Russia: Signs

This is just a small collection of graphic moments in Cyrillic that caught my eye. Enjoy! The timing on the one above was practically perfect. It feels something like a Magritte to me - minus the bowler cap.

Muscovites and their Big Macs . . . tour guides in Moscow are still talking about McDonald's and those infamous lines. This is supposedly one of the busiest.

Such a happy little sign. "Step right up" it chirps - a mere 50 Rubles (about 2 USD) to ride the Merry-Go-Round!

An old-fashioned coffee advert towering over a small town's main square? (At least I think that's what the hand-cranked coffee mill implies - although the burly-bearded man in his crooked cap kind of throws me).

Russia: Pushkin Fairytale Forest

In the village of Mandrogi, there lies an enchanted pathway dedicated to Pushkin, a Russian poet exalted for his artistic spinning of fantastical tales.

One must forge a river to reach this forest of apparitions.

Kasey pitched in her woman-power to get us there.

Once we reached the other side, we wandered through woods where Pushkin's prologue to "Ruslan and Ludmila," his first and most lionized poem, was brought to life:

There on trails past knowing are tracks of beasts you never met . . .

A hut on chicken feet,
Without a door, without a window,
An evil witch's lone retreat

A grieving princess in a cell, and faithful wolf that serves her well . . .

There pines Koshchei
(and Kasey!) and lusts for gold....

What marvels there! A mermaid sitting (and my mom gazing!)

The woods and valleys there are teeming
With strange things....

Here I am at the mercy of Baba Yaga.

And making my escape . . .

Pushkin knew we were coming! He surely wrote the passage below for us:

For you, queens of my soul, my treasured
Young beauties, for your sake did I
Devote my golden hours of leisure
To writing down, I'll not deny,
With faithful hand of long past ages
The whispered fables.... Take them, pray,
Accept these playful lines, these pages
For which I ask no praise.... But stay!

Alas, despite his asking so prettily, we could not stay . . .

And in our abandonment . . .

. . . left only wooden figures for company.

But our lyricist was not deterred:

And there I stayed, and drank of mead;
That oak tree greening by the shore
I sat beneath, and of his lore
The learned cat would chant and read.
One tale of these I kept in mind,
And tell it now to all my kind…

The below verse isn't related to the tale Pushkin was gearing up to tell, but it's a lovely accompaniment for the parting shot . . .

Dawn brings waves that, gleaming . . .
There’s Russian spirit! Russia’s scent!

Russia: Kizhi Island

Kizhi is a wild and pristine and grassy little island floating on sea-like lake in the far far north of Russia. What draws people to this remote place is a unique church, made entirely of wood; an idyllic relic that completes the setting's refreshing and restorative atmosphere.

This church compound is considered one of the world's architectural wonders - not just for the ingenious use of lumber, but because it was constructed without a single nail.

The shingles' silver sheen is because of Aspen. Apparently the domes can also take on a pinkish tone when the season is right and there's a sufficiently overcast sky.

The intricately mixed artistry of this structure has the sense of an elegant jigsaw.

One cupola, barely visible, poking through the middle of the fence.

A view from the island's historic wooden manor. (Do you see the young boy enthusiastically swinging his arms near the water's edge?)

Kasey humoring me by standing in the doorway for an exterior shot of the manor's entry.

Cute girl in old-fashioned garb demonstrating the old-fashioned way to make tea on Kizhi island.

Expensive wood-carved toy with loads of personality - he just reeks of being fresh from an adventure in a children's picture book.

Impressive needlework done by hand.

Supposedly wearing a belt, like the one spilling out of the little purse hanging on this post, encircles a person with protection from . . . just general bad luck I guess.

Parting shot: a flawless summer day in picture-form.

Russia: Red Square

Saint Basil's Cathedral's kaleidoscopic onion domes, seen above and peeking through the archway below, were our first encounter with the signature oddities of Russian Orthodox Church architecture. Watching these psychedelic twist-ice-cream-cone structures rise up from the cobblestones felt like stumbling across a character from a fable story in our mortal realm. It is awe-inspiring to see something in life that would definitely be at home in illustrations of imaginative tales like Gulliver's Travels or Arabian Nights, but isn't something you think anyone would actually build, especially not as early as the 1500's, and certainly not outside of Disneyland.

