I had the opportunity last month to go to Moscow, Russia. As a country, I had never been particularly interested in exploring it but when the trip came my way I jumped at the chance. In general, if there is an opportunity to experience a new country, I will take it.
Upon arriving, there was a local woman named Anna to greet me. She was born and raised in Moscow and had seen Russia through many iterations. I lack a deep understanding of Russian history but Anna was able to tell the story through the different architecture and monuments. Of the many things that struck me, the most impactful were the beautiful buildings with molding and facades built during Stalin’s reign (Stalinist Architecture’ is the term typically applied to the years between 1933 and 1955 and the architects had to be a member of the Union of Soviet Architects). Then, right next to it would be a stark and dilapidated building that was build only a few years later.
I stayed in the city center so there was a polish to the area that I know is not reflective of the rest of the country. It’s like going on holiday in Paris and only seeing Saint Germain-des-Pres area. But I was fortunate to have Anna who took me to a wonderful museum Tretyakov State Gallery, an Orthodox church on a side street and to a local mall.
At the church, Anna asked the church lady if I could take pictures (in Moscow, you have to pay extra at museums to take pictures, if you’re even allowed at all). She agreed and I made my way through the small church. I was struck by how dark it was and that there were no benches or chairs. Apparently, one stands during an Orthodox service. When I was done, I went to thank the church lady who had some questions for me.
(As translated through Anna)
Church Lady: Have you ever been in an Orthodox Church?
Me: No, it’s my first time.
CL: How did you feel being in here?
Me: Peaceful. I especially like seeing the workers clean.
CL: That’s good as some people feel very anxious here because it’s so dark. Are you Catholic?
CL: Are you Protestant?
CL: Do you believe in any God?
Me: Well, I believe in a higher power that looks over me and who I can turn to.
CL (she shakes her head a bit): You need to find a God so you can be saved.
I thanked her and left.
The shopping mall was quite an experience. We entered a large rounded structure to a foyer where there were a few aisles to take. Lining those aisles was every kind of store (most quite small) you would need: grocery store (this was the largest), art supplies, dry cleaning, china, trinkets, cigarettes, car showroom and the ever important fur coats.
Putting the mink coats aside, the youth had a very hip style. Yes, there were very young people driving Maserati’s and dripping with designer hand-bags, but a lot were going about their work-day with a fresh look. One evening I happened upon a great clothing store that had white hanging racks and shelves with beautiful and unique clothes. Moscow is an extremely expensive city and the independent clothing store is no exception where I saw a simple white blouse for 35,000 RUB / 833 €. I also could never quite wrap my head around the conversion of dividing 42 into 35,000.
I was given a small look at a country that after it’s long history of Communism, is now not truly free and my interest has been peaked. And I especially to learn more of the history of people like Anna.