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Fun Times in Moscow

April 5, 2010 at 6:39 am
By Ken Ellis-Guardiola and Denis Griffis

So, we’re in Moscow.  Crazy enough as it is to just say that, life has been certainly not normal here so far.  We’ve had a metro bombing the day after taking a tour of about twenty metro stations, classes, Easter (a big deal over here); you name it.  Not to mention the crash course in Russian family life and etiquette.

First off, we might as well mention what’s actually been happening over here.   The first day was (not surprisingly), basically flying in, gluing our noses to the window on our way into town, and then going to sleep after utterly failing to speak any real Russian with our new host families.  Things got off to a quick start after that, with a tour of the Metro system (Stalin’s “Palaces of the People”) on Sunday.  We saw about twenty or so stations, discussing their architecture, decorations, and a little of the history behind them.  We spent about an hour above ground, including seeing the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and satiating ourselves at the delicious Mu-Mu restaurant (possibly named after the sound a cow makes, or after the story by Turgenev).   We were pretty tired after that, so homewards it was.

After getting a formidable introduction to the Metro system, we heard news of the bombings when we woke up the next morning.  We had been scheduled to go see the university grounds and the center of town that day, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Diane decided this would be a poor idea. It was very interesting to see the way that Muscovites dealt with this tragedy. Where in America the whole city would shut down, Moscow was back up and running within the hour, showing just how vital this system is to the operation of the city. People generally seemed unsurprised, although the national news outlets were constantly streaming out new information and leads acquired from the “goriyachaya liniya” (telephone hotline). In any case, we were very fortunate to not be involved, and we all took full advantage of our free day exploring the intricacies of our neighborhoods.

Tuesday was the start of class—for details on classes, relaxing, and our tour of the university grounds on Thursday, consult the rival blog post.

Friday was the obligatory tourist day: Red Square and the environs.  We started out over in the Alexander Gardens (named for Alexander the 1st, who forced Napoleon out of Russia in the war of 1812), saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (guarded by specially-trained dudes who aren’t allowed to move, a la Buckingham Palace), and, of course, the Kremlin walls (which are huge-tastically huge, red, and scary).  We didn’t go inside the Kremlin (that’s for another day), but we did see plenty of the outside.  We passed by Lenin’s Tomb (closed at the time), the Historical Museum, and of course, paid a visit to St. Basil’s.  The visit was punctuated by a stop into the fantastically gaudy GUM shopping center, a playground for the Russian nouveau-riche. Sitting along Red Square, the GUM is filled with history, having been a major trading center in the 19th century and a central stop for hordes of Russians in search of products for purchase in the Soviet 70’s and 80’s. Now it’s full of trendy shops with a plethora of obscenely priced goods for purchase by the upper 5% of the Moscow socioeconomic strata. Anyway, it was a sight to see.

Saturday was an excellent day for walking around, with temperate winds blowing from the northwest (as usual) and a 100% chance of seeing new things. We went down Ulitsa Varvarka (where an archbishop was chased down in the 1771 plague riots only to meet his untimely demise.) The area of Kitai Gorod was visited, with a quick stop at one of the tastier Italian pizza restaurants this writer has experienced. After packing ourselves into Tramvai #39, we rode down to the Danilov Monastery, the oldest in the city, where people were waiting to get their kulich (spongey bread/cake with raisins) and paskha (tvorog cheese with sugar and eggs) blessed for Russian Easter, which, incidentally, coincided with every other form of Easter this year.

At midnight on Saturday, a small contingent of the group went to Easter service with Diane. Donning our Easter garb, we went to Diane’s cathedral, where we were met by a massive crowd of Orthodox Russians clutching their sanctified red candles in the cold nightly wind. We, too, were given candles, but unfortunately we lacked wind-guards for the flames (some of which were ingeniously crafted from plastic water bottles), forcing us to constantly relight them.  Around midnight, the priests came out and led us around the church in a representation of the Stations of the Cross, and then Christ had risen, so some prayers were sung and we headed inside.  The fun part of the service was up next—each of the priests (about 7 all told) came out one at a time, blessed the church, then walked around the interior of the (packed) sanctuary, blessing the people and declaring the Christ was risen (to which all the congregation roared in reply “Truly he is risen!”, except in Old Church Slavonic).  That went on for about half an hour, by which time we were both tired and overloaded by beardly goodness (Orthodox priests don’t kid around with their beards), so we headed home.

Yesterday was a homework day, so not much happened, and it’s back to class tomorrow!

An interesting thing we’ve noticed in our wanderings around Moscow is how thoroughly commercialism has pervaded the city.  Perhaps some of the most entertaining ads we’ve seen are for some sort of perfume (involving a woman licking her own knee—a common theme), and a personal favorite, the “Makzavtrak” (MacBreakfast) sign outside of a McDonald’s.  GUM is a prime example of Western commercialism here—there are far more Latin characters throughout the store than Cyrillic, and only a very few actually Russian stores have made it inside.  Foreign brands and products are everywhere (on Red Square, we got a great view of a Hyundai sign in the distance, right between the Historical Museum and GUM), and transliteration is common (often to hilarious effect—a TV ad for “Kolor Nechrals”, Color Naturals hair dye, is probably the group favorite, along with such great things as “Big Lanch” and “Sabvey”).  It certainly makes a statement about trade going everywhere, at least.

Th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks!  Do vstrechi!

Comments

  • April 6 2010 at 10:03 am
    Jenny Nunemacher '95

    Glad to hear you all were not in the Metro during the bombings. 

     It is interesting how the commercialism of Russia is immediately noticed by American students.  In 1993, our exposure was primarily limited to television рекламы for candy bars, like "Bounty" (bahoooontee was how it was pronounced, much to our delight) and "Mars" (which we discovered was really a Milky Way -- no nuts), or street kiosks selling Pepsi, Coke, and Fanta as well as the ever-present Mars bars. But it was still the reason for much giggling, even after our trip ended.

     The GUM was still a soviet style department store and not the high-end mall that it has become today.

    My most recent visit to Russia in 2005 presented a stark contrast to what I had seen in 1993.  Although I don't think the transliteration had become so prevalent as you describe, the print advertisements were everywhere: on scaffolding for buildings doing ремонт or strung on wires across streets, like so many small-town Chili Festival banners, or giant illuminated signs similar to flashing car-dealership signs here.

     It was definitely worse in Moscow than in other places that we visited (St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, Ulan Ude), but perhaps that is to be expected in a huge cosmopolitan city of the world.

    Take care, be safe, and have fun!