I wrote a lot in Moscow and St. Petersburg, almost as if in delirium half the time. toward the end of the trip i was violently ill for about a day, and nowadays i suspect that i was slightly under the weather leading up to that but didn't know it. so that may have been a cause for the delirium. this isn't the half of what i wrote, but this is most of the coherent stuff.
Tuesday, 5 january
We got off the plane in helsinki (snow! And that was all we saw) and had to rush right on to our next plane, to moscow. I looked out the window. We landed at about 12.30pm local time, did the customs/luggage thing, met our tour guide, and got bussed to our hotel. Deirdre and I showered, then met anthony at 3pm to go walking.
And walk we did, through snow, which was quite wet because it wasnít very cold. We saw the kremlinís outside, and red square, and the River, and walked across a bridge then decided to turn back, for it would get dark soon. That we did, and when we got to the hotel we napped. It was then that delirium showed up in my dream; I donít remember why or how. I was babbling about it after we woke and cared not that I didnít make any sense.
We woke, and went down for dinner, which was mostly edible. And then I turned Ďround and went back out to see the underside of moscow for the price of a token (which we didnít have to pay, actually) four rubles. I in fact got to ride doubly free, and got a token out of the deal, because the man in front of me forgot to take out his fare card when he went through and he ignored the little electronic song the turnstile played to get his attention. The tour (it was a tour) was good enough; I didnít really pay attention to what she said, just looked and the gorgeous stations and watched the gorgeous people. And then, with a brief stop in red square, we went home, arriving around 10.30pm. straight to bed.
The thing about here is, I feel strongly the presence of people who are recently gone. Absent people are very present here, like crowds of them, talking in russian and whatever else.
The currency exchange is 21 rubles to the dollar now, very nice for us. Some things are cheap here. people keep saying that they hate us, hate americans. My coat is bright blue and this does not help, but I'm warm. And not a lot of pairs of glasses like i wear. I claim it's because they're traumatised by the Odessa Steps scene in Battelship Potemkin the woman with smashed face and glasses and then dean kalb counters that it's money. but i want a more interesting explanation than that and one that doesn't hurt as much, i can't think how hard it must be to not be able to afford to see.
Watching the moving lights. Many moving light displays here. a day in the life of forever. Utterly beautiful children. Lucky Strike clock, new year's tree, noises in the cemetery.
Wednesday, 6 january
at 7.30am we got up, and had breakfast downstairs. None too good. The coffee in granules and the tea in pots. Awful coffee. I couldnít stand a whole cup and it did me no waking, so i prayed all morning for no headache. I wrote while we waited to go on our Ďcity tour.í That was a bus ride, all over the city, and we got out and tromped around a monastery and through a graveyard and such things in the ice and slush. We did leninís tomb. I was more or less miserable the whole time, from boredom, from fellow scholarís negativity, from my wet feet; about time to retire my old boots. We left our tour on the arbat and tried to get back to the hotel. We got lost (my fault really) but found a state bookstore with maps.
We headed out again to find food. We went up tverskaya looking for a russian bistro, fast food joint. This we eventually found, by pushkin square, and the food (though we knew not what we ate) was amazingly good and cheap. And then back down tverskaya with a stop in a big beautiful food and drink store, and then home. there are so many things which remain here only as echoes, like salt patterns on my shoes. Slate sky. Sleep and sleep.
I napped. At 6.25pm I woke and we went to dinner. after dinner I convinced deirdre and anthony to go out. We did, but couldn't find much to do so we went for mcDís sundaes and spoke with a french canadian woman there.
Thursday, 7 january
we got up and did breakfast and the rest of the scholars went to some monastery while we went for coffee at mcDís and then to the Pushkin museum. We took the metro (excellent system, and cheap) and then we got to the place but it was closed! Today is Christmas though. So we walked instead, to another metro station and came back to the hotel briefly. Then back out to try doing GUM (the state dept. store) and red square, but things were closed some more. so we walked some more, and took the metro to Patriarchsí Ponds and did fast food again for lunch.
the metro again to red square, where we went to st. basilís and then were tired. We came home and ate granola bars and sat and talked Ďtil we were falling asleep. So we did that, and got up for dinner. after dinner was a lecture about nonverbal communication; through most of it I wrote.
we have begun a list of ways to get kicked out of russia; our trio has made such lists in all the countries we've visited. it's not long yet:
1. Make a snow sculpture of lenin in Red Square with devil horns on its head.
2. In Lenin's tomb mausoleum, shout "he moved!" in russian at the top of your voice.
Friday, 8 january
we all went, en masse, to the Armoury. Our trio and several others left the group and wandered on our own; there was some groovy stuff there. we finished way before the group so we sat around for a while. I doodled and chatted. a long time ago my aunt told me not to sit when my legs are tired, because I would not be able to get up again. And here I am. having stumbled on to Ground Zero, I drink deeply and then set myself to leave.
