Thursday, December 22, 2016

Holiday Greetings and New Year Wishes!

Can't believe it's time for another holiday letter! Hope you've had a good year in 2016, and that the New Year will be even better!


Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year!

The year 2016 has been much better (for me) than its predecessor. My respiratory issues have improved steadily (with occasional setbacks). I’ve been making great efforts to “get my life in order” (with some progress). And I’ve been busy in Charleston with friends and colleagues.

Medical History Club, with Drs. Jane Upshur and Biemann Othersen

The last of my rental properties was sold early in the year, which was a burden off my back. I still have one property to dispose of—some land in the North Carolina mountains that I once intended to build on. It was a dream that evaporated a decade ago with the economic collapse.

The writing has been going reasonably well, with several books at various stages of completion, and a helpful writers’ group cheering me on to finish a memoir—really more like an autobiography with topic highlights. I’m planning to publish that with CreateSpace in early 2017. That book will be of interest primarily to family—and maybe a few close friends.

A booklet I had been working on since early summer, Russia Revisited, about a commercial trip to Russia in 2010, is now finished and has been published. I just received copies from the publisher a few days ago. It was originally intended as a teaser for a longer (and more serious) book about Russia and its grim history, woven around a Sierra Club backpacking trip I made in Siberia in 1992—shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Afterwards, I crossed Russia solo by train to Moscow and St. Petersburg. That book has gotten stalled, but I intend to pick it up again early next year. FYI, my Amazon site is

My mother, Helen Pascoe, in slacks, 1924

Also, I’ve been sorting, scanning, and distributing photo albums to children, including albums from my mother and my father. One of Mom’s albums dates back to 1924. She was a liberated woman of first wave feminism! I posted this picture in a blog on my new website.

Still, there are a lot of albums to go through. I discovered several more in a trunk that had not been opened since I moved into this house in 2010. Maybe they've been in that trunk since 2007!

In August, I spent three or four days in New York visiting eldest daughter, Maria, and her wonderful family. I used to visit them frequently, but since becoming so ill in late 2014, I have scarcely gone anywhere outside Charleston. While in NYC, I attended a Writers’ Digest conference in downtown Manhattan, which was interesting and informative.

The main book I’m trying to sell to an agent for a larger audience is one I’ve been working on for the past five years. It’s intended for lay readers to help them understand and care for their own body. Dr. Susan Reynolds, a colleague and former student, is consultant on that book. I had a bit of interest from an agent, but so far nothing more.
With friend, colleague, and consultant, Dr. Susan Reynolds

After Blake, the eldest grandson, went off to Northland College in Ashland, WI this fall, daughter Briana, moved to another city in Idaho to be near her boyfriend. They plan to marry sometime next year. Blake is really loving college, and he calls his grandma every week!

With daughters Maria and Elisabeth.
I'm the short one in the middle.

In November, two of my wonderful daughters threw a surprise party for my 80th birthday here in Charleston. It included several close friends as well as family. It was the best birthday party I’ve ever had! And a total surprise!! I was amazed that Maria, the eldest, was willing to come to Charleston. The last time she was here was for Elisabeth’s wedding, 17 years ago. Elisabeth and her family came in their new RV. They stayed at the James Island County Park, one of my favorite campgrounds when I had an RV. We drove around the park one evening and saw the holiday lights, which are spectacular.

So, the election aside, 2016 has been a great year for an old lady. Hope your year has been good too! And here's hoping the New Year will be as pleasant as possible for friends and family--as well as for the many others in the world who are not as fortunate. Let us hope that we can somehow try to achieve that elusive goal of Peace on Earth.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The last days in St. Petersburg

6/13/10 (continued)

After viewing the Yusupov Palace, Marilee, another person in the group, and I took a taxi to the Dostoyevsky Museum. She had talked about wanting to do it, and I told her I would go with her if she could arrange it. Her trip leader, Evgeni, made the taxi arrangements for us.
Placard on the outside of the very simple
row-house where Dostoyevsky lived

