Moskva. Bottom line: my feet hurt. Yes, great metro and bus system, but stepping out of every metro station and glancing around would hardly give a traveller the right idea of the city. Thus, walking can’t be done without, and so, walk I did.

Jan 1. And the decade begins. Streets quiet (except for the left-over fireworks and blank gunshots that continued until the day I left) and littered with empty bottles of Russian champagne ($2.99/bottle), Ryan and I got up early to get him to Sheremetyevo airport for his noon flight. Buying our train tickets to the airport just in time from the electric walk-up vendor (“3 minutes until next train”), only afterwards did the conductor decide to tell us that the first train wasn’t for another hour.

When I asked, “Because of the new year?” I noticed that it was a bit ominous to already be combining “new year” with “iz-za,” the participle used for negative reasons. No other bad omens have popped up since.

Since the 10 o’clock wouldn’t work, we grabbed a taxi, didn’t get over-charged, and I saw Ryan off to New Zealand (via New York, Minnesota, and L.A. . . world traveler, he is. . .). I took a lonely, almost-empty train back to Byelorusskaya, where the metro transfer was.

I slept until dark (meaning, a nice five-hour nap til about 3:30 p.m.), cleaned up the apartment from our dinner party the night before, and added in some new years’ straightening- and sweeping-up of the slight disarray the normal tenants had left the apartment in (no hard feelings at all there: I’m the same way) rushing out to catch flights to France and the U.S. I interneted a bit, and then was off to bed again.

Jan 2. Euro day. In my anticipation of the Occidental continent to come, and in my and Sophie’s willingness to let down our “true Russia immersion” experience for the holiday, we decided to browse one of the shopping centers of almost mega-mall proportion, a stop down the green line from my station. The post-holiday clearance (rasprodazha!) sales were out in full force, of which Sophie took advantage–I was happy enough conserving my funds for the rest of the month, though I did splurge on my Cinnabon fix.

After a stroll around the shops of the West, we set up camp in the food court to chat, occasionally pausing for Sophie to get some of her work done (she decided to use her poorly-assigned internship journal entries as an exercise in creative writing. . . fingers crossed she doesn’t continue once she passes her med exams. . .) and for me to basically start (and almost finish) up my long-ago purchased Pelevin novel, Omon Ra, a fiction about an upstanding, pilot-admiring Soviet boy forced into participating on the “automatic” expedition to the moon.

Enthused by an enjoyable reentry into the world of WiFi, cafés, recognizable brand names, mostly English-language music, and Middlebury-based conversation, I made a quick stop at the grocery store, spending less than $10 on food, which, coupled with the leftovers, lasted me the whole week, and I fixed up myself a nice little meal, half-dancing to some good ol’ American tunes (see: Johnny Mayer, Gaga, MGMT, Augustana, et al.). The on-your-own city life is definitely slightly lonesome, but with a full-enough kitchen, a good book, Internet connection, and plans for the next day, I was rockin’ it. The Sokol (metro stop) area:

Jan 3. Sunday. Sunday meant finding a Catholic church, online, which turned out to be easier in a city of millions, as opposed to the isolation of Irkutsk and it’s Catholic churches in the pre-Internet age.

I chose the Moscow Archdiocesan Cathedral, a fairly recently restored red-brick, gothic cathedral, which was an architectural combination new to me. The interior was simple with high vaulted, creamy white columns and ceilings, and abstract stained glass patterns, and done-up for the Christmas season with lots of evergreens and tinsel. I caught the midday children’s mass, meaning even though the homily was totally understandable (cute [Russian] kids playing with the priest on the sanctuary being told to be nice to each other and to Mom and Dad), I was still lost with the verbal participation part without a missalette.

I was good at humming “Silent Night,” though.

My next Sunday to-do was to find a pay-station for my Moscow phone (I’d got a Moscow area-code SIM card to be able to call Soph to arrange our meetings, etc.), the account for which totaled an even 0. Phone companies here, unfortunately, don’t operate on credit. I wandered for a long time without, of course, seeing any kiosk, which is strange since they’re usually everywhere, finally found one, put a hundred rubles in the machine, waited to get the little “You’ve added 92 rubles” (they take commission, the damn–. . .) text message so I could call Sophie to arrange plans.

Long story short, I didn’t get the message until I was about two minutes from my apartment door, my return to which was necessitated by the phone company’s retardation in adding the money to my account, meaning I had no way of arranging my meeting with Sophie. Long story shorter, I got back on the metro (having since learned Sophie and I would just meet later) headed to the Izmailovskii market.

The market, if you’ve been reading since the beginning when I first got to Moscow, is located in the shadows of a like four-tower tourist complex (in which I stayed) and neighboring vodka museum (in which I doubted the existence of anything of significant interest).

Sophie and the guide books recommended it for souvenirs, random Soviet paraphernalia, and price-efficiency. I decided to return in the summer on my way home to pick up gifts, but I did decide on a set of six hand-painted wooden napkin rings for Eveline in Germany (an investment, which, due to rough luggage handling, apparently has an attrition rate of 2 napkin rings per airplane flight. . . I’m hoping I’ll have at least a set of 3 by the time I get to Nepperwitz).

