I’m smoking and chatting with Natalia Dufraisse, a Franch- Columbian actress, in the corridor of the Taymir photo club. Natalia speaks perfect Russia and easily switches from Russian into English and then into French. Here in Norilsk she’s a translator for the Canadian-French filming team of 3 people who are shooting a documentary about the most mysterious city in Russia.
In the kitchen behind the wall we can hear canadian director Fransua Jacob singing in Russian and joking that Russian hospitality will kill his liver. Everyone’s laughing.
On my second day in Norilsk I already passed that line of being surprised with anything. It sound perfectly normal that we are discussing the freedom of speech in Russia, closing of the Dozhd’ TV channel and complex Russian soul with Elen Mani and Eugeny Shchemilin, the head of the photo club.
With all the restrictions to visit Norilsk for the foreigners and the city being located at the edge of the world still Norilsk happened to be one of the most open and liberal cities I’ve been to so far. I dont know how did that happen, maybe it’s due to the number of outstanding people who visited the city. Eugeny himself brought quite a bunch of top Russian photographers who gave workshops in Norilsk as well as assisted the canadian-french team to come here.
Fransua joins us in the corridor and shakes Eugeny’s hand thanking him again for making it all possible.
For Fransua it’s been a 4 year long journey that started with his dream to come to Norilsk and took him through the numerous institutions and paper work before his actual Norilsk journey started. And even though he’s here for 3 weeks Fransua still cant believe it’s actually happening.
‘This city is like no other in the world. I’ve seen industrial cities but they have 1 mine or 3 mines, not 13 mines. Just take a cab and go around the city. You’ll be fascinated. It’s ginormous. All the russian nickel and cobalt comes from here. If this places shuts down there will be no Ipads or Iphones or most of the things you use daily. More over the city’s of the great importance to the military industry. And as there are no roads leading to Norilsk the enemy can bomb the airport and the port and there will be no way to supply the country with nickel.’
‘That’s why it’s a closed city. I’ve been dreaming to come here for a couple of years. To see what’s the life here, how do actual people live as all their lives are connected with the Nickel plant. There’s no one in the city who’s life is not connected with the nickel production in this or that way. Just think of it 170.000 people working for one idea. And I’m trying to get to understand that idea.’
Fransua started studding Russian back in Canada but had to quit the classes because of lack of money.
‘But I continued reading in Russian and listening to the Russian songs.’ Now he sings some of the Russian band DDT’s songs better then any russian that I know, likes Okudjava and Visotsky and thanks to 3 weeks in Russia know the difference between vodka and russian moonshine.
Eugeny does an amazing job or gathering the most outstanding people on the attic when his photo club gathers. Himself being a good photographer he holds a photo contest and helps out young photographers. I keep telling Eugeny that he’s amazing and I just have to write about him but he keeps saying that he’s not doing anything special.
That’s classical for most of Russian outstanding people you’ll never hear about them and just a handful of them become famous and represent Russian internationally.
We switch to discussing Russians. Natalia Dufraisse considers herself Russian as she spent most of her life in Russia with her father, the columbian engineer being stationed here. She graduated from school in Russia and entered Shchukin drama school in Moscow. First love, first role in the theater – it all happen with Natalia in Russia.
‘When I was forced to leave the country because my student visa was over I wanted to cry. I dont feel myself french, nothing connects me with Paris and I feel strange there. I had to either mary a Russian to stay or find a full time job that would sponsor me a visa which I couldnt find at that time and just had to leave.’
‘So when I heard that there’s a canadian who wants to go to Russia I asked Fransua to take me with him.’
Strange Russian soul opens in such details. A canadian telling me about Norilsk, a french- columbian describing the moscow life at the beginning of 2000s and me nodding and smiling.
And then we take a shot to health.