That, too, was very interesting. It was a suite of rooms that Dostoyevsky had lived in after he had already become famous, and in which he wrote Brothers Karamazov. The rooms were quite a contrast to the Yusupov Palace, as well as go the other palaces and churches we have seen. It offered a striking example of the great economic difference between a well-known, successful, middle-class writer and the nobility—or the clergy, for that matter, although we didn’t see any of their homes on this trip. I believe that many of the clergy were younger sons of noble families, and no doubt familiar with the opulent lifestyle.
Family room, Dostoyevsky's home in St. Petersburg

There was also a set of two rooms that offered a museum-style overview of his life and times. I learned many things about Dostoyevsky that I didn’t know before. He was the son of a physician in a hospital for the indigent. He was married twice, and his second wife was enormously helpful to him in his writing. He gained national attention after a stirring eulogy to Pushkin. And he traveled a great deal, to all the major countries and many of the major cities of Europe.
Dostoyevsky's writing desk

That evening, many of us went to a ballet in the Hermitage, in a small, exquisite theater that had been commissioned by Catherine II, that retained its pillars and most of the original woodwork. The ballet was Swan Lake, music by Tchaikovsky, and the choreography followed that of the original presentation. Apparently the ending was changed to appease Russian sentiment. It was quite lovely. I believe that was the first time I had seen Swan Lake from beginning to end, although I’ve seen parts of it on several occasions. The conductor of the orchestra (a lot of instruments crammed into a small pit below the front of the stage) reminded me of Arnold—his body shape, his face shape, the glasses. Arnold always wanted to conduct the music we played on the phonograph.
The palace at Tsarskoe Selo, seen through gilded gates

The final day in St. Petersburg, we visited Tsarskoe Selo (the tsar’s village) in the town of Pushkin, in which the main attraction is a huge palace begun by Elisabeth I and modified and finished by Catherine II (“The Great”). It was absolutely over-the-top opulent, with room after room covered with mirrors and gold leaf, and hung with elaborate chandeliers, and fitted with wood-inlay flooring: reception halls, and dancing halls, and music rooms, and on and on. Elisabeth began the palace in baroque style; Catherine modified it in neoclassical style.
Mannequin of Catherine the Great in a gilded room

On the grounds of Tsarskoe Selo

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hermitage and the Yusupov Palace

Tuesday, June 8 (continued)

Most of those from the boat went back after the guided tour of the Hermitage, but some of us elected to stay in the museum for independent browsing. One of the things I wanted to see was a special exhibit on Korean art. Brenda Kim, another single female traveler in the group, also wanted to see the Korean exhibit, so we both went there first.

Korean print on exhibit at the Hermitage

It was an interesting experience, seeing Korean artifacts again after nearly a decade. I did visit the Korean section of the British Museum while I was there earlier during this odyssey, but that held mostly furniture and pottery. The exhibit in the Hermitage was an eclectic collection of jewelry, clay statuettes, screen painting, stone Buddhas, and pottery. One vase—white with blue figures like Ming Pottery—had a magpie on it. The Russian word for that is copok (sorok), which, in Russian also means forty, but that may also be the Korean word for magpie.[1] I have been trying to remember the word for several years now. I think it is the national bird of Korea. All in all, I was glad to have visited the exhibit. It brought back memories of Korea, including both positive and negative feelings I had in the country. There was also a rubbing of the symbol of the Emilie bell—a girl surrounded by a flowing scarf—on exhibit in a glass case. I had seen the original in Korea, ten years previously. A photo of the bell is in the book, Korea, Are You at Peace.

The second day in St. Petersburg, I went with part of the group on an optional tour of the Yusupov Palace. We stopped at a synagogue on the way that had been operational for about a century. Someone in the group said that it was structured like a Sephardic—rather than Ashkenazy—synagogue. The wonder is that it survived the Stalinist era. But perhaps Stalin did not have as much antipathy toward Jews (Marx was a Jew) as he did toward Christians.

