Friday, August 31, 2007

Moscow, Part II

I had decided not to go to Nizhniy Novgorod, deciding that one day there would be better spent as two extra days in Moscow (which turned out to be a wise choice). Surprisingly I was even able to return the train tickets (minus a 2.20 ruble fee). So the following day Lidia, Natasha and I finally managed to meet up. Lidia was looking for an old Soviet book a library had lent her, having trusted her to guard it with her life, but her dog had eaten (really!). We met later on, and I remarked at the construction that had been taking place in Red Square, building some sort of stage for something related to Moscow's 860th birthday and remarked at Moscow's age; she reminded me that Rome was almost almost 2800 years old. Touché. Also with Natasha arrived Sveta, who I had met last year but whose contact information (or name) I hadn't gotten before I left, so it was good to catch up with her as well. Lidia soon had to leave; she was flying to St. Petersburg the next morning and had plans, so we bid her farewell, and then the remaining 3 of us walked around, went to a coffee house, and then walked around further. I shudder on how much money I've wasted on ice cream and other such indulgences. "I spent all my money on ice cream and junk food. The rest I wasted." The next day I saw Lenin's tomb, which was quite unbelievable. Also buried at the Kