Passing Through Ugly On the Road to Fantasy

Remember when you were a kid and you'd pass the time on long car trips with games like count-the-cars or how-many-miles?

Well, here there's an even better one: Name that village.

With its bumpy, barely navigable roads, Russia is not one of those places where you often take long car rides. But when you do, reading the names of the derevni as you speed past is one of the most fun ways to spend the time.

Where else but Russia, after all, would you pass through a town called Chyornaya Gryaz (Black Mud)? Or how about Bolshiye Kozly (Big Goats)? The first is on the highway to St. Petersburg just as you ease out of Moscow past Sheremetyevo Airport. The second is a hamlet not far from the city of Kaluga.

You could pay a visit to Baranyi Roga (Ram Horns), another quaint town in the Moscow region. Or Durakovo (Foolsville). Or how about Chyornogolovka (not blackhead, but named for a plant called blackcap)?

Village lore in each of these places tells the story of how such names arose. Doubtless these tales are at least as entertaining as how Hot Coffee, Mississippi, got its name.

Every region has its Novaya or Novoye (New), no matter how weathered the cottages look. The Moscow region boasts no fewer than 31 such settlements, with even a couple of villages named Novaya Zhizn (New Life) sprinkled in.

Every region has a town named Gryaz (Mud), no surprise given recent half-hearted winters and the long, wet springs. There are also settlements called Staroye (Old), Lesnaya (Forest) and there are even the good people of Dobroye (Kind).

There are also village names to help the citified New Russian feel at home at his new estate in the sticks, like Kazino (Casino). The less fortunate among this set, on the other hand, might be consigned to Vorovaya (Thievesville).

Those nostalgic for the past may settle instead in Vozhd Proletariata (Leader of the Proletariat), any of the still-popular Pervaya Maya (May 1) or perhaps even the wistful-sounding Krasnoye Ekho (Red Echo), a quaint stop on the road from Vladimir to Gus Khrustalnyi (Crystal Goose), site of a well-known crystal factory.

So on the next nice day when you have nothing better to do, jump in a car and head out for a picnic in the rolling countryside around Krasny Sad (Red Garden). It's a long way: First you'll pass through Komary (Mosquitoes), then the toothless town of Bezzubovo (Toothless). Watch out on your way through Bezobrazovo (Ugly). But just when you think it's all Bezumovo (Senseless), finally, you'll reach your village, not too far from Vydumki (Fantasy).