Gilded room in the Yusupov Palace

The Yusupov Palace was intriguing in many ways. First, it was opulent, in the fin-du-siecle opulence of the wealthy of many nations, including the U.S.—artifacts from around the world; hand-wrought furnishings; highly decorative wall finishing; light fixtures for the gas lamps that had become the vogue; and family portraits by notable artists.

Basement room, Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered

Of historic interest was the fact that it was in that home that Rasputin was murdered, a murder largely engineered by the family’s eldest son, Felix, who managed to escape the dragnet set out by the tsar for the conspirators. The murder was dramatized by wax figures of the conspirators and the victim in the underground quarters of the young count, as well as by the guide’s narrative.

Zinaida, mother of Felix Yusupov, in Asiatic dress

Of additional interest was the fact that the Yusupovs had originally been Tatar Muslims who had been rewarded for service to some earlier tsar. The family had managed their money well and had become one of the wealthiest families in Russia—wealthy enough for the young Count Felix to marry a princess, Irina, niece of the ill-fated Nicholas II.

[1] My conjecture was wrong. The Korean word is kkachi.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

St Isaac's Cathedral and The Hermitage.

6/11/10 (continued)
On Tuesday, we had another bus trip around the city, the highlights of which were a visit to St. Isaac Cathedral and an afternoon at the Hermitage Museum.
Columns and ceiling of St. Isaac's Cathedral

The inside of St Isaac’s Cathedral was amazing—huge, spacious, mosaic-encrusted iconostasis and real marble-veneer columns (as opposed to the faux-marble-painted columns of Peter and Paul Cathedral). The inside glittered with gold leaf on the mosaics and chandeliers and other ornaments. The outside was a dull-gray classical building surrounded by columns and topped with a gold dome. The rather dull exterior belied the sparkling interior.

We had lunch at a restaurant near the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood, built on the site of the assassination of Alexander II, the czar who freed the serfs and was later assassinated by an anarchist. I left lunch early and went to the cathedral, where I took photos both outside and inside.
Interior of the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood

The last time I was in St Petersburg, the apartment I stayed in was near that church, but it was under repair/reconstruction, and I wasn’t able to go inside. The inside of the sanctuary was marvelous—narrow but tall, with a main aisle and two side aisles. The walls are covered with paintings and mosaics, and the interior has a feeling of lightness and simple sanctity.

That afternoon, we went to the Hermitage Museum and spent two hours with a guide going through galleries and rooms of the palace lined by paintings ranging from medieval sacred art to Dutch interiors. Some of the more famous paintings were a couple by Leonardo da Vinci as well as some Titians and Rubens and Rembrandts. Not liking crowds, I tended to hang around the edges and look at pictures that others were not crowded around. We were allowed to take photos without flash, and I took photos of several of my favorites.
Huge vase of malachite in the Hermitage

Another thing I noticed, particularly this time, which I hadn’t before, except in the malachite room, was the stonework throughout. Many rooms had large, sometimes huge, vases of stone—jasper, onyx, basalt, granite. There were large columns of gray granite in one room. Another room had a bird-cage clock (behind glass) made of gilded paper-mache from the time of Catherine the Great.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Saint Petersburg

Fountains at Peterhof, with the canal to the Baltic Sea

[6/7/10 – 6/11/10 In St. Petersburg, as in Moscow, we slept on the boat and visited the city by bus. It was truly convenient to live in one place and not have to pack and carry luggage from hotel to hotel. St. Petersburg is the most glorious of all Russian cities—it was the dream of Peter the Great to create a magnificent Russian city facing Europe. And he did. The new Russian government has repaired and renovated those iconic structures built during the reigns of Peter, Elisabeth, and Catherine II. On this visit, the cupolas were gold plated, everything was shiny, and the fountains at Peterhof (meaning Peter’s Palace) spewed water exuberantly. Some of that water ran down into the Baltic Sea.]

Monday, June 7, journal entry. “On the evening of our first day in St. Petersburg, the ship is docked along the wharf on the Neva River, and I am sitting at a little corner table on deck 2 watching the river, a harp bridge spanning it and a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings beyond the bridge, some with odd, wavy profiles. It is nearly 11:00 pm and the sun has not yet set.”

