Sue asked me to write a post about the Olympic patchwork quilt that has been readily seen in the Olympic flags and on clothing during the Olympic Games. As I looked a little further into this I found this website that explains the reasons behind this design. (http://www.graphicart-news.com/the-olympic-patchwork-quilt-sochi-2014/ )
In part, the site describes the patchwork selections and the design that reflects the 83 regions of Russia (similar to our states). The site says, “The Olympic patchwork quilt, developed by Bosco’s creative department and given to the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, will be the official Look of Russia’s first Winter Games.”
The site further says, “Our goal was to represent a diverse range of emotions and feelings, connecting concepts like Motherland, Family, Culture, Time, Olympism, Peace, Nobility, Friends, Memory, Honour, Dreams, Beauty, Freedom, Pride, Warmth, Happiness, Greatness, Reliability, Victory, Creativity, Hospitality, Creation, Future, Russia, Planet Earth.” And yes, the connection to these concepts is much like pieces of individual patchwork sewn together.
So in keeping with the goal of the Olympic patchwork quilt, I am reminded of my own connection to Russian culture, peace, friends, memory, beauty, warmth, happiness, and hospitality, to select just some of these emotions and feelings. And I wanted to share them with you. We would love to hear if you have any connections to Russia. Please comment at will.
For me, these Russian Olympics remind me of a teenage girl who stayed with my family in 1998. Her name was Yuliya Semyonova. We called her Yuli (Yooli). She was a Rotary Exchange student from Novgorod, Russia. Novgorod is also a sister city to Rochester, NY, near where I live. There are two Novgorods in Russia. One is Velikiy Novgorod and the other is Nizhny Novgorod, which if I remember correctly means “New” Novgorod. Yuli was from Velikiy Novgorod which, according to Wikipedia is, “one of the oldest centers of Russian civilization.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novgorod_Oblast#Geography) Yuli’s Novgorod would be found in the green area of the patchwork.
Based on the idea behind the patchwork representing the numerous historical and cultural regions of Russia, I wondered if Novgorod (Velikiy) had any sort of art or textile heritage. I found that Yuli’s Novgorod is more noted for industry and chemical product production and things of that nature. However, Novgorod is loaded with cathedrals, almost half of their residents are Russian Orthodox. There are centuries-old paintings in the churches.
When Yuli came to us she brought my mother some linens of which I have photographed here and which were saved. Now that I have brought them out, perhaps we will use them. Yuli also brought us these two small paintings which are loved by us. I have often thought of their creators and wonder if they are still creating and if their lives are easier. I have included pictures of these little pieces of art for you to see.
One of my favorite memories was attending a Russian Orthodox Christmas service in Rochester on the evening of January 6, much like our Christmas Eve celebration, with January 7th being much like our Christmas day. That evening of January 6th I took Yuli and Olga, another exchange student from Russia from the next town over, to this service. It was beautiful and rich in ceremony, incense, architecture and candlelight. The girls had worried beforehand about what to wear on their heads. They found scarves and were then appropriately dressed. They were nervous and giddy at this holiday gathering, a true connection to their homeland and a place where they could hear their native tongue spoken.
There was also a different side of Russia, one that we in the USA are probably not too familiar with. That is of Russia’s economic pulse, something I believe has changed significantly over the last 15+ years since Yuli was with us. After Yuli returned to Novgorod, we sent her small tokens as gifts. Sending her a US $20 bill equaled close to what her father earned in a month. We sent Yuli a bracelet for Christmas one year and she said it was important that we tape anything we sent really well as their postal workers were known for thievery and often worked off bribes. If items were taped well, the workers seemed to leave things alone. But it is important to understand that Russia was in somewhat of a political and economic upheaval in the 1990s. We knew that Yuli was returning to a turbulent Russia and we also knew she was concerned for her father. There is an interesting website about these times in Russia and can be found here: http://englishrussia.com/2011/06/14/life-of-russia-of-the-mid-1990s/2/. It is a site filled with pictures.
While most of my thoughts of Russia are with Yuli, I also know of Russia through a fraction of their literature as I studied some in college. Reading the poetry of Anna Akhmatova (Yuli introduced me to her) and stories by Anton Chekhov and Nikolai Gogol further defined my idea of who the Russians were. Russian literature is just one more piece of the patchwork reflected in those flags.
So, probably unlike many of you, when I see the patchwork flags and I see the terrain of Russia and the Black Sea where Yuli said many Russians spent their holidays, I think of the young girl who came to stay with us from half a world away…a smart girl (especially in math) who was afraid of not being successful in school and going home a failure to her hometown. She was a girl who found a world of plenty in our small hometown, a girl who loved to eat oranges and who went shopping for a prom dress, not to go to the prom but to stuff into her suitcase as a prized possession to take home with her. She was a girl who had no siblings, whose parents spoke no English, who lived in an apartment, who had never used a vegetable peeler but who always cut and used vegetables and who added dill pickles to cook with her meat. (We gave both Yuli and Olga vegetable peelers to take home with them.)
We lost track of Yuli. The last we knew she had moved to Moscow with a disc jockey boyfriend. We could not communicate with her parents so our link has been lost. We always hoped that some day she would try to find us. We live in the same town so maybe someday.
So when I see those patchwork flags I think of Yuli, the beautiful and historic country of Russia and of a young girl who I hope has matured into a happy and healthy young woman and who is perhaps an attorney as that is what her goal was back then. I’m glad that with the Olympics this year there is a large population of people who will see Russia in a new light and know that their culture is more than what you see on the news each night. And perhaps that will make for just a little more peace in the world. When I see the Olympics I think of Yuli and I know how proud she would be. She loved her country.