Greetings from our last day in Moscow! Will be moving westward bright and early tomorrow, onto to Rostov, Tikhvin, and then St. Petersburg. Either way, we had a nice trip yesterday to the Litex foundry outside of Moscow, where we get to observe real Russian bells being manufactured! After a fairly long drive, we arrived to the factory where the director led us on a tour of some of the facilities. We first started with the finest details of Russian bells. How does one make the the ornate lettering and beautiful icons that adorn their surfaces? It turns out that the process is one of repeated molding, starting with an artisan who carves a negative of the desired image into a piece of rubber (no mechanization here…just insanely skilled people.) That negative is then filled with wax and the resulting wax models are then applied to a model “bell” which is then covered with several coats of a fireproof, ceramic material. This then forms the basis of another mold that now resembles the desired exterior of the final product. This, in turn, is inserted into a robust, outer casing that is also bell-shaped. The casing, however, is somewhat larger than exterior “design” mold, and there is thus a certain amount of empty space between the two when they are put together. This space is then filled with molten bronze and allowed to cool, ultimately giving a hollow bell.
We were lucky to observe the casting of a full set of church bells, including the smelting process itself. We had to stand a good ways back, of course (molten metal is certainly nasty stuff), but even from afar the heat was powerful. We observed as a team of workers directed a scalding mixture of liquid tin and copper into molds set along the factory floor–a truly industrial process underlying a much more graceful musical tradition. Nevertheless, it was exciting to watch, and gave us all a much greater idea of the artistry and engineering behind the bells.
Given the severity of Moscow traffic, we ended up getting back from the factory a bit later than expected, but were greeted by Peter (fresh out of ROTC training) when we returned to the Danilov. It was a joy to finally find ourselves all together. And, after a quick dinner with Father Roman and some ringing practice across the street from the monastery, we soon found ourselves venturing to the hotel’s authentic, Russian banya. Despite a lack of water and vodka, we spent a solid two hours there ourselves, hopping in and out of saunas and cold water tubs and drinking tea (I might add that we’ve been drinking lots of that on this trip…so between regular bell-ringing and tea breaks, we’ve really been living like traditional Lowellians!) It was a relaxing ending to another great day here in the motherland.