That first day in St. Petersburg was a full day, with a city tour of St. Petersburg, stopping for a photo-ops along the way. One was the Smolny Cathedral and Convent complex—the Russians call it an “ensemble”—followed by the square across the river from the Admiralty and the Hermitage.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Afterwards, we walked through part of the Peter and Paul Fortress, including most particularly, the amazing Peter and Paul Cathedral. Classical in external appearance but incredibly baroque inside, it houses the tombs of Romanov tsars in the side aisles.

Tomb of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter I

That afternoon, more than half of our group visited Peterhof, the palace complex begun by Peter the Great and completed by his daughter, Elisabeth. This was constructed on the Baltic shore, facing Europe, which was Peter’s symbolic strategy for turning away from the Asiatic backwardness of traditional Russian custom and thought, and turning toward the European Enlightenment. He was resisted mightily by both nobility and church, but the effect of his building efforts, including transferring the Russian capital to St. Petersburg, paid off in terms of commerce with Europe and control of the future direction of Russian culture.

Peter was a ship-builder, and he wanted to engage in trade with the rest of the world by sea. So he constructed his capital on the Baltic outlet of the Neva River, the bit of ocean he could find under Russian control that was nearest to Moscow, Russia’s traditional capital (after Kiev). During and following Peter’s forty-year reign at the turn of the eighteenth century--and until the Russian Revolution of the early twentieth century--Russian culture both absorbed from and contributed to the culture of Europe.

The palace grounds at Peterhof were enormous, with gazebos and waterworks along the walkways and hidden in small groves of trees. The fountains were spouting vigorously; the statues and figurines were freshly gilded and shone brilliantly in sunlight; the gardens and the wooded areas were a luscious green; and the sky was deep blue and dotted with clouds.

We didn’t go inside the palace, but we did go through the “cottage” at Catherine’s Block, as opulent as any ordinary palace. Eventually, that building became the royal family home for Nicholas I’s family of the later Romanov Dynasty. Elisabeth, the daughter of Peter, built most of the main palace at Peterhof. Peter, of simpler tastes, only constructed one long, flat building on the Baltic shore known as Monplaisir.

Terraced fountains at Peterhof, palace in the background
Peter also designed the fountains, which work by gravity flow, with its water source a few miles away, collected in a holding pond at the top level and from there, flowing into the fountains. The fountains stop at around 5:00 pm, and water in the holding pond becomes replenished at night. The entire water-works complex is drained at the end of September. A canal leads from the grand cascade of fountains out into the Baltic sea.

The fountains and the canal to the sea create a splendid panorama from the upper terrace across the lower gardens.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kizhi Island and Petrozavodsk

Kizhi Island is an island museum of wooden structures built largely during the early eighteenth century. Because of long periods of freezing cold during northern Russian winters, the wood is less prone to rot by mold and destruction by burrowing insects. So many of these buildings are still standing and still structurally sound. I saw examples of the same phenomenon in the wooden churches (Stavekirke) of the Norwegian countryside on a trip I took with my mother in 1976.
Ancient wooden church complex on Kizhi Island under repair
 On Kizhi Island, the population is very small, and the whole southern part of the island has been turned into a folk museum whose focal point is an extraordinary complex of churches and a bell tower built entirely of wood. The “summer church” (Church of the Transfiguration, 1714), with 22 wooden domes, or cupolas, is particularly striking from the outside, although we couldn’t go inside because it is under repair and renovation. 

The church complex on Kizhi Island, viewed form the farmhouse
We did go into the “winter church” (Church of the Intercession, 1764), which contained many icons, and we were allowed to take photos inside. A bell tower stood at one point of a triangle with the other two churches. The complex of the three buildings offered endless combinations of views and photographic variety, each more interesting or pleasing than the last, particularly with the constantly changing background of clouds—cirrus and cumulus—against an intensely blue sky.
Icons inside the Church of the Intercession

Extraordinary wooden cupolas of the Church of Transfiguration
As a part of the outdoor museum complex, there was a large, old farmhouse, transported to the site from elsewhere, and appointed as a typical pre-communist peasant farmhouse, with a windmill and several other buildings like granaries and animal sheds. Apparently, many farm animals were kept in the house, especially during winter.

