01 June 2008

From Red Square to Tolstoy's Estate: Photo Reportage

Even after a year in Russia, this place sometimes strikes me as just plain weird. Especially when I slow down and look around through the eyes of my visiting friends and family.

While I was waiting for my parents on Red Square:

While we were waiting for the bus at Yasnaya Polyana:



kg said...

What does it say about one if she doesn't find it weird?

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

When it seems totally normal to see three middle-aged men sitting in a ditch, arguing and drinking beer, it means that your Russian soul is in full bloom.

I think the oddity factor was heightened for me by a slightly strange experience while waiting in line to use the bathroom at the cafe that makes food from Tolstoy's favorite recipes:

Buster to drunk, middle-aged Russian man (not pictured): Are you also waiting? [He was staring off into the sky and it wasn't clear.]

DMR: What?

Buster: Are you waiting for the toilet?

DMR: And where did you learn to speak Russian so well? [A compliment slightly undercut by him not understanding me the first time, right? And also not an answer to my question at all.]

Buster: In Moscow. [DMR's friend comes out of the toilet.]

DMR's friend: It's free now.

Buster: Thanks...

DMR: And where are you from?

Buster (halfway into toilet): Nu, what do you think?

DMR: Gmmmmmm. [Long pause while I'm still in the doorway, edging back toward him so someone else could use the bathroom.] Give me a little second.

Buster: I'll wait.

DMR: It's not easy. [Longer pause while he stares into my soul?] I'd say... India.

Buster: Almost, my dad's from India but I was raised in America.

DMR: America? I said India because your Russian's too good for America. Gmmm. And why are you here?

Buster: To see Tolstoy's home. Where are you from?

DMR: Just down the road 50 kilometers, a small town called brzhblahbrrrsk. [Sorry, I totally couldn't understand the name of the town.] Have you heard of it?

Buster (edging back toward the toilet): Nope. Do you come to Yasnaya Polyana often?

DMR: Yes, every month at least.

Buster: Why?

DMR: This is our holy ground (sviatost'), our roots (korni)! [Ed. note: he was being "corny"--rimshot, please!]

Buster: OK, I got it... I wish you the best!

DMR: And happiness to you.

By the way, I certainly don't mean "weird" as a bad thing, in case any MTBE readers haven't figured that out by now.

lena said...

okay, you've solved one mystery, but what about the other one? why is the first picture weird?

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

For serious?

Okay, maybe I should have been a little more expansive in my commentary. It's not that any of these shots strike me as atypical nor do they seem inexplicable. Rather, it's the little details (like being in a ditch right next to a pretty major tourist attraction--if only I got some snaps of the wedding parties and the brides vamping it up while leaning up against old Leo's house).

In the first shot: the eighteen-year-old skinny guard smoking on duty (as always) and hanging out with his black-jacketed friends while posted at one of the most public locations in Russia; his friend, with the trademark close-cropped hair revealing an inevitable scar on the top of his head, telling Italian (or maybe Spanish) tourists something that frightens them so much that they took off running (or maybe he just told them that Kremlin tickets were selling out so they better hurry off through the garden); the leather-jacketed woman MVD guard who just paced back and forth without ever looking up for the entire 15 minutes I was standing by the mausoleum; and let's not forget that all of this is set up because there's some waxy, chemically-dipped dude in a big tomb to the left of these kids.

Like I said, it's not that I think these things can't be explained or that these are really unusual moments of Russian life. It's always the typical things that strike me as weird. I get the same feeling watching primetime television in America or walking through a mall in Terra Haute. And then there's the doubling of: why does this seem so weird?

Maybe it is just me.

Anonymous said...

When I visited Moscow in 1980 our group was taken to the Mausoleum. We stood in a long line that wound across the Square; our guide explained that smoking was not permitted and suggested the men not put their hands in their pockets, which would indicate a lack of the proper reverence. Was that even weirder, or is the 1980-2008 contrast the weirdest thing of all?

Malathi said...

The only thing that strikes me is that I am just totally nostalgic.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

rootless, I think you would find the contrast slight in some ways. My friends were all struck by how serious the guards inside the Mausoleum were about keeping you pacing and making sure your hands aren't in your pockets.

Malathi, I understand! As weird as I find things, I am already having pre-nostalgia, as I leave in two weeks.

Malathi said...

"...as I leave in two weeks."

Oh no. What will your blog be called after that?

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Oh no. What will your blog be called after that?

Good question. Brooklyn through brown eyes seems a little silly, since that is the perspective of more than 60% of the population there. "Looking back at Moscow through brown eyes" sounds like a terrible retrospective film festival...

Anyone else have ideas???

I am thinking I might just start something completely new. After a little break to re-adjust to a massive cheburek and smoked cheese withdrawal. Luckily I live just a few express stops from Brighton Beach. BB through brown eyes, anyone?

Malathi said...

Moscow withdrawal.
Buster out of Moscow.
Busted out of Moscow.
Missed in Moscow.
Wanted in Moscow (subtext: by friends and neighbours).
Moscow on my mind.
Exiled on Brighton Beach.
Brown in Brighton Beach.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Hmmm, in Brighton Beach would be inaccurate since I'll be in Sunset Park, but maybe "Brown Around Brighton Beach?" An unfortunate acronym (BABB), but if I can add two more words that start with an "L" and an "E," we'd be getting somewhere...

Maybe I won't scrap this blogging thing.

Malathi said...

Ethos for the 'E' part? But no appropriate word for the 'L' part comes to my mind.

You don't have to publish this comment.

Malathi said...

BABB Living the Ethos?
BABB Liking the Ethos?

Too complicated?

Again, you don't have to publish this if you don't want to.