October 17

In Moscow

The day began with something like cottage cheese pancake patties. I think I watched closely enough to make them myself. Cottage cheese in solid form, sugar, a couple eggs, and flour, rolled in flour and fried in olive oil, served with sugar and sour cream. Yummy.

Then another pleasant event: a hot shower. I felt _clean_ for the first time since leaving home.

Olga and I headed for the Lenin Museum near the Kremlin. A friend of Olga's was to give us a tour in English. When we entered, there was a gathering of people listening to a woman speak loudly about the political situation and why Yetsin was in the wrong. We deposited our coats at the cloakroom and went to find Olga's friend. The gathering was gone when we walked back through the lobby.

After finishing with another group, Olga's friend led us around the museum. The tour began with the history of the Russian workers' rights movements, went on to the history of international socialist parties, and then launched full-throttle into an adulative, sugar-coated biography of Lenin. It was very interesting to hear the party line's careful sidestepping of leaders other than Stalin, and the insistence that the only failing of Soviet socialism was political maneuvering. Our guide was quite upset that Lenin's body is likely to be removed from Moscow and buried, and said it is likely that the museum will be shut down. I hope that doesn't happen.

Next, we went to part of the Tretyakov Gallery, which was underwhelming. Most of the gallery is closed for repair now, as seems to be the constant state of much of the city, and the remaining collection focused too much on icons for my taste.

On the way home, we passed a huge queue of young people (under 30) lined up outside a building. I guessed they were buying concert tickets, but in fact they were signing up for English classes! English seems to be the fastest-growing language in Russia. The Soviet patriots must find that humiliating, and in a way it's sad that much of the business of Russia looks like it won't be conducted in Russian.

Then home for dinner, a delicious vegetable pie, some pepper-onion soup, egg salad, and some potatoes with cauliflower cooked in. And the light, sweet lemonadeish drink we've had every night so far.

Olga showed me how to get home on the metro, and I was off with Arina to the Bolshoi Theater (pictured at the top of the page) for a performance of "Giselle." I tried to speak more Russian with her than I have with anyone else, but met with only slight success. I wanted to say sentences I didn't quite know how to construct. She understood a little of my English, but body language was enough to get us to and from the theater. I suppose urgent gestures are the only truly universal form of communication.

I was unimpressed by the ballet. The choreography was awful, with the dancers moving so far across the stage they couldn't stay in sync with the music. "Giselle" isn't a ballet I particularly like in the first place, though, so perhaps that biased me. Not a good selection to wow the foreign visitors, who incidentally seemed to slightly outnumber the Russians. I suppose the selections might be better during tourist season. Oh, one interesting bit of decoration in the concert hall is a mural of sheet music and horns coming out of a starred hammer and sickle, below which are two portraits, Lenin and... Lenin. I bet that used to be Lenin and Stalin, and when Stalin was discredited it was easier to paint over his face than to draw a whole new mural.

Olga says the Bolshoi Theater is now priced out of reach of ordinary Russians, about $20 (half her monthly salary!) per seat. It is simply there to bring in money from foreigners now. The best performers and choreographers are now working abroad. I suppose it's symbolic of Russia in general, a giant of old now reduced to scraping by on outside resources. Such is the legacy of socialism.

The Tretyakov Gallery is a good example. The price of admission for Russians is 1 ruble. For foreigners, 3000. Olga paid 2 rubles and I kept my mouth shut as she talked to me in Russian while handing our tickets to the guard.

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