Letters

Letters 04-14-14

Benishek Inching

Regarding “Benishek No Environmentalist” I agree with Mr. Powell’s letter to the editor/ opinion of Congressman Dan Benishek’s poor environmental record and his penchant for putting corporate interests ahead of his constituents’...

Climate Change Warning

Currently there are three assaults on climate change. The first is on the integrity of the scientists who support human activity in climate change. Second is that humans are not capable of affecting the climate...

Fed Up About Roads

It has gotten to the point where I cringe when I have to drive around this area. There are areas in Traverse City that look like a war zone. When you have to spend more time viewing potholes instead on concentrating on the road, accidents are bound to happen...

Don’t Blame the IRS

I have not heard much about the reason for the IRS getting itself entangled with the scrutiny of certain conservative 501(c) groups (not for profit) seeking tax exemption. Groups seeking tax relief must be organizations that are operated “primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterment and social improvements.”


Home · Articles · News · Features · Long Lost Sisters
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Long Lost Sisters

Emily Manthei - February 4th, 2008
“Sister Cities” in Michigan represent a wide range of countries, including Japan, Germany, Cuba, China, and Russia. You may have seen those signs indicating a town’s “sister city” upon driving across its city limits - but do you know exactly what being a “sister city” means?
Established during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency to promote cultural understanding, economic growth, and peace starting at the civilian level, the Sister Cities International program has flourished across the United States throughout its 52-year history, building partnerships between U.S. cities, counties, and states with international “sister” or “twin” cities in any number of foreign locales.
Yes, it’s true - while politicians were still making enemies, people around the world had decided to make friends instead.

UP NORTH IN RUSSIA
Traverse City and Petoskey both have “sisters” in Japan (Tsuchiyama and Takashima, respectively), but it was to the sister city of Michigan’s own capital, Lansing, that I recently made a wintertime journey - St. Petersburg, Russia.
Situated in the frosty Russian north, on the eastern edge of the Gulf of Finland, St. Petersburg has been called the “Venice of the North,” as the Neva River flows through the heart of St. Pete’s, separating the main borough from the other northern islands comprising the city. The famed Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul lies on its own island, while Vasilyevskiy Island is home to the world-famous University of St. Petersburg, and Petersburgsky Island houses yet a further arm of the city.
Canals can be crossed everywhere in the central city, under which the water of the Neva’s smaller counterparts, tributaries, and adjoining canals spent the week that I was there freezing themselves into their yearly seasonal icy state.

COLD AND SUBDUED
Winters in St. Petersburg are like Northern Michigan winters in the days before the recent soothing effects of global warming – chillingly frigid, wind-blown and shocking to the system, with woolly accessories in high demand. Ten degree temps the entire time I was visiting cut down a bit on outdoor activities, but there was still a lot to see.
In this northland, the Russians don’t mind admitting their obsession with fur: fur hats, fur boots, fur coats, all in extravagant fashion line the streets as Petersburgers walk arm-in-arm down the bustling Nevsky Prospekt (one of the main thoroughfares), which itself is decked out in lights and festive garb for the holidays.
The wintertime mystique gives way to a chilling quiet throughout the city, providing a strange contrast to the busy crowds: while people still carry on with their lives, they do it in muted separation from their neighbors, which somehow only seems natural here.
But it’s not that the Russians aren’t friendly; it’s just that they have inside faces, voices, and personalities that remain separate from their public, outside demeanors.

ROCKIN’ WITH THE RUSSIANS
Luckily I didn’t have to undertake the task of bringing Russians out of their shells; I was on the receiving end of all the Russian hospitality one might expect from the residents of a far-away “sister” city.
My Russian host, who manages an office space planning company that sells office designs and furniture to U.S. companies, introduced myself and my fellow American counterpart to all of his Russian friends, who graciously shared their New Year’s traditions: sparklers, champagne, caviar, and five-and-ten-cent store animal masks.
And boy, was I in for some longstanding party stamina. The Russians stayed up drinking and talking until 7 a.m., prolonging the festivities well into 2008 - and in fact, the party continued for nigh unto a week, as most professionals (including my host) had the entire week off of work.
Because the state Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas by the Eastern Orthodox calendar, Christmas Eve is not observed until January 6, at which time the cathedrals come alive with singing and chanting; and thus New Years Eve marks the beginning of the holiday, celebrated as a secular festival, and Christmas marks the end, as the religious counterpart. All of this celebration made for one very festive time.

PETERSBURG PRIDE
But while Petersburgers do know how to party, they also know how to work. Gone are the days of Soviet control and mass poverty: capitalism is alive and well in the upmarket shops where Hugo Boss reigns supreme and the younger set tosses about prices in dollars and euros instead of the lower-valued national ruble.
The economic prosperity many enjoy today is incredibly new to this city though, and the remaining reminders of the recent past haunt the corners and alleyways where Soviet-style food stalls and communal-living apartment blocks still recall the days of Leningrad, the city’s former alias.
But nowadays, these city dwellers would rather recall their even more distant, artistic, and romantic past: the royal balls in the great Winter Palace, the unparalleled collection of art in the state Hermitage Museum, magnificent ballet and opera houses, and the visual splendor of a city lined with palaces and cathedrals designed by the greatest Russian and Italian architects of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And when it comes to all of this, the people of the city certainly do have plenty to
be proud of.
They will be the first to tell you that St. Petersburg far outstrips Moscow in culture and class and that you really haven’t seen Russia until you’ve been to their northern outpost, which is, incidentally, much the same way we feel about Michigan: that you haven’t really experienced the beauty of the state until you’ve made it up to the Grand and Little Traverse Bays.

BE AN INTERNATIONAL SIBLING
It is true that visiting a place can dispel many myths one has about its people, its politics, or its reputation – and this seems to be exactly what President Eisenhower had in mind when he developed the Sister Cities program.
Even if it doesn’t mean directly visiting a foreign “sister” – although if you can manage it, that’s one cool way to identify your Michigan homeland with it’s foreign counterpart – there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved: by linking up with a foreign pen-pal, celebrating Sister City educational and cultural exchanges, and learning about a Sister City to the town or city near you.
For more information, you can go to the Sister Cities International website (http://www.sister-cities.org) or contact your chamber of commerce.
Who knows? You may find yourself on a trip to the Japanese countryside, the gingerbread houses of Bavaria… or the chilly cities of Russia. Or you might even find yourself hosting an international student or traveller, such as myself, and introducing them to the great lands of Michigan’s Up North - a great way to help build communities worldwide.



 
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