Farm house museum, Kizhi Island

When we awoke this morning, we were docked at Petrozavodsk, on the western shore of Lake Onega. Both Kizhi and Petrozavodsk are located in the Republic of Karelia, the northernmost republic in European Russia. Many Karelians are Finns in origin and speak a Finno-Ugric language.
The city of Petrozavodsk was originally a foundry city, making heavy metal instruments of war (cannon, etc.) as well as rails and other heavy railway equipment. 
Cannon and cog wheel from old foundry in Petrozavodsk
The city was largely destroyed during “The Great Patriotic War” (WWII) and was rebuilt afterwards in the Soviet style. According to our guide, Natasha, the city has hardly changed since the collapse of the USSR. So it’s still a model of the life and architecture of Soviet times, except that now more food is available in the little local market.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Petrozavodsk

We visited a beautiful church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, where a baptism was being held. So I couldn't photograph the inside, which was exquisite. The color of the inside walls was the most beautiful light green-blue that I think I’ve ever seen. Someone called it “mint green,” but it was a richer color than that. It was absolutely luscious, peaceful, awesome/awe-inspiring. And the dome above was a contrasting dark blue. The icons were modest and there was not too much glitter in the church. I lit a candle for the girls, and I didn’t really want to leave the sanctuary when it was time to go.

Kvas for sale in the market

We visited other sites in the city, including a market, where we were able to purchase a few items. Another major site in the city is a central square where an eternal flame continues to burn for the defenders of Petrozavodsk during WWII. There, we saw a wedding party get out of a limousine, and the bride and groom put flowers beside the flame. She had on a pretty flimsy dress and must have been very cold! 

Wedding bouquets at the flame of eternal remembrance

A statue of Lenin towered over the main city square, cap in hand, leaning toward the future.
Lenin in the main square of Petrozavodsk

We're now sailing back southward on Lake Onega from Petrozavodsk toward the Svir River. The lake is a dark gray-blue, and clouds hanging over the north and east are ominous. Yet off to the west, the sky seems ordinary—calm, almost nonchalant. Today, in Petrozavodsk, the weather was fierce and cold—the cold of an unforgiving north countrywindy, intermittent rain. Our guide (since Kiev) is Natasha, whose home town is Petrozavodsk, and she served as our town guide today. Petrozavodsk is such a contrast to Kizhi Island, in the middle of Lake Onega, which we visited yesterday.
A rainbow beams between clouds and lake outside the window near where I’m sitting and writing. I took some photos with both cameras but don’t know how they’ll come out.
Rainbow over Lake Onega

This afternoon, we had an optional trip into town to see and hear a group called “Kantele” that played traditional Karelian instruments and sang and danced. They were a great pleasure to watch and listen to—lively music and energetic dancing. Also, three women played an instrument that looks like an autoharp, also called a kantele, that had a sweet, ringing sound—rather like a harp, but more crisp and high-pitched. One of the singers was tall, and her face reminded me of my mother when she was young.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Uglich, Goritsi, and Kirillo Belozersky Monastery


On deck, the sun is shining, the boat is churning smoothly across Lake Onega, the wind is a little brisk, the cirrus clouds divide the sky into deep blue above and a beautiful turquoise nearer the horizon. This cruse part of the trip has been utterly delightful.
The first place we stopped along the river system was Uglich, a small town with a couple of ancient churches (and a nunnery?) dating back to the time of Ivan IV, otherwise known as “The Terrible” (grozni, in Russian). Apparently the young son of Ivan, Dmitri, was murdered in Uglich by emissaries of Boris Godonov. Dmitri and his mother had been sent to a convent there. This left the Rurich dynasty without an heir; Ivan IV had already murdered his elder son in a fit of rage. A church (“St. Dmitri on the Blood”) was built on the site of Dmitri's murder, and we were allowed to go in and take photos—with payment of a fee.
Church of St. Dmitri on the Blood

