It’s a new Noril’sk. Her friends hardly recognize her. Immediately I was shocked by the sleek new airport terminal, entirely different from my visit in 2006, when rain was pouring through each of the high ceiling light fixtures and flooding the floor to a depth of several inches, requiring that we hold our luggage up above the cracked concrete while checking in. This new airport, well, we might as well have landed in a mini-Vienna.
Then, driving through Noril’sk center I was first puzzled – surely the colors of the buildings had not been so bright in 2006 – and then amazed, when I realized that every one of the muscular, imposing facades along Leninskaya street had been completely repaired and repainted and decorated. Then we saw the extensive painting crews still at it in blocks radiating away from the center, patching and painting. What is all this? Was Noril’sk the winner of some supersized reality television program?
No, but in a way Noril’sk is the recipient of a gargantuan prize. In August President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev and many other important and powerful people are visiting Noril’sk, and thus, the town is putting out the red carpet. I am oddly touched to learn they will stay in the hotel we were in during our 2006 visit.
Noril’sk is built upon more than 100 m of permafrost, I have read. Apparently building tall stable buildings on permafrost is challenging, and in 2006 there were a number of the huge concrete apartment buildings of the type we posted images of a few days ago whose footings had failed. They were abandoned and tilting over at alarming angles, making the towns look like they desperately needed a trip to the dentist. Now, they are gone, a part of the general cleanup, I assume.
Other parts of the region, like the nickel smelter that turns out hundreds of tons per day, are harder to spruce up. A striking aspect of many towns in areas of permafrost is the plethora of above ground pipes, sometimes paved over by planks and made into sidewalks, sometimes proudly arching over roads or being carried on their own bridges. Noril’sk wins the aboveground pipe competition, hands down, and along with all the rest of the iron, steel, plastic, and wood that goes into extreme mineral industrialization and all of our modern needs, they are hard to make pretty.
(P.S. Photos from the 2006 trip are available elsewhere on the website if you are interested.)