The fact that this whimsical edifice is dedicated to something as serious as God creates even more dissidence and makes the monument all the more bewildering to behold. But there it is, its frippery adding a diverting, almost light-hearted quality, to the Red Square's more grave overtones - where political protests have been held and Communist leaders have been entombed.

Below is a fuller view of Red Square - sans Lenin's Mausoleum (it would appear off to the right if this was a wider shot). As a history aficionado, I was actually very excited at the prospect of seeing Lenin, but then, when it actually came to it, I chickened out. Perhaps if I'd done it quickly without thinking it may have happened, but as I stood there deliberating, my mom mentioned reading about how he's occasionally besieged by fungus. I believe that's when the gruesome reality of the pilgrimage set in, after which, I just couldn't stomach the idea.

Just outside of Red Square . . . my dad is standing in the spot that denotes the very center of Moscow.

You can make a wish if you stand at the edge of the golden circle and throw a coin over your shoulder into Moscow's center (as my dad and sister are about to demonstrate).

There's a crew of little babushka gypsies who watch the coin's trajectory.

They unabashedly scurry around picking up the spoils of superstition.

Then the comrades gather 'round to examine and show-off their plunder. (I wonder what their stance is on the wishes . . . )

Russia: Little Soldiers

This guard was not enthused about having his picture taken. He began pacing, turning his back, and glaring as soon as he noticed me and my photographic intentions. What you see above was managed in a moment when he was forced to look smart as a dark executive sedan passed by. I felt a smidge of victory in capturing this because while Russia's men (and women!) in uniform aren't the easiest or most willing camera subjects, they are ubiquitous.

Granted, some of the servicemen sightings were because the Russian equivalent of Fleet Week was going on in St. Petersburg during part of our time there, but Fleet Week or none, there were people in arresting outfits nearly everywhere. It almost seemed like a throwback to what I would imagine the Soviet-era to have been, but I suppose, a lingering sense of a police state should not have come as a complete surprise.

At any rate, I was so unnerved and struck by the number of regimentals diffused throughout the former U.S.S.R. that I made an effort to get a few good shots of them without being overly conspicuous (after all, when a place takes security this seriously, I'd rather avoid arousing suspicion if I can help it). Enjoy.

I love it - the quintessential troika of sailors with brewskies in hand.

Come to find out later, I could/should have been fined for taking this pic. The use of cameras anywhere on the metro is strictly prohibited.

St. Petersburg - just outside the Hermitage. Look at the height of these round crescent-moon hats!

Two serious soldiers walking near the Kremlin in Moscow.

Sleek and sophisticated - there were also plenty of women in this particular getup - doing a sassy strut that accentuated the fact that they each had a dagger hanging from their hip.

And here's Kasey and me modeling the distinctive Russian soldier hats (just so you get the full effect) at the Izmailovsky market in Moscow.


This is the scene that greeted Kasey and me the evening we stopped back in London for a mere night in the course of our still-continuing torrent of travels.

Everything was perfect. Perfect temperature, perfect sky, perfect song played at the perfect penetrating decibel by the street musician. Most extraordinarily, perfect people: holding hands, stopping in awe at the sunset, being a crowd of comforting white noise. I dare say it was a solid half-hour of perfection - and I dare say nearly everyone who accompanied us beside the Thames, then walked and stopped with us across the Hungerford Bridge, would agree.

So deep were we into our arcadia that we were exchanging knowing looks with strangers, some of whom were taking pictures, making calls, trying to capture, trying to convey . . . then staring up at the sky, shaking our heads in wonder, in recognition. Because this was it, the sort of nectar we humans live for: arriving at a comforting place where suddenly you're surrounded by enough undeniable bliss that you can't feel the ends of it, can't reach outside of it, for a moment it permeates everything you can comprehend about your existence.

And when we reached the other side, the sunset had more or less dissolved into the darkness, the bobbing sounds of the murmuring crowd had faded, and the musician had stopped playing his song - and Kasey and I felt a significant salutation of welcome from our dear city had passed. Like our lungs and eyes and souls had been unconditionally embraced by the familiar air that had missed us - that we had missed.

Oh my, it was so good to be back.