Hello from Center City Moscow,
I was blessed to have Ana and Basil pick me up at the airport yesterday. I experienced both the trains and the subway (underground) in my first couple of hours. After a wonderful dinner and conversation last night (and a gift of meeting the infamous BFF of Ana, also know as Dascha) it was off to bed. I told Ana I would be awake as soon as it was light and I was prophetically accurate. I was awake quite a bit before 5:00 and finally got up around 5:30. The first thing I did was look for a morning coffee shop. I walked for about 25 minutes using Google maps and actually found a Starbucks by surprise. They also have the little cups I am looking for, so it was quite a efficacious discovery.
This morning as I walked, as is often the case, I am always stunned by the reality of another culture, particularly as I am experiencing it for a first time. As I told my dinner hosts last night, remembering the conversation of Anastasia, Drs. Polyuha, Vandivere, and myself, I was taught as an elementary child to fear the CCCP. The Soviets were the big bad boogie man. How foolish that was. Certainly, there were political differences and the Cold War was a reality. Yet even today we both (Russians or Americans) know little about the complexities of our daily governmental undertakings. As average citizens we go about our lives and try to make sense of what confronts us on a daily basis. I believe, especially after having been blessed with Ana’s presence this past year, that American parents and Russian parents want the same for their children – to help them establish happy, healthy, and successful lives. It is not something that requires the proverbial rocket scientist on either side of the political divide. The many conversations with Ana this past year were both interesting and instructional. Cultural education is such a different form of learning than reading a book. One can feel quite young, even when they are well past middle-aged. Some might ask if this is related to my “day-job” – indeed it is. To visit one of my students in her home country and to work with her and her parents to keep a connection between Bloomsburg University’s Global Studies Office is a good thing. One of the things I hope to ask Ana about today is is there are other students she would suggest we speak to. Certainly when I return to Kraków, I want to work on a number of things about creating new opportunities.
Each experience I have changes my understanding and how I interact with the world in which I live. This time in Moscow will allow me to attend Ana’s graduation from college here. I will attend and have attended both of her commencements. That is yet another experience. Quite a metamorphosis from a day trip to Jim Thorpe on a Labor Day weekend less than a year ago. . . 24 hours have passed since I began this missive, and the amount of time spent walking and exploring this astounding city of over 12 million was extensive. I walked for over 17 miles yesterday, and to say I have only scratched the surface is beyond an understatement. I walked through Red Square and around the city center; we walked through a sort of woods where you could hear little of the city noise and took a riverboat ride for close to an hour on the Moscow River. I rode the longest escalator in the world (that is what I was told) yesterday. It is 130 meters long and it has an elevational rise of 65 meters. It was quite amazing. Everywhere you look there is architectural things that only begin to speak to the incomparable history this city must have. Art, dance, literature, and drama is evident everywhere you look. I saw more than one statue to honor Aleksandr Pushkin and mention of the actor, Mikhail Semenovich Shchepkin and did some reading on the Maly Theatre. My music history classes have come harkening back and names like Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich (yes, I left out the most famous on purpose) come to mind. As I walked around Ana and Basil spoke in Russian and occasionally I had some idea about what there conversation was, but I was left, for the most part, to ponder Russian history, and Moscow in particular, in my own head. I wondered as I noted many of the posters of dramatists, and their lives ending shortly before the revolution of what might have happened in the early to mid 20th century? Ana noted the amount of renovation that has occurred in the city both during her time in college as well as during the year she has been gone. I wondered if all the crosses on top of buildings in the Kremlin were there in Soviet times or how the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was maintained during the years between 1917 and 1991?
What is most important to me as I pondered is the importance of this city and its cultural influence on the world in general. Once again, I am reminded of cultural diversity and what it adds not only to the world, but how it can profoundly change our own individual views if we merely take the time to imagine. I certainly understand the significance of politics and how they play such a central role into forming impressions and understandings, but each culture, their language and history is so astonishing to me. As I looked and merely immersed myself in the experience of this city, my mind was consumed with wonder and trying to imagine the Moscow of the 19th century. I wonder what most Russians think of their country as the predominant force of the Soviet Union. I think more conversations with Mykola are in order.
. . . Another day and morning have passed and I have been rather non-stop. On Thursday I walked more than 17 miles. I think that is a record since was was perhaps 22. It was also the hottest day in Moscow for June (I think that is what they told me) since 1956. Yesterday, in comparison was a slacker day and I had a rather pedestrian mileage of almost 9 miles. This morning I have gotten in 2.6 in my first three hours. My legs and feet are aware, I can tell you. It will also be another very warm day. Back to my conversation about Moscow, Russia, and our understanding (or lack there of) for a country which has an astounding, complex, and fascinating culture. There is an incredible amount of music, art, drama, and literature that comes from Russia. Much of what we understand about Russia comes from the October Revolution of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union. Yet my conversations with people who grew up in Russia during that period have shown me the Soviets were much more thoughtful about how they taught and spoke about us than we taught or spoke about them. The sheet size of the current Russian Federation predicts a lot more diversity in people’s than many Americans take the time to realize. From the far Eastern reaches where the people are much more Mongolian and Asian than what we typically understand a Russian person to be. There are areas to the south and west that one would believe they are in the Arab world, and then there is Moscow and area.
What I have noticed in my few days around Moscow is how infinite numbers of people walk and most everyone gives thought to and takes care of how they appear. I have not seen a single pair of yoga pants in the 10s of 1000s of people I have seen in my time. Dresses, blouses, skirts, and well-kept from head to toe is the norm. Gentlemen are much the same. I have observed more attractiveness from 20s-60s than I could ever imagine. If we would try to take such good care and think about how we appear a bit more. I must also note that I see more young people smoking here than in America, so there is a bit of an oxymoronic character to all of that. Today is a bit of a quiet day and I am focusing on what it to come in a couple of different ways.
Last evening Ana and Dasha took me to an area called Moscow City to a restaurant on the 86th floor of a building. It was, and will be, one of my more memorable dining experiences of my life. I had traditional Borscht to begin and then for a main course it was a Wine Beef Stew and a side of grilled asparagus with hollandaise. A wonderful Bordeaux style wine and a classic Russian/Ukrainian dessert of warm milk and a biscuit complete the delightful gastronomic experience. A walk around Moscow City, an architectural wonder of the city, completed the evening. The picture gracing this post is of the complex. As is always the case I am continually reminded of the beauty found in each part of our world and the cultural significance that each place offers. The present nationalism that seems to be prevalent flies in the face of such exploration and opportunity. I hope I can, in my own small way continue to speak out for the wonderful diversity we offer if we will only take the chance to see it. This song from Sting, on his album, Dream of the Blue Turtles, with its motif from Prokofiev (which I have posted before) seems appropriate here as I complete this post.
As always, thank you for reading and до свидания