Jumping train tracks and surviving… Does that mean Russian Fate is smiling on us?

November 28th, 2009

suzdal-sunsetShort preamble: Sorry this blog is so late! It’s sat around for over a week; however, life has intervened. Between the internet not working (do I love you Russia, why yes), and sadly having to move host families, it’s just been impossible to post. So I apologize and there will be another post next week! Hope you all had a great Turkey Day (ours included carrot soufflé, grilled cheese, and eggplant parmesan), until next week!

I’d like to start out with a shout out to Stephanie and Olga, whom I spent a fantastic weekend with in Moscow. And what a weekend it was…
I have a friend who was just awarded a Pickering Fellowship, so the government is paying for her school and giving her a job as a Foreign Services Officer (I honestly couldn’t think of a better person for the job). She is currently going through her security clearance, which meant she had an appointment at the Embassy in Moscow. You know, the Embassy no one can find. The poor girl spent over an hour looking for the Embassy (and of course all the phone numbers she was given did not work). Finally she managed to come upon the back of the Embassy and managed to explain to the guards (who spoke no English) that she had an appointment. God help you if you ever have to get to the Embassy in Moscow quickly (what should have been a 15 minute trip turned into over an hour).
Meanwhile I spent my free time at the Russian Museum of History at Red Square. The Museum is organized chronologically, with some very interesting artifacts from the very beginning of Russian history. The collection makes it harder to place Russia in Europe or Asia. Many of the artifacts could have easily been in a British or German museum, and many more could have been easily been mistaken for those in Asia. It seems from the very beginning of time Russia has not been able to identify itself solely with the West or the East.
The next morning we made our way to Lenin’s Mausoleum… Boy was that an experience, starting with the line to get into the Mausoleum. Just within the line to alone there were probably ten different nationalities, and of course the other American zoned in on us immediately. As we were being prodded along by the police through the line, he made a fantastic comparison: “Geez, getting in here is like getting in line for Space Mountain.” And yes, it was exactly like standing in line for Space Mountain.
Once we finally made it through security (which included metal detectors and a friendly frisk thanks to my large collection of kopeks). Going through the memorial gardens leading up to the Mausoleum, and the Mausoleum itself, was yet another one of those Russian experiences that left me more confused afterwards than I had been going in. You are rushed through the gardens preceding the Mausoleum, and then comes the pit. The Mausoleum is very somber and poorly lit, I had the distinct impression I was walking into a dark pit. The guards are, like most Russian guards at monuments, very somber and slightly intimidating (as they’re meant to be). The only time I saw any of the guards move was a) when I was asked to remove my hands from my coat pockets, and b) when they told you to keep moving.
We were lucky enough to spend all of ten seconds in the same room as Lenin (fine with me, that was one creepy experience). He is poorly lit, besides some red light that just makes him look waxy and pink (gross). Lenin; however, was not the most interesting part of the Mausoleum, the cemetery in the Kremlin wall following the Mausoleum was far more interesting.
Various Russian heads-of-state and other important Communists are buried here, from Kruschev to Stalin and other Communists most Americans have never heard of. Every grave has (red) flowers on it, some more than others. Most people breeze right through the cemetery (I don’t feel comfortable calling it this, it didn’t quite feel like a cemetery), and miss many of the graves. My friend and I found Stalin (surprise) most interesting. Stalin was at one point housed in the Mausoleum, but moved into the cemetery next to the Kremlin wall shortly after. His bust is by no means extraordinary unless you take the time to look at it, and you would notice that, unlike all the other busts, his eyes are in fact hollowed out. This gives him a look so disconcerting that it reveals the creepiness that was seeing the dead man that should have decomposed already. It also tells you quite a bit about how the Russians felt about Stalin in the years following his death.
The Kremlin aside, we managed to make our way to the tourist market in Moscow (which is huge, touristy, and I highly recommend). I did my best to torture all the vendors who greeted me in English by refusing to show any interest in their products unless they responded to my Russian greeting in Russian. The majority of them had played this game before with students and happily obliged me. We were lucky enough to stumble into a dark corner of the market and meet one of the artists, who sold my friend a beautiful piece. This woman complimented us on our Russian (always a plus) and asked if we could do her a favor.
This woman has a daughter living in Moscow, who has read (like many of the Russians I interact with) that the American government is forcing all its citizens to get a vaccine against swine flu. The artist said her daughter was considering leaving Moscow until the epidemic was over, and asked us to email her daughter and explain that the government was not forcing everyone to get vaccines (the implication was if they didn’t get the vaccine, they would die). We agreed, but I’m only 90% sure Obama isn’t forcing all of the US to get a vaccine (such is our access to news here).
At last came the time to buy train tickets back to Vladimir, which took over an hour. The lines at train stations typically move very slowly, but they moved especially slow at 4:00 pm on the 21st of November because, as it turned out, we had arrived right when the entire station started its fifteen minute break. And thus people continued to line up; luckily the Russians were none the more pleased with this than we were. Tickets bought, we decided to sit in the station as we only had a little over an hour until our train left. Twenty minutes until departure we set off to find our train, confident that it was at platform six. We make our way to platform six, where it says “Vladimir Express.” I hand my ticket to the conductor, who tells me I have the wrong way and points me in the general direction of twenty other trains.
Getting frantic, we walk away and I ask some Russians I pass if they know what platform I need, and they point me right back to platform six. I approach a different conductor, who tells us to hurry back to the station (600 yards away) to the platforms that feed from the station. Seven minutes left, we take off at a dead sprint to this particular group of platforms, only to discover we turned too early and hit a fence. We saw a number of young men jumping the tracks (a five foot drop), and I momentarily forgot that I am indeed not a man, and jumped down onto the tracks.
My much wiser friend decided to book it backwards to make it through the station back to the platform, at the very moment I discovered that I could not make onto the other side of the platform (something about it coming up to my nose). Panicked, I asked two young Russian men on the platform if they could help me, and very quickly found myself being pulled up onto the platform. This being said, I am by no means a light person and need to give a quick shout-out to this two means: thanks for not attacking me and also not leaving me to get hit by a train.
By making this stupid move, I had essentially stranded my friend, who could not get into the group of platforms we needed without her ticket. Which was in my purse. So she stood at the gates as people scanned their tickets to open the automatic doors, until, by chance, someone scanned their ticket on the wrong door and opened the one she was standing in front of (with, I imagine, the look of a stunned deer on her face). The guard on the opposite side, who could clearly tell she had no ticket, looked at her like she was the world’s most honest idiot, and said, “Well, what are you waiting for, go on!”
Russian fate was smiling upon us, as we found each other only by means of collision, and ran past trains asking if it was the Vladimir Express. The Vladimir Express was, of course, the very last train. We hopped on the first car (ours was the ninth) only seconds before the train departed. I’m going to chalk that one up as a win.
After we had found our seats and caught our breath, my friend turned to me and asked, “Katie, what would have happened if you weren’t beautiful and I weren’t athletic?” Well, dear, I wouldn’t have been helped up (only to be later hit by a train) and you wouldn’t have made it to the platform. And that, ladies and gentleman, is Russian fate at its very finest.
No songs this week, but check out the previous blog (film recommendations).

chess-at-the-market

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