I stopped at Sophie’s apartment near m.Mayakovskaya and met her host mom, Masha. Their apartment was really nice (and clean. . . and organized. . . [these latter adjectives being references to what my homestay is not]), and the supper of spinach soup, sandwiches, fruit, tea, and chocolate cookies was really good (and healthy. . . [also not my homestay]). Masha’s a funny little caricature. Sophie aptly uses the verb “scurry” to describe her movement about the apartment.

We two continued on to a video store, picked up a pirated version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith dubbed in Russian for a few bucks, swung by a grocery store for goodies, and went back to “my” apartment for an improvised American movie night. Popcorn wasn’t to be had in the supermarket we chose, so we made do with tea and pastries.

It was late when the movie was over, so Sophie just stayed in the other bedroom for the night, which Sophie says complicates or simply makes more awkward Masha’s impression that she and I are dating. Sophie was also unconvinced this couldn’t be easily enough solved by just telling Masha that she’s wrong.

Jan 4. The ‘mondays’ in Moscow. Monday morning on the Moscow metro (my, that’s many M’s. . . bad pun, sorry), especially after a long holiday weekend, was a particularly frown-ful scene. But, I was off on my Moscow sightseeing, so I commiserated little with my co-passengers.

I got off at m.Park Kultury (Culture park. . . one of many once-Soviet-themed entertainment/rest centers) and walked along the Moscow River. The garish Putin-commissioned, Zurab-Tsereteli-sculpted Peter the Great statue on the pointe of the city island, as the seventh largest statue in the world, came into view as I continued my early morning stroll. I suppose it might not have been that early, since the sun never gets more than 30 degrees above the horizon that far north, but the shadows were still long.

After passing the new Church of Christ the Savior (Khram Khrista Spasitelya), I crossed over the river where St. Nicholas’ Church and the House on the Embankment (Dom na naberezhnoy) occupy the southwestern-most part of the crescent-shaped city island (along with a few energy plant smokestacks that pump extra clouds into clear and overcast skies alike. . . and here we thought the mayor’s plan was to blow all the clouds out of the city. . .).

The House on the Embankment is where Stalin-era ChEKhA (later KGB, the state police), mostly falsely-accused targets would mysteriously disappear to in the night, and from which they were never heard again; today, plaques on the labyrinth-buildings’ walls commemorate those who perished there.

Another ten-minute stretch of quaint cobblestone avenues, I reached my destination of the day: the main collection of the Tretyakov Gallery. I’m no art connoisseur and don’t claim to know enough to speak intelligently enough about painting, sculpture and the like, but I enjoyed the museum. For one, I (not for the last time in Moscow) got the great Russian citizen-student rate of 70 rub.

Secondly, I had a copy of a Moscow guidebook I’d borrowed from Adrien’s apartment bookshelves, which functioned as my museum guide for just about anywhere I explored in Moscow. So I had enough direction of what to notice, what to see and so on while in the museum, so I enjoyed it, especially for the price. Lots of 18th-19th century portraits, and landscapes, which were spotted with the familiar, most-famous paintings of Pushkin (he had a spotlight on him, giving him a soft, godly halo. . . after all, they do say, “Pushkin — our all.”), Peter the Great, Catherine II, and so on. There were also the ancient and more contemporary collections, dotted with the well-known icons of the 13th (?) century icon-painter Andrei Rublev(pronounced rub-LYOHF), the famed works of Repin (who’s grave I’d passed a bit earlier) like “Ivan the Terrible killing his son,” and the praised landscapes of Levin.

After the Tretyakov, deciding against walking the few blocks to do the modern collections (I feel like MoMA in NYC had enough of the Russian modernists to satisfy), amidst the tangle of busy, but nice backwater streets, I dodged into a café for a coffee, free heating, and place to whip out my cheese sandwich. Continuing back to the center of the city, I got my (blurry, unfortunately) nighttime shots of the Kremlin and Red Square before meeting Sophie and Svetlana Titkova (my and Sophie’s J-term/fall 2008 Russian teacher at Middlebury who lives in Moscow) for dinner.

A few websites had recommended this place, Dioskuriya, for good-tasting, good-priced, traditional Georgian food, Moscow’s version of which is rivaled only in Georgia itself. And the website said “daily live music.” Basically, a total flop. The real-life menu prices had been magically doubled, the service was rude and sparse (even for Russian/Moscow standards), and there was no live music (but, funnily enough, it seemed that the stereo playlist had been directly ripped from our summer Russian language school diskoteka soundtrack, where we three were last together).

Regardless, catching up with Svetlana Igoryevna was wonderful, and I got the idea of Georgian food, which is as good as they say, sampling a good bean puree, a spinach-dip-like dish called pkhali, the famous cheesy omelet-like bread khachipuri, and lamb prepared à la shashlik.

Afterwards, Sophie took me for a stroll back to Tverskaya ul. along the boulevard circle through the Arbat, a district that, though formerly a pedestrian-frequented artists’ hang-out, has become an overdone lit-up commercial area.


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