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The chimney calls: Russians at the international chimney sweeps parade

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The chimney calls: Russians at the international chimney sweeps parade


Sergey Vinogradov

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The delegation from Russia took part in the chimney sweeps parade in an Italian town of Santa Maria Maggiore, where thousands of masters from 28 countries of the world came together for the event. Russian chimney-sweeps school is considered to be relatively new comparing to a number of European countries; nevertheless Russian chimney sweeps are believed to be among the world’s best ones.

A chimney sweep is commonly believed to be an extinct or very much outdated profession, which is wrong: it is alive since chimneys have been and are here to stay, as well as the need to sweep them. Progress does not stay stagnant in this realm as well: chimney-sweeping machines have been invented and operated, but they are just journeymen assisting the experts, since they are not able to replace a man with a brush and a rope just yet.

It is Russia that has turned into the training center for chimney sweeping professionals in the post-Soviet area and East European countries. Graduates of Petrozavodsk chimney-sweep school work all over Russia and Europe. In school they teach to work with a brush, as well as with a pointer: courses and master classes by Russian chimney sweeps are in great demand.

The Russkiy Mir reporter spoke to several participants of the World chimney sweeps parade and found out how they had chosen such unusual occupation. Is a chimney sweep as black as he is painted? And what issues do members of International Chimney Sweeping Association discuss at their meetings?

Sweets from chimney sweeps

Chimney sweeps come to the parade to unwind and communicate with colleagues. Each one of them has his national chimney sweeps apparel with a flag patch at the sleeve in the luggage. Members of delegations march in such apparel along streets of various European cities and towns. There is soot at their cheeks, though just for entourage, something like festive make-up. Such apparel is made by a tailor, and it is worn for special occasions. Today, while on work, chimney sweeps wear totally different clothes – thick high-necked boiler suit, thick-soled boots and oxygen mask.
Working days of a contemporary chimney sweep.

Photo by Evgeniy Kudymov / Vkontakte

That, obviously, makes them look totally different from their fairy-tale predecessors. Everyone remembers fairy-tales about dirty-faced dreamers who, after having completed their work, admire stars and pipe some songs. In old times they also had the caste of their own, which most people considered to be weird. A chimney-pot hat on head, an apron, and a ladder in hand… Folklore, mainly European one, endowed chimney sweeps with miraculous powers for example, ability to light stars and to clean the Moon from soot. Thanks to Kornei Chukovsky, in our country a “chimney sweep” became a nickname for a child who does not like to have a wash.

Today chimney sweeps do their best to emphasize such folklore bond. Romantic and mysterious image still characterizes chimney sweeps parades. Here is one of the core traditions: if you see a chimney sweep, come and get yourself a sweet. That is why participants bring over sweet treats. Russians brought sweets from Moscow, Kaliningrad, Yoshkar-Ola, Cherepovets, as well as other cities and towns. They even had to take additional bags, because each of them brought 10 to 15 kilograms of treats. And Italian kids joyfully ate candy sticks, bonbons and other sweet classics from Russia.

Chimney sweeps parade is a great opportunity to meet colleagues from different countries, discuss professional issues, says Evgeniy Kudymov, a parade participants. Every one of us has his own specifics in work somewhere they mostly use gas, somewhere coal or wood But there are dozens of topics, which are equally relative to everybody. For example, safety issues. We exchange opinions on what work wear and tools to use.

When chimney is a business

Along with the occupation title, chimney sweeps were able to save journeymen from being covered with the sands of oblivion. This is still an official title of a chimney sweeps trainee or apprentice. If you want to become a professional, you have to complete a training program, to pass exams as well as to gain experience under professional supervision.

Photo by Oleg Khomyak / Vkontakte

Resurrection of chimney sweep profession in Russia should certainly not be attributed to new construction of private cottages with fireplaces in cities and towns. Or, rather, it should certainly not be attributed only to that. Orders that chimney sweeps receive from private houses represent just small share of work. In most cases they work in restaurants, malls, multistorey buildings and industrial enterprises. Today a chimney sweep has skills of a mountain climber, knows thoroughly all essential chapters of physics and chemistry, and is knowledgeable in construction.

