“Heaven Must Taste Like This”: A Cultural Outing to Murom

The opportunity to travel to Murom, a city about five hours by train from Moscow, took me by complete surprise. We received an invitation from the foreign language department at Murom Statue University there to send a small delegation of Carleton students to partake in an “International Conference”. We received the invitation on a Saturday for the trip which took place on Wednesday and Thursday in late April. I had never heard of Murom, but was excited to go on an excursion out of Moscow with other students, and without a chaperone. If you haven’t heard of Murom either, here’s a little background information:

Murom is among Russia’s oldest cities, having been founded in 862 A.D. Between its landmarks, famous residents, and lengthy history, Murom is a fascinating city. One of the oldest monasteries in Russia is in Murom, and it is mentioned in the Primary Chronicles dating as early as 1096 A.D. Ilya Muromets, one of the three legendary Russian Bogatyrs, was born there and his statue is one of the city’s most impressive sights. Vladimir Zworykin, the inventor of television, is also a native of Murom. Sovereigns such as Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great made special visits there, and during Soviet times, owing to its important role in industrial and military manufacturing, Murom was a closed city. I haven’t even gotten to the Kalach yet, but there is so much history in Murom that I never knew about.

Statue of Ilya Muromets

So, as our group of 6 pulled into the train station in Murom late on Wednesday night we were met by the professors who were hosting us, Elena Nikolaevna Pankratova and Natalia Vladimirovna Zhilenko. Our group was taken to a college dormitory where we stayed in comfortable suites on the ground floor, designed for housing guests of the university. The living accommodations were generously comfortable, but they are no match to the hospitality of our hosts.

Our professors scooped us up on Thursday morning and treated us all to breakfast at one of the cafeterias in the humanitarian studies building. They showed us their offices, where I was struck upon noticing two pictures on the wall: one featured our program leader (and steady vozhd), professor Diane Ignashev, with our host professors of Murom’s foreign language department, and the other was of three Russian majors who are all currently seniors at Carleton. (Shout-out to Lucy, Anton, and Urmila!) I couldn’t help but smile at seeing these pictures, at a university several hours from Moscow and in a city that less than thirty years ago was closed to foreigners. This was quite a sight for me to take in.


“Seven students of Carleton College, from the United States of America, accepted an invitation to participate in the discussion and assessment of presentations at a student conference of the Cross-cultural Communications department.”

We were shortly taken to the classroom where we each gave a presentation on American culture to a group of first-year students, who are all studying English. I led a trivia game with a variety of questions relating to culture and other topics, while Owen Yager led the whole group in singing a cowboy song, and Julia Preston brought American peanut butter for everyone to try and even told its history, something that was new for me too.

I think the students enjoyed our presentations, and I know without a doubt that everyone from our delegation enjoyed giving them. The atmosphere in the room was cheerful, and our hosts were so welcoming to us, professors and students alike. I felt that we really connected with the students there, and that was even before they invited us on a tour through Murom. Right after our presentations, we were given time to chat with the students in English and then it was off to lunch together as a group. Our hosts arranged for us to go on a tour of the university and its historical museum, where interesting artifacts like a 1930s record player that was assembled in Murom (with an original vinyl to boot) are on display. And, the crank on it still works! Our tour through the city is an unforgettable experience: it was led entirely by the students, given to us in English, and we all walked and talked together.

At one point, I noticed that an image of city seal had three pieces of ring-shaped bread on it, and when I asked a professor, they confirmed what I was eagerly hoping for: it was kalach! This past winter term, I took a course on Russian culinary culture and history (Food in Russian Culture RUSS 237), for which I studied and gave a presentation on this uniquely-shaped bread. In the course of my studies on kalach, I found myself relying on information from the website of a bread museum based in Murom. I couldn’t find a single Russian grocery store in Minnesota that sold kalach, and began to obsess over finding it. So there I was, not only about to try kalach for the first time, but getting ready to do so in the city most famous for it. One of our friends from the foreign language class, Sergey, listened to me babble about kalach for some time and then ran off. (I would have done the same, if I were in his shoes.) About ten minutes later, one of the other students called my name and asked me how many kalach I wanted; Sergey ran off to bring us some! Sharing this huge loaf of bread with the others students and professors is one of the highlights of my time there.

City seal of Murom

The day was spent with superb company and I could not have imagined how much fun my one day in Murom would be, a city which I was unfamiliar with prior to arriving. To our hosts at the university, the students and the professors, I thank you so much for your enormous hospitality and for being so welcoming to us. This was a day which I will never forget!

-Schuyler Kapnick ‘19

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