Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Way to Russian Dolls

Russian nesting dolls, or "madrutchka," as my infinitely forgiving Russian teachers keep telling me, have become my sick tourist obsession. I have yet to find a set in which I am desirous of investing, however. I encountered a series of enigmatic signs such as this one, followed them to their terminus at the end of an alley, but there was no beautiful hand painted folk art to be found.

Moscow has proven to be a very exciting and confusing place for me, not only because I remain unable to properly use any technology that could aid my planning and coordination. Therefore, to help all of you avoid any possible mistakes when you visit, I will tell you about my experience through a list of "Do's and Dont's" most of which I "did."

DO: Make friends with a Russian person, or at least aRussian speaker, as there are never any cool event listings in English, and English signage usually consists of 1/10th of the information necessary to accomplish simple survival tasks like crossing the street, let alone doing interesting and worthwhile activities.

DONT: Begin to love and rely on them so much that when faced with Russian society as a whole with no translator/accomplice/advocate you become a shadow of the person you once were and literally give yourself nightmares about non-English-speaker conspiracies.

DO: Pay the student price all the time, they have never checked my card yet. Pay only 50 rubles to go into St. Basil's in Red Square, it is actually nine different churches smashed together, and probably the weirdest place of worship I have ever toured.

DONT: Expect to have any informational placards translated into English anywhere, ever. Also don't expect public restrooms, and if they do exist, don't think they will be Western style*.

DO: Wander the GUM, a beautiful maze of Victorian arcades, once the place where dismal lines queued for scarce goods, now where luxury boutiques peek out from beautiful cherry blossom trees, and a fairytale-like fountain crowns is the center of it all.

DONT: Even dream that you can afford to buy anything there. It is more likely that a shopper there would mistake me as their serf and carry me back to their fiefdom with them.

DO: Buy as many beautiful Russian dolls as you can.

DONT: Skip a perfectly beautiful set because you think you "might find an even more perfect one later." You are tempting fate, a dangerous game!

With these simple steps, you are sure to have as good a time, if not even better, as I am in Moscow. On my first full day in the city, under the care of a friend's mother who works in the city, I got the privilege of seeing the most beautiful church I have seen in years**, a lovely collection of 19th and 20th century European painters, the famous Arbat street, and an epic exposition of Russian dance, history and folk dress at the Soviet style behemoth hotel, Kosmos. I was also exposed to the Russian delicacies of blini c ecraw, glacé, kbac, and a salad with the delightfully horrifying name of "herring under a fur coat."*** You may not recognize me when I get home.


*Otherwise known as including a seat, toilet paper, and a flushing mechanisms. Any or all of these can be missing in a given toilet here. I am not complaining, merely warning.

**The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was inspired and designed in 1813 by Alexander I to celebrate the retreat of Napoleon from the city, constructed by Nicolas I in 1832 in a different style and location, was demolished in 1931 by the Soviets, made into the world's largest swimming pool by Kruschev, then rebuilt in the mid-nineties by the Russian Orthodox Church. Talk about politically influenced architecture!

***Crepes and red caviar, coffee with ice cream, a lightly fermented rye drink that is served from tiny kegs in the street for about 75 cents, and a Napoleon style salad with layers of herring and raw onion, potato, shaved carrot, shaved beet, and a beet mayonnaise topping, respectively.

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