And then the kremlin grounds, but we spent not much time there since it was considerably colder than itís been. From there we went to the pushkin museum again; today it was open. Well, apparently there are several pushkin museums because the one we went to wasnít the one deirdre was after. It was, however, a very cool place. We wore odd slipper covers over our shoes and there were old trinkets and lots and lots of books, manuscripts, sketches and the like. Now I want to read pushkin.
From there we went to the other museum, the one with the art that deirdre had been looking for. That was okay, some chagalls but that was all that thrilled me. more and more people are speaking to us in russian; too bad we have no clue what theyíre saying. We came home after that, and deirdre wanted to buy a fur hat but I had no desire to be anywhere but in bed. Which is where I went, for all of a half hour before dinner. then dinner, and then we all ran out to the bolshoi to see Sleeping Beauty.
It was good but terribly long. We rushed home through the cold (though I was well-bundled and okay) and I read before bed.
Saturday, 9 january
up at 7.15am and breakfast, anthony and i threw packets of instant coffee down our throats and chewed on sugarcubes afterward. didn't taste much worse than drinking it, no that's not true itw as pretty awfull. and in the morning we went to the tetryakov gallery. That was okay, but I was highly disappointed that the chagalls were all in hiding. But there was some groovy stuff and afterward we walked back to the hotel in the utter cold. Then to our new adopted neighbourhood, which is the patriarchsí ponds area, for lunch at the starlite diner, an american style place. We got a little lost and went back and forth before we found it, but we did. Groovy place, nice disconnect.
From there to the metro again we are adepts now, or at least I am and went to the artistís market at izmaylovsky park. That was great; it was almost closed but we got the tail end of it. I bought 4 cdís (pink floyd, gipsy kings, dire straits, and U2) for $3 each, and a pushkin book also for $3. Then home, and to GUM, where we wandered not far before collapsing into chairs at a cafť and drinking some. and i write... Deirdre and postcards, anthony and sketches, me and this crazy notebook. Archways, bridgewalks, large and small. Layers on layers. It's our last night in moscow and I will miss moscow. I like russia, it pleases me. it is none too warm in here. echoes of music from several different stores in the GUM layers.
And then home and dinner, and a trip to a nearby underground mall, none too thrilling. Then home, and all of the scholars sat around until the group all left for the leningradsky train station for the midnight train to st. petersburg.
Sunday, 10 january
we were awakened by russian radio at 7.30am or so. I hadnít slept very well at all; I canít blame it on the train, Iím not sure what it was. We got up and clothed and made visits to the not-so-horrendous bathroom, and then off the train at 8.30. breakfast at the hotel was about to close when we arrived so as soon as we got there we ate, and it was wonderful, our best hotel meal yet. then showers before we headed out on our city tour.
That was okay, I sat on the bus and didnít feel too good and looked at the snowy people and wrote. We came home at 1.30pm or so and I was feeling strangely dizzy so I rested a bit, before we headed out in search of lunch. The one satellite tower put me in northern ireland for just a second or two. What's wrong with my head? Headache, repeated dizziness, my nose bleeds when I blow it. am I losing brain matter? Am I okay? Steam from the river.
she said: "we are continuing with great pain..."
the metro here is only 2 rubles. Amazing. we took that toward the centre and had lunch at a bistro (russian fast food for about $3 each, and we were splurging) and then we walked. Now, it was -18degrees centigrade today. very cold. But we walked, and even got ice cream and ate it outside as so many russians apparently do, and we crossed the river on to the island and walked some more. at least an hour, and it was so cold, but it was a good experience. Not even as uncomfortable in the cold as Iíd imagined. And the city itself was of course beautiful.
We squeezed on to the ridiculously crowded metro around 5pm to go home. we eventually managed to do this, though the metro here is considerably more difficult to navigate than the one in moscow. There are actually elevator-type doors and walls between the train and the platform in some stations, so that you can only hear the train coming and not see it. then the elevator doors open, and the trainís doors themselves open, and only then can people disembark and embark.
At home we read a bit before dinner, which was again excellent. Then upstairs to read more. but I was falling asleep.
Monday, 11 january
I woke up just before 7am, and showered and then did breakfast. Then in the morning we went on a tour with the group, and saw the peter and paul fortress and st. isaacís cathedral. Nothing too thrilling, other than the graves of the romanovs at peter and paulís. then the people who were going on an afternoon, $30 tour of the summer palaces went on the bus, and those of us who werenít going (itíd cost maybe $10 on our own) were left to fend for ourselves.
as I find tours insufferable to start and donít have $30 to throw away, I stayed behind. and i didn't want to hear all the scholars complaining. Spoiledness. What no-one seems to understand is that we are spending $250 for a trip across the world, and a place to stay, and then they complain about any little thing, why do we need to be so negative? Why does being negative make one smarter, or cooler?
but anyway I hung out with a new gang all 6 of us who didnít go and I was quite glad I did that. mary, peter, anna, kate, and chrissy. The girls are all sophomores and peter is a junior and they made me laugh. So we went first to the astoria hotel, looking for its cafť but instead using its money change and restrooms. We couldnít find the cafť. So we went on to the literary cafť, where loads of writers went way back when, and we had semi-russian food; I had sturgeon (very strange, all wrapped up in jelly stuff, i didn't like it too much but i managed to eat it all) and ice cream (not together).
blind roads, if there are markings the slush covers them. ghost shipyards? 50,000 unemployed people in this city.
