October 15

In and around Moscow

Anton told me about an English-language radio station, which I'm listening to now. There is a morning zoo program, complete with prank phone calls and caller requests. Not the image I had in my head of Russian broadcasting.

A monk confers with a woman in the monastery
Some children speak with a monk

Skip forward to the evening. 11:15. We went to Sergiyev Posad (aka Zagorsk) and visited the monastery there, the fairy-tale-ish one with the blue starred cupolas on one of the churches (pictured at the top of the page.) There were, of course, monks. We heard some of them singing, very beautiful and solemn. Monks spoke to large crowds of children all over the grounds.

This was with Mitya and his daughter Arina, and I should describe the drive to Sergiyev Posad. Mitya's car (both Mitya and Olga asked if I had one) is an old compact, my uneducated guess is maybe between '79 and '83. The seat/shoulder belt hangs from a hook near the door. The car has trouble starting and occasionally stalls. I suppose it's expensive to hire a mechanic. (Oh, it runs on gas and methane!)

Lenin, on a pedestal of workers and soldiers

Anyway, we started down the road, past the big Lenin statue and the kiosks selling Western food ("Wrigley's Gum. Original American Quality," proclaim the signs in English; a billboard has a picture of the Statue of Liberty next to a giant pack of L&M cigarettes with the slogan, "Meeting with America" in Russian. Lots of English advertisements all over the city.)

Traffic in Moscow is comparable to a bad rush-hour in America, but it's jammed all day. The city would be impassible without the metro or if most people had cars. The situation is worsened by the fact that several major roads and intersections are closed for repair. One, near Revolution Square, was apparently very busy up until recently, and traffic got completely snarled in the city center as soon as the road was closed off.

We passed VDNKh, the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, with a giant titanium monument of a rocket, an elaborate entrance gate, and a monument called The Factory Worker and the Collective Farm Girl, he with a hammer in his left hand and she with a sickle in her right, both raised high as if in triumph. Now, Mitya says, the Exhibition has turned into a marketplace.

Continuing north, we passed hundreds of featureless apartment buildings. No names; that would imply that someone, sometime, had cared enough about the buildings to name them, which seems to me to be false. So just numbers.

All that changed abruptly the instant we crossed under the outermost highway encircling the city. The buildings were individual houses now, wooden, some very run-down and some like new, though the latter were few and far between.

A cluster of dachas

We continued. Past a couple of GAI (Government Automobile Inspection) booths. The houses ended, giving way to birch forests and rolling hills which might be farmland in a warmer part of the year. We passed several complexes of tiny dachas, which according to Mitya most people have. No hot water or gas heating or toilets, but most people (or rather, most families) have them.

We arrived in Sergiyev Posad. Mitya says that before perestroika, the town was off-limits without special papers. It is an industrial town, with some farming. The apartments are older, nicer, but the houses are in a state of disrepair, some with pieces falling off or damaged roofs. The road is mostly paved but with huge deep potholes. The cars swerve around to stay on the pavement. There are many military trucks. People with cows and goats stand near the road while the animals eat the wild grass.

The monastery parking lot
Outside the monastery

We parked near a wrecked sidewalk and went to the monastery. They made Arina wear a dress, which they provided for a small rental fee. It cost $3 for the right to bring a camera in. (They took dollars.)

On the monastery grounds

One of the big churches in the monastery has, like many places, been converted to a curio shop. It was closed, but we went into a chapel with a font and the basement of a church where several patriarchs are buried. The graveyard outside the church has the tombs of many authors and painters. Most of the people at the graves are old women. The female lifespan here must be a lot longer than the male one, since I see far fewer old men.

Scenes from Arkhangelskoye

After Sergiyev Posad, we went to Arkhangelskoye, a small estate museum and artists' village in the middle of the woods. The museums were closed so we wandered around the forest paths.

Baba Yaga's Hut

There is a "House on chicken's legs" -- Baba Yaga's hut -- where children play games. I'm not sure I want to know what _kinds_ of games, given the legend.

A forest chapel
A small farm across the lake

A small church in the village was preparing for a wedding later in the day. When we walked down to the shores of a nearby lake, we could see what looked like a bachelor party going on in the distance.

The Old Cathedral of the Donskaya Virgin

After returning and eating dinner, we walked to the Donskoi Monastery a couple blocks away from the apartment. There used to be a museum of architecture there, but the Church owns the place again and, as in St. Basil's, has removed such things. The Church must be extremely wealthy now, given the number of buildings and artifacts it has reclaimed.

Grave of Natalia Pushkina, who the heroine of Queen of Spades is based on

The Monastery is much smaller than the one in Sergiyev Posad. A large graveyard takes up most of the grounds. Most of the graves are wasting away, neglected. A fenced-off building has five cars in its yard. Mitya says the head priest lives there. A small service was being performed in one of the church buildings. A woman with a bad ankle stood at the back of the room, well away from the priests, and crossed herself repeatedly.

The Blessing of St. George

On one wall of the monastery are several large stone sculptures, apparently rescued from a stone church in downtown Moscow before it was razed by Ivan the Terrible. They are astonishing in their detail and impressive in their size. The one pictured above is a good twelve feet tall.

The large church in the Monastery, by the way, is visible from my (Olga's) bedroom window as a cross and cupola sticking out above the factory across the street.

After the Monastery, we walked to a food store with mostly-empty shelves so Sasha could buy some rice. She and Mitya spent a good two minutes haggling with the clerk (or it looked like haggling, but for all I know they were arguing about the weather!) Then we went to another store, this one well-stocked and with many American items, perhaps not coincidental. Then to a third shop where Sasha found the other things she was looking for. This shop was quite crowded, with full shelves and also with Western goods.

Then we walked through the nearby Not-Boring Gardens in near-darkness, past some chess players and people walking dogs, to the Moskva River up to the start of Gorky Park.

After we got back, Olga and I stayed up talking until midnight about everything from education to politics to history. I learned far too much to record here, and told Olga about life in America. It is the high point of the visit so far.

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