor of the house which has most of the drywall in place. I want to say a word about the drywall.  Remember I mentioned that Dima is a bit old fashioned?  He has chosen to include in the insulation of the house a layer of traditional sand and clay.  Under all the drywall is a lattice like this one below. 
Packed into the diamond shapes on top of the log exterior is the old style sand and clay mixture you can see on the right hand side.  
The first thing you see as you come to the top of the stairs is a gorgeous wood stove - designed after a Russian Peech (sp?) but is not, because they have two floors and the peech is designed for one story structures. This stove/fireplace will heat a good bit of this floor,because Dima built it so the bricks would hold and re-radiate heat.
The traditional Russian stove sits in the middle of a one story structure and is built of some sort of heat holding cement material. In the kitchen it serves as the stove but the other 3 walls are part of the adjacent rooms and they radiate incredibly and warm the whole house. I will never forget my fascination when I stayed in my first house with a peech in a village somewhere north of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal in the early 2000's when I was lucky enough to be included in my first trip to Siberia lead by Dan Plumley (thanks again and again Dan!). Later in the season this fall we will be staying in a village in a house with a peech, so I can show the girls and load some photos.  It seems just so perfect and efficient to me to have this central structure for heat on a cold night. Im sure at this point in my life I will never build a home (or be part of building one) but if I were, I would fight to have a peech for the practical romance of it..

These are the leaves that were in the back of the car; well some of them.  Each time Dima comes to work on the house (he builds it himself with the help of one other man and so it takes time), he brings more leaves and is using them for insulation on the layer of house between the basement and first floor.  He will use other insulation as well, but this is the touch of the practical old fashioned.  Why not use the old ways if they are good!!??

Dima has purchased a new tool that will make it much easier for him to put the aluminum framing for the walls together.  He demonstates its use to us and smiles at the way it will make the job so much faster.

This arched doorway is also typically Russian and they have only one in the house.  You can see how thick the structural walls of the house are.

Tatiana told me that Dima thought it so necessary to have a abnya at their new home, he began building that first.  Ya caglassna (I agree!).  Below are three pictures of the banya.  The first is the outside, the second is the first inside room (a wall is still to be built to seperate) and the third is the actual hot room. Banya was, and still is in many villages without running water, the way families bathed.  I understand that the order was generational, often ending with the children when there was less heat than at the beginning of banya after the fire was built..  Even laundry was/is done with the warm water left over from the baths.

  The way banya differs from sauna, is that its wet! Not only in the hot room, where stoves are designed with rocks around them for pouring water on to make steam (as in some saunas) but there is an extra room just outside the hot room that often has water piped in and even in many cases a pipe that runs through the stove to provide a hot water tap. Buckets and dippers line the wooden plank seats and when you have had plenty of heat, you come out into the room next door and choose a bucket, mix your water from the hot and cold sources and bathe. Lots of sloshing and washing.. then back into the warmth if you like and rinse off at the end. Nothing allows one to sleep better, as far as I am concerned. Another great feature of banya is 'venicky'. These are bundles of dried young birch (Betula pendula, I think) twigs with leaves on them that are used to swack each other with as you recline on the benches in the hot room. The idea is to bring circulation to the skin, not to hurt each other:-). Its a pretty remarkable combination.
The view also differs from an apartment view.  the fall here is full of yellows, with reds only in some understory bushes like sumac and red osier dogwood (or close relative) along the river.  But it is beautiful none-the-less.  this is the view from the top story window of the house.  I must say I prefer it over the views just a few blocks away in the city center.

..... but if they every miss the old view, they can look out at another angle and see the city in all its busy glory right down the valley..
 I think they have the best of both worlds! Good luck Tatiana and Dima, it's a beautiful house. Thank you for sharing it with me and letting me share it with my like minded American friends!

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