We went next to the anthopology/ethnology museum, which doubles as a museum of medical oddities. That was pretty groovy, pretty gross. The a/e exhibits were interesting but all captioned in russian only. And then we were done; we took the tram to the tube.
we got home at 5pm, did dinner and then left immediately for the ballet. La sylphide. Supposedly scottish, and I was decidedly unthrilled by it. it was very short and not very passionate.
Tuesday, 12 january
up at 7.30, breakfast, and then at 10am we all got on the bus and went to the hermitage. For 2.5 hours, we did the tour, and I was quite impressed by the place. Towering ceilings, gilding, ballrooms, all very beautiful. Loads of malachite. Deirdre and I were commenting later at the loving way that they care for the stuff; something again about layers of history which are so important here. so we did our tour, and I wandered away from the group frequently and I wrote snippets of junk in my notebook.
The tour ended but we were staying; we stopped at the museum cafť for lunch (still extremely cheap by our standards, even in the museum), and then we walked on. we covered most of the place, and worked our leg muscles though I kept on stopping all over the place and writing. Around 4.30pm we left, came home on the metro.
after dinner a whole slew of us followed valentina (a russian expat NYU prof who is on the trip) and some of her russian friends to her bday party, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. We took the metro then waited in the snow for the tram, onto which we all squeezed somehow, and then got off into something that looked very like a scene from orson wellesí The Trial. Snow, big spaces, and then big high-rise apartment buildings, huge monolithic chunks of concrete that seem to come out of nowhere. So we tromped through the snow and into the party on the 11th floor.
This was our best night here, I think. We talked with russians and sang songs (irish stuff, russian stuff, american stuff) and even danced a little. in order to get the metro before it closed, a few of us left.
Some of the Americans have said to me: "I hate russia, man! All russians should go to siberia!" they are half joking but it still makes me want to cry. i actually am loving it.
Wednesday, 13 january
Twice during the night I had to go throw up. I know there are multiple things going around the group. I didnít feel right at all. I stayed in bed Ďtil noon, then I roused myself and showered but still felt pretty gross.
Surprisingly I was content during my boring afternoon; I tried watching tv and listening to the radio a bit but these proved boring, so I spent most of the time reading. I finished m&m and started deirdreís copy of The Alchemist by paolo coelho, with which I quite fell in love. It reminds me of Le Petit Prince. I finished it in the evening before bed. Other than that I just stared at the walls, enjoyed my reclining position, and tried to eat now and again. I didnít throw up anymore, and started to feel a bit better around 3pm, but things still werenít right. For dinner i only ate bread, and I listened to people talk in my own daze.
then back to the room, and after a while some people came over: brian, peter, mike and of course anthony. I was fading in and out of the conversation and mostly tried to listen. But I had to kick them out when I wasnít feeling well. Then I read, then bed.
Thursday, 14 january
we woke at 7am, without the aid of a wakeup call, and packed and left. On the way to the aeroport the group first stopped at a WWII memorial, but I still wasnít feeling great and was tired and weak, so I stayed in the bus and talked with a fellow senior. Then we headed on to the aeroport. And eventually we got on the plane; the flight to helsinki was very short and when we got there we got some yummy coffee non-powder coffee, O Finland O!, and then got on the next plane.
That flight was, of course, not short. I sat there and read a don delillo book of chrisís and that lasted only about half the flight; for the other half I wrote or tried to sleep. I wrote. The scholars were all being loud around me and I just wanted them to be quiet so I could sleep but they wouldnít. I still felt rather sick. Sweden and norway and greenland were stunning beneath me (I had a window seat) and canada too and then home. home, eventually. The weather was bad and i just wanted to be home, a pretty strange feeling for me. on the plane i wrote this:
do you know why I've been going to all these places? maybe a dozen international flights in a year and ten days? It's because I am trying to understand what it is to come back. I'm trying to find the point of having a home. and what the trip showed me, like all things it has deepened my understanding of my need for God. Like all trips it has inspired me to forego eating and sleeping in favour of time spent in front of a glowing screen and words, words, endless words that say next to nothing. (but at least they're only next to nothing). It has give me desire to be persistent in the face of my own idiocy and laziness, like these russians have persisted in the face of the idiocy of the world. It has changed my definition of cold. It has changed my definition of personal possessions, and poor; I thought I was poor before I left, and now I find that I am wealthy beyond recognition. It ransacked my heart but not my pocketbook.
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