A week or two after I arrived, I started wondering where Cossacks go shopping.
I’m sure that they get their groceries from the same sort of place as the rest of us. Still, there are Cossack cultural groups around, and they wear the traditional clothing: papakha hats, cherkeska coats, and the like. They must be getting them from somewhere, so where? I did a bit of Googling and, thanks to Google Translate, discovered two names.
The first was the “Cossack Shop: Avers Trade” who have a shop in a suburb up in the north of the city. I found my way out there early in February, and took this picture from outside. Unfortunately, I didn’t get round to taking any inside, but it was a bigger and lighter space than I’d expected. They had all kind of stuff for sale. Their cherkeskas were gabardine: light nylon, used for the stage more than anything else, I think, and were mostly black with blue or white piping. There were one or two woolen ones there, made of a fairly coarse felt. There were also all kinds of trousers, Tsarist military uniforms, various kinds of Cossack hats and caps, kinds of boots, and well, all your Cossack re-enactor could want, really. There were also womens’ costumes, though (ahem) I didn’t really look at those. There were various kinds of nagaika whip, and several varieties of sabre – though, as far as I could see, only one kind of shashka, and a fairly poor-quality one at that. It was staffed by a woman who was friendly, but spoke no English at all, so we couldn’t communicate. I bought a basic nagaika, and CD of what appeared to be a film soundtrack. It turned out to be Russian rap.
Yesterday, I made it to the other shop: the Don Ivanovich Cossack Shop. This was in the south-east of the city, in a pleasant mixed-use district, where crumbling old apartment blocks overlooked a canal on one side, while an inter- or post-war light industrial zone was on the other. I reached from the Obvodny Canal metro station, which I photographed because, to me at least, it looks so 60s sci-fi.
The shop was in a building on the industrial side of the canal.
It was accessed from a small yard which – at the time I arrived, anyway – was shut off by heavy gates. I had to ring to be let in. In fairness, though, I arrived just after the opening time, and I caught Alexei, the owner, off guard – he was still changing into his Cossack costume.
This shop was far smaller than the other – just one cramped room. There was very little in the way of clothing, but plenty of whips and weaponry. I looked at one of the shashkas, and Alexei – who spoke a fair bit of English – explained to me the features of a good shashka – it should, for example, be thin enough and flexible enough for you to put the point on the floor, lean your weight on it, and have it flex. When I mentioned that I had a shashka at home (one of these, if you want to know), he gave me a leather sword knot as a gift.
I asked about cherkeskas, and he dismissed the gabardine type; he only sold pure-wool, made-to-measure coats, cut to an authentic pattern. He had an example for me to look at, and I have to say, it’s very good quality wool.
The bullets in the chest loops are actually old bullets, rather than the cheap inserts you usually see.
Sadly, of course, quality comes with a price tag, and it would take me six or seven months of saving absolutely every spare rouble to be able to even consider buying one of these cherkeskas, or one of his shashkas. Ah well, perhaps I’ll win a lottery or something. I made do with another CD. This one was of traditional music, sung by the Kazaki Krug, who Alexei reckoned are the best Don Cossack group at the moment; he showed me another CD by a different group, whom he called the best group of the Terek Cossacks. I asked what the difference in the music was, and he told me that the Don Cossacks sing more from the throat, while the Terek Cossacks sing more from the chest.
Interesting; I suspect I’ll go back there if only to have a chat with Alexei, who seems like a really nice guy.