We do have technical appliances, but a chimney sweep is still equipped with a brush, a plummet and a rope, just as before, Evgeniy Kudymov told to the Russkiy Mir. Chimneys we deal with vary in diameters and depth. Some have room for a hand with a brush only. Some may accommodate a helicopter. If it is possible to get into, they, as a rule, do it quality of manual chimney sweeping is higher. They get into vertical and horizontal chimneys and perform works standing or drooping over on a rope.

Thus far chimney sweeps proudly fly the flag of the dirtiest of professions. Just as their predecessors, they have to deal with ashes, grease and soot. Shower is taken upon completion of every order. Fairytale chimney sweeps grumbled about grime, which no soap was able to wash out. Nowadays they dont neglect soap, but also get assistance from all developments of modern household chemicals and perfumery. And any kind of dirt is conquered.

A chimney is a structure which no one has access to, except for a builder and a sweep. The things, which sweeps have removed from chimneys they worked at, vary widely. Oleg Khomyak, a chimney sweep from Kaliningrad, even created his own museum for friends and interested people. There are bricks with German brand marks, a knife-bayonet removed from a chimney of an ancient cathedral built by Germans, and even rusty shotgun dating back to the 19th century or even earlier. Looks like Baron Munchausen was not the only one who used to shoot ducks through his funnel: many of his fellow countrymen and contemporaries did just the same.

Display items from chimney sweeps museum of Oleg Khomyak. Photo by Oleg Khomyak / Vkontakte

A path into profession

Despite that fairytale fleur surrounding their profession, chimney sweeps are not pilots or astronauts. Those mastering the occupation are not dreamers inspired by books, but mere technical experts. They are mostly former builders, industrial climbers, stove makers. Coming across this occupation, even incidentally, they understand that nowadays chimney sweeps are in high demand, that high class experts are just a few and that there are still towns you cant find any. And this is the reason they go for training.

At the meeting of chimney sweeps. Photo by Evgeniy Kudymov / Vkontakte

It was inevitable for Kaliningrad, where many old German buildings have survived so far, to find its own chimney sweep. And the city got one. Oleg Khomyak came into profession fifteen years ago. In his younger days he found a job in stove-making department of one local maintenance company. They hired me because I was young and in good shape, Oleg shares. They needed someone who could climb on roofs. I started inspecting chimneys, then cleaned them. Once I told my colleagues that I was not a stove maker, but a chimney sweep. Everybody laughed. Then I found out that such profession really exists and went for training.

Nearly daily Oleg Khomyak deals with ancient German properties, which currently accommodate residential apartments or offices of various organizations. On the day we spoke to him, the chimney sweep surrounded himself with drawing and looked for access to chimneys of a school in one of towns in the Kaliningrad Region, that was built in the 19h century. This is what I love my job for: every day is unlike the previous one, he says. It may seem that you keep doing same things, but projects are different. You have to get your mind right, use you ingenuity. Actually, it is a creative process. Work in ancient buildings gets interesting when you have to guess what builders invented to make chimney sweeps work convenient.

And Evgeniy Kudymov, a native of Cherepovets, came to chimney sweeping from private sector. For many years he used to do furnace lining and sell construction supplies for that. Then he noticed that clients would be more willing to come if he offered them furnace maintenance. Including cleaning. Then he went to Petrozavodsk for training and got completely afire with enthusiasm. Today Evgeniy Kudymov is a chimney sweep and a conveyor of knowledge. In the mid-September he came back from Belarus where he had conducted workshops for journeymen from Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. They studied theory, had practical training, shared experience. They even wrote poems (below there is a verse from a poem by Vladimir Demid) stating that all men are brothers, and they have nothing to quarrel about. Sweeps surely see more from above.

Just near lakes, in the still of elms and birches
Came those who share brotherhood in soul
Lithuanian, Russian, Belarusian, Polish
Together shared closeness and hearts warmth

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