 I also went into a second church, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration,  paid the fee, and took photos of the frescoes and of the iconostasis. The iconostasis in this church was particularly impressive.
Iconostasis in the Cathedral of  the Transfiguration

Cathedral of the Transfiguration

On the way back from the church, in the old fortress area (Kremlin), I stopped in a shop and bought two watches: one (less expensive) with lapis lazuli stones, the other decorated with malachite. I also bought an unusual amber necklace and a scarf, so I went on a bit of a spending spree in that town.
This town was definitely a tourist trap; the entire walkway from the dock to the fortress is lined by little tent shops of the sort one might have seen in medieval European towns when the traveling merchants came to sell their wares. In European towns and villages, there was usually a market day on the square once a week or once a month, and merchants brought their wares into town on carts, plying the circuit as was convenient. Obviously, most of the river tour boats stop at Uglich, famous for its watches and cheeses, and also for good prices on other types of Russian souvenirs.
Palace of Prince Dmitri. Note the elaborate woodwork,
still intact from the sixteenth century

The same was not true at Goritsy, our stop on the following day (yesterday). They are apparently best known for their furs, but it was a warm day, and not many of our group were buying. Also, a great many of the group are from California and Texas and other states in the southwest, so the furs weren’t tempting to them either.
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, mostly abandoned

I had signed up for a side trip to the Kirillo-Bellozersk Monastery. It was an old, dilapidated fortress-monastery, but apparently some nine or ten monks are now living in buildings near the church. Other areas are occupied by local villagers who were allowed to move in during the Communist era, and they’re still there by squatters’ rights. They have kitchen gardens on the monastery grounds and apparently live there rent-free.

Two elderly ladies (babushkas), monastery squatters

This has been an absolutely wonderful trip so far, and it is only half over. This afternoon we will stop at Kishi Island.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Moscow Revisited


The Moscow Kremlin, or fortress, which protected the seat
of Russian government from the time of Ivan III

The morning of the third full day in Moscow, we visited the State Armory of the Kremlin, with its treasures from the tsars and its military exhibits. We saw, in particular, the glittering crowns and gowns and swords of the tsars and tsarinas, the elaborate silver platters and goblets given to tsars (including Catherine II) by ambassadors from all over Europe, and books with jewel-encrusted silver or leather covers. We saw coronation gowns and thrones and carriages, each more elaborate than the next, of all the monarchs from Peter the Great through the unlucky Nicholas II. And the Faberge eggs – one celebrating the 300 years of the Romanov dynasty and one celebrating the children of Nicholas II – were particularly beautiful and sadly ironic. It’s a wonder that these treasures were preserved and not melted down for coins or destroyed out of spite during the Russian Revolution. Apparently, many treasures were sold to European and American collectors by the Soviets to raise cash for the early regime. Obviously many of them were saved.

St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, built by Ivan IV to
 commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. A parking
lot mars the view of the church, built outside the Kremlin walls

After that, we visited the cathedrals inside Kremlin Square – an impressive aggregate of white churches with gold domes. We went into the Cathedral of the Dormition, with its large, thick, circular pillars supporting arches high above the floor, layer upon layer of frescoes covering the walls and pillars, all telling some story, now lost on most viewers. The cathedral was built in the late 15th century, and it is the church where the coronation of tsars and emperors took place. A throne of Ivan IV stood before the iconostasis, crowded with silver-bordered icons. We were not allowed to take photographs, but for an idea of views inside the church, you can see photos from Wikipedia here

We did not go into any of the other churches.
Golden domes of the churches/cathedrals within the Kremlin
The communists destroyed churches throughout the Soviet Union, but somehow they didn’t destroy many Moscow churches, except for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The cathedrals within the walls of the Kremlin, itself, seem to have been spared. Outside the churches, and outside the Kremlin walls, we saw the Tsar’s Bell and the Tsar’s Cannon, neither of which ever functioned. Afterwards, we had a pretty good lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, although it didn’t come up to the standard of food on the ship. That evening, I didn’t participate in the group activity (a singing concert).

