We’re in St. Petersburg

  We took the high speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg this morning. Maybe it was the smooth traveling, the precipitous drop in temperature (from high 80s to high 40s), or the delicious lunch we had a cafe Amanda took us to when we got here, but we were quite giddy in the van on the way to our apartment. The driver told Irina (in Russian) that we were a “joyful… Read More

Pushkiniana: “that’s a story”

  Our Moscow guide speaks excellent English, with a delightfully idiosyncratic vocabulary. He speaks of “impudent” paintings and “violet” buildings in the skyline. As we approach the White House, he quips, “the closer you get to the government, the more forbidding the signs.” He’s studied English all his life, but he acquired his marvelous vocabulary from an elderly Englishman who hired him to teach him Russian in the early 1990’s, when the… Read More

Floating with Chagall

From our 14 th floor balcony where Mark and I share a Zatecky Gus, a Russian beer, each night, we look over the onion dome of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the crenelated walls of the Kremlin which remain lighted through the evening. We seem to float above this city of so many palimpsests of time and ideology and their dialectic of idealism and materialism, love and cruelty, remembering and… Read More

“So that’s a story, but who knows”

Our Kremlin guide told us more fascinating tales than I can hope to remember. The conclusion of many of these was “so that’s a story, but who knows”. This phrase was offered so cheerfully, suggesting that even if evidence emerged to counter the story, the story was so deeply rooted in cultural identity that modifying it would be difficult if not impossible. That phenomenon also happens at a personal level. Whether conscious… Read More

Playing Catch-Up

I’m the last of the group to publish a blog post, and now, almost a week into the trip and on our last full day in Moscow, I’m feeling a bit sheepish about doing so. Excuses abound for my tardiness in getting up here, from technical problems to a massive and almost debilitating bout of jet lag. I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up with the rest of this amazing group all… Read More

Art and Memory

Sometime in the 1990’s a New York museum (I want to say MOMA, but I might have that wrong) had a special exhibit of impressionist art with paintings borrowed from the Pushkin and Hermitage museums. That exhibit happened to coincide with my own discovery and love of impressionist art and I attended, as did my mom and my sister. For many, many years, a print from that exhibit hung in my sister’s… Read More

Visiting the Cemetery

I’ve always liked cemeteries, so I was game to visit Novodevichy, the last stop for  famous Russians. What I like about cemeteries is their peaceful greenness and the combination of pathos and information carved into the tombstones, so I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy one in a language I can’t read. As it turned out, Novodevichy exceeded my expectations on both counts. The cemetery is enclosed in high brick walls that… Read More

A World Split Apart?

In my seminar each fall, “Russia & the West” we always cover the controversial 1978 Harvard commencement speech by Soviet dissident writer and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The audience was caught off guard when his resistance to the Soviet regime did not translate into support for the United States, which had granted him asylum.  Instead, he used his platform to bemoan the consumerism, individualism, and legalism he saw in the West as… Read More

It’s All Connected

Whenever a Pilates exercise gives me relief in a part of my body I didn’t realize that I was stretching, my instructor tells me, “it’s all connected.” As we continue our travels that phrase keeps coming to mind. For example, early on in our tour of the Museum of Contemporary Russia (known by several names including the Revolution Museum) we ran into a bust of Pavlov. As you may know, Pavlov identified… Read More

The Metro

Thinking about our upcoming trip to Moscow there was lots to be nervous and excited about. Riding the subway wasn’t in either category, and yet as we have ended up doing it multiple times a day it has been a big part of our experience of the city. Because I am from New York, and have (with a bit of practice and study) ridden subways in other North American and European cities… Read More