API & Docs
API & Docs
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NORILSK, Russia — Blessed with a cornucopia of precious metals buried beneath a desert of snow, but so bereft of sunlight that nights in winter never end, Norilsk, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is a place of brutal extremes. It is Russia’s coldest and most polluted industrial city, and its richest — at least when measured by the value of its vast deposits of palladium, a rare mineral used in cellphones that sells for more than $1,000 an ounce. Norilsk Moscow Arctic Circle RUSSIA It is also dark. Starting about now, the sun stops rising, leaving Norilsk shrouded in the perpetual night of polar winter. This year that blackout began last Wednesday. Built on the bones of slave prison laborers, Norilsk began as an outpost of Stalin’s Gulag, a place so harsh that, according to one estimate, of 650,000 prisoners who were sent here between 1935 and 1956, around 250,000 died from cold, starvation or overwork. But more than 80 years after Norilsk became part of the Gulag Archipelago, nobody really knows exactly how many people labored there in penal servitude or how many died. The Norilsk camp system, known as Norillag, shut down in 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev began to dismantle the worst excesses of Stalinism. The legacy of repressive control, though, lives on in tight restrictions on access to the city. All foreigners are barred from visiting without a permit from Russia’s Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet successor to the K.G.B. A signpost showing the distance to the closest cities. Norilsk is one of the most isolated spots on earth, accessible only by plane or boat. Norilsk has prospered as the world’s largest producer of palladium, but workers pay a price in the brutal cold, winter darkness and isolation. Participants in a painting class. Because of the isolation and harsh climate, cultural pursuits are popular in Norilsk. “Norilsk is a unique city, it was put here by force,” said Alexander Kharitonov, owner of a printing house in the city. “It is like a survivor. If it had not been for Norilsk, there would have been another principle of life in the Arctic: You came, you worked, you froze — and you left.” The residents of Norilsk have stayed, turning what until the 1930s had been an Arctic wilderness inhabited only by a scattering of indigenous peoples into an industrial city dotted with smoke-belching chimneys amid crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks and the ruins of former prison barracks. The population dropped sharply after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which sent the economy into a tailspin. It has risen again, along with Russia’s economic fortunes. Around 175,000 people now live year-round in Norilsk. Beyond the city, which is 1,800 miles northeast of Moscow in northern Siberia, extends an endless, mostly uninhabited wilderness. Russians are famed for swimming in any weather, even in Norilsk, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Here, people at the swimming club Walruses of Taimyr emerging from a sauna to take a dip. “Everything else is a vast wild land with a wild nature and no people,” said Vladimir Larin, a scientist who lives in Norilsk. “This is where the last wild mammoths died. When they dug the foundations of the buildings, they found the bones of mammoths.” The bones of former prisoners also keep resurfacing, appearing each year when winter finally breaks in June and the melting snow carries to the surface these buried remains of the city’s grim and, in official accounts at least, still mostly smothered past. mute “After bathing, I have the feeling that I have been on vacation for a week,” said Natalia Karpushkina, a 42-year-old who runs a local walrus club. Some residents are the descendants of former slave laborers who stayed on simply because it was too hard to leave a place so remote that locals refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.” There are no roads or railway lines connecting Norilsk to parts of Russia outside the Arctic. The only way to get in or out is by plane or by boat on the Arctic Ocean. Many residents, however, came voluntarily, lured by the promise of relatively high salaries and steady work in the city’s metallurgical industry, a sprawling complex of mines and smelters owned by Norilsk Nickel. The business is a privatized former state company that is the world’s largest producer of palladium and also a major supplier of nickel, copper and other metals. It is also one of the world’s biggest producers of pollution, turning an area twice the size of Rhode Island into a dead zone of lifeless tree trunks, mud and snow. At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France. It has since taken some steps to reduce its output of toxic waste but was last year blamed for turning the Daldykan, a river that runs by the plant, into a flow of red goo. Locals called it “blood river.” People hurrying through the streets in Norilsk, which is pitched into perpetual darkness for two months of the year. Workers on their way to the city of Norilsk. It can get so cold that people cannot wait at a bus stop for fear of freezing to death. The barracks that housed the slave laborers who built Norilsk in the 1930s, at least 250,000 of whom died there. The company gets its products to market through a port at Dudinka on the Yenisei River, the largest of three great Siberian rivers that flow north into the Arctic Ocean. Dudinka, as well as providing Norilsk’s main outlet to the outside world, also offers a glimpse of the region’s past. The settlement’s natural history museum displays tents used by the four main indigenous peoples in the area. The biggest of these today are the Dolgans, a nomadic Turkic people that used to live off hunting and reindeer herding but were themselves herded into collective farms during the Soviet era. mute “When they dug the foundations of the buildings, they found the bones of mammoths,” said Vladimir Larin, a scientist who lives in Norilsk. There are now around 7,000 Dolgans, many of whom have given up their ancestors’ shamanistic beliefs in favor of Christianity. Smaller native groups include the Entsi, of which there are only around 227 left in the region, which is known as Taimyr. Traditional belief in shamanism