Church of the Dormition, oldest of the Kremlin cathedrals,
constructed under orders of Ivan III by an Italian architect.
Closed under Communism, it was reopened in 1990.

The last day in Moscow, I went with part of the group to the Tretyakov Gallery, a marvelous collection of Russian paintings from medieval times (icons) to modern (impressionist and post-impressionist). The largest and most interesting paintings in the collection (for me) are those of the Russian Realist style – artists from the 18th and 19th century who depicted authentic landscapes and social situations, artists whose names are scarcely known in the west: Perov, Vasiliev, Kranskoi, Surikov, Repin. I had previously seen a couple of the paintings that I remembered – one in a book on religion in Russia, the other at an exhibit at either the Met or MOMA. I believe the latter may have had an exhibit on Russian Art two or three years ago while I was visiting New York.

Cathedral of the Annunciation, Cathedral Square

I also visited the Tretyakov Gallery nearly 20 years ago when I was first in Russia, and I remember particularly the landscapes from that time, as well as a life-sized portrait of Leo Tolstoy in peasant garb.

That afternoon we set sail down the Volga Baltic Canal. This Russian landscape along the water is so soothing, so inviting; it generates in me an intense sense of nostalgia and longing.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Volga River and Moscow, Day 2

I'm picking up the thread of a travel blog that was interrupted over a year ago by several months of illness and by catch-up activities afterwards. The entries are from the journal and photos of a trip to Europe and Russia in 2010--my last overseas trip--during which I tried to see all the places still on my bucket list. It was a wonderful, if exhausting, trip. The previous entry was posted in September of 2014!

6-2-10 (continued)

That first evening in Moscow, I didn’t go on the optional “Sunset tour” of Moscow but rather chose to get some more sleep.

The following morning, we took a bus tour through Moscow to several well-known spots, including Sparrow Hill, where Moscow University rises in stern prominence with its Stalinist main building – one of the “seven sisters” of Stalinist architecture in Moscow. There I bought a couple of souvenirs from a vendor who had a table set up on the edge of the hill overlooking the city. I understood the numbers he told me when I asked him, “Skolko stoit etot?” the Russian is beginning to come back.
Souvenir vendor in the Sparrow Hills;
Moscow University in the background.
 We also went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the main cathedral in Moscow, which had been destroyed by the Communists, but was reconstructed (1994 – 2000) in brilliant white stone topped by golden domes. The interior of the church was beautifully painted and gilded; the alter was covered by the largest, most elaborate baldaccino I remember ever seeing. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow
Afterwards, we visited the famous Novodevichy cemetery (new maiden cemetery), where we happened to see Nadeshda Yeltsin enter by car and place flowers on her husband’s grave. Our guide, Natasha, was almost overcome at the sight of her, and she couldn’t stop talking about Nadeshda and Yeltsin during the entire walk through the graveyard. We saw graves of entertainers (a ballerina, a comedian), politicians (Khrushchev and Stalin, besides Yeltsin), writers (Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov), musicians (Shostakovich) and many others I no longer remember.
Nadeshda Yeltzin laying flowers at her husband's grave
Anton Chekhov's gravestone
Shostakovich's memorial
Khrushchev's grave


That afternoon, we heard stories from veterans of WWII (“The Great Patriotic War”), including a man who had participated in the fighting in Stalingrad, and a woman who had been an army nurse and had been captured by Germans. The person who introduced them was one of our guides (we have six for the 214 people on the trip), and she seemed quite overcome by the idea of these great patriots. She actually wept as she introduced them. Another woman was with the group of veterans, apparently an academic, and her presentation had a Soviet-style flavor to it.
In the evening, I opted out of going to the circus, having already seen the Moscow Circus the last time I was in Moscow (1992), and also because I really don’t much like to watch trained animals, especially not big ones like bears and elephants that are not really domesticated.