Cheery and careworn, izbas epitomize Russians’ pastoral soul

PODOLSK, Russia (AP) During the World Cup, Russia is keen to show itself off as a modern power, full of the latest designs for stadiums and hotels that gleam, with sun reflecting from their glass walls. But visitors who venture a little off the fan-trodden track can find centuries-old buildings that are one of Russia’s greatest charms – the log-and-clapboard houses called izbas.

Traditionally a countryside dwelling, either as a farmhouse or a summer house, many izbas now stand within sight of concrete high-rise apartments, cozy holdouts against urban sprawl. Within their walls it’s easy to forget that a superhighway or a high-speed train may be a couple minutes’ walk away.

A typical izba testifies to anonymous artists, featuring elaborately carved window frames, often painted in a gaudy color contrasting with the equally arresting color of the rest of the house. Yellow-against-green, green-amid blue – the building itself may be modest but the colors are extroverts.

Izbas tend to look dilapidated, their rooflines crooked and paint flaking. This is not so much neglect as it is acceptance, like affection for an aging dog whose muzzle has turned gray. The disorderly gardens that surround them may offend the obsessively neat, but they also celebrate nature’s messy vitality.

A foreigner might think of an izba as a cottage, but Russia turns the term on its head – the nouveau-riche call their sprawling and showy second houses ”kottedzhi.” An izba, instead, holds the homey spirit.