- Back from Russia; a week in Moscow. Just about shed of jet lag, but it’s insidious. Eight hour time difference, and the city is MUCH farther north so this time of year, it’s light at 4 am and still light well past 10 pm. Pineal gland is not happy.
The family-business part of the trip went smoothly, and Timothy became an American when he (or his parents) set foot in the US on disembarking from the plane. He has adjusted to family life after 18 months in an orphanage.
The artistic part of the trip was interesting. I visited the Armory, the Diamond Hall, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, the Pushkin Museum, the Central House of Artists, the New Tretyakov Gallery, and the Gorky House Museum.
The short answer: Visit the Cathedral, and the Gorky House Museum.
What the guide books don’t tell you:
- The Russians have not solved climate control in their museums. Admittedly, it was July, and for Moscow, hot. The Renoirs and Monets in the Pushkin were being protected with room dehumidifiers; no evidence of air conditioning.
- Russian museum stores don’t take credit cards.
- The Cathedral will not allow women in wearing lipstick, shorts, or sleeveless shirts. They would be happier if women’s heads were covered, but they will allow this at least when service is not in session.
- There are no exit signs in the Diamond Hall, and few elsewhere. One can only speculate about fire protection, and whether the guards would be responsible to the visitors first.
The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer was built in 1880, bulldozed by Stalin, and rebuilt in 1995. The impact is perhaps less on anyone who hasn’t been in Moscow for any length of time and observed the lack of “Western” services, attitudes, and ability to master basic concrete. (We lived in Moscow 1971-74, which was the very beginning of detente.) “HOW did they do it?” was the question on my mind at first, and only later did “What is this religion about?” surface. Because the plans for the original cathedral still existed, there were no architectural fights. And the building is still new; it may be that structural problems will appear with time (apparently, the site is problematic: marshy). But it is a magnificent structure, decorated in the Russian Orthodox style (probably not any four square inches in any one color, unless carved gold on the iconostases). I found it overwhelming, simply pondering the “how” question.
Later, the “religion” question became more clear. The Russians have been separated from their religion for almost 90 years, and the very first thing they did when they had the freedom was to rebuild their Cathedral, to the tune of $200M US, give or take. (Some discussion about whether this was all private or some state money; given the reported condition of organized crime and graft, one could consider that public and private funds have the same source.) The Russians have not implemented credit cards or western retail practices, they have improved their automobile ownership but it is not anywhere near US standards, they dress better than they did under the Soviets but there’s a way to go yet. But they built a cathedral that in its own way can stand up to any of the masterpieces of religious architecture.