has been steadily eroded by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been sending priests into the area since the 19th century and in 2000 built a new church on a bluff overlooking Dudinka port. “Our children study their native language as if it were a foreign tongue,” said Svetlana Moibovna, who is a member of the Nganasan indigenous group. “Many local people were persecuted for shamanism. One shaman in his dreams saw that the Russian god would defeat the shaman god and that only the Russian god would rule in Taimyr.” Dudinka, a small port city on the Yenisei River, is the main transportation hub for the palladium, nickel, copper and other metals produced in Norilsk. Newlyweds being greeted by family members in Norilsk. Girls practicing classic dance at the Norilsk College of Arts. There is plenty of time for indoor activities in Norilsk. Despite the horrendously harsh climate, choking pollution and absence of sunlight from late November until January, many residents are fiercely proud of Norilsk — and their own ability to survive in an environment that even the hardiest of Russians living elsewhere would find intolerable. Last winter, temperatures plunged to minus 62 Celsius (minus 80 Fahrenheit), and early winter this year has also been unforgiving, with temperatures in November already falling to around minus 20 Celsius, about 4 below Fahrenheit. mute Most of the work and leisure takes place indoors, particularly in the winter period of perpetual darkness. The cold has spawned a booming freelance taxi business because it is too cold to walk even short distances. Taxis charge a fixed price of 100 rubles (about $1.70) to go anywhere in the city. There are also buses, but it is too cold to wait outside so passengers crowd into nearby shops to shelter until their bus arrives. But even the bitter cold is for some a source of delight, with the frigid waters of Lake Dolgoye attracting swimmers who revel in the bracing experience of bathing in ice. “After bathing, I have the feeling that I have been on vacation for a week,” said Natalia Karpushkina, a 42-year-old who runs a local walrus club. The lake freezes only partially because of hot water pipes from a nearby power plant. The city also has a large indoor swimming pool for those less keen on bathing in ice water. An aerial view of Norilsk, where most people still live in Soviet-era apartment buildings. Young people listening to a rock band at the popular Zaboi (The Face) bar, the only establishment in the city that has its own brewery. A man waiting for the bus inside a grocery store. Most of the work and leisure takes place indoors, particularly in the winter period of perpetual darkness. Life inside became considerably less monotonous recently thanks to a long-awaited breakthrough: After decades of serving the digital economy by providing materials needed to make cellphones and computers, Norilsk got its first reliable internet service. But even without the internet, it had replicated as best it could the amenities of a normal Russia city. The Norilsk College of Arts offers ballet lessons. Norilsk Greenhouse, a local company, grows cucumbers in heated shelters, while the Zaboi Bar offers revelers home brew and live music. The bar’s 30-year-old manager, Anton Palukhin, who moved to Norilsk with his parents from Kazakhstan when he was 5, said that he still struggles with the climate and that whenever he travels to warmer parts of Russia on vacation, dreads having to return to the Arctic. “I really do not want to go back and am ready to give anything so that I don’t have to fly,” he said. All the same, he keeps coming back.
In a new study by researchers at the University of Toledo, toddlers who were given fewer toys played more creatively and were more engaged in their play than those who had many toys available. Moms and dads, this might be the time to remove that chicken robot, mustache plushie, emoji bingo set, and Spider-Man drone from your Amazon shopping cart. I’m sorry. Researchers placed 36 children between the ages of 18 and 30 months in different open play sessions, one with four toys in the room and the other with 16 toys. The toys varied—some were battery-operated, some had wheels, and some were made to teach a concept such as shapes or counting. In the environments with four toys, kids engaged with the toys 108% longer, and played with them in a greater number of ways. Their play was deeper, more sophisticated, more imaginative. When kids were surrounded by lots of toys, they tended to move more frequently from thing to thing to thing. As kids rip open their birthday or holiday gifts with cake-fueled glee, parents brace themselves… Anecdotally, we’ve long known this happens, right? Parents who’ve moved to a new house and haven’t yet opened all their boxes are shocked when their kids play for hours with a random assortment of pots and pans, transforming them hats, drums and podiums. (“Maybe we should just get rid of that giant box marked ‘KIDS’ CRAP,’ eh?”) Caine Monroy probably would have never built an entire arcade out of cardboard at the age of 9 had he owned an arcade. I love watching my four-year-old daughter play delightedly with whatever she happens to find in the junk drawer (don’t judge). Plus, aren’t we all more focused when we’re sitting alone with just a journal and pen rather than in front of 62 open tabs? No one is saying we should ban toys, but simplifying may do a lot of good. If you’re buying (or borrowing) toys, look for ones that are open-ended—blocks, dress-up accessories, little kitchen tools, playdough and toy cars. Put toys in rotation. Have a small, dedicated space for toys (and donate whatever doesn’t fit.) Give the gift of experiences rather than things. Destroy anything that keeps beeping or blinking or has evil strobe-light eyeballs. You can do this. Don’t let the toys win.
It is 9:00AM in our New York City office, and one of us (Jordan) stops by the fifth-floor kitchen to pick up a free piece of fruit — a healthy perk that Weight Watchers offers its employees. When he arrives, he faces a familiar sight: the bananas are already gone and only the oranges remain. When other hopefuls approach and find the bananas missing, they do not take a free orange. They just walk away. What is wrong with these people? Is there a subculture of orange haters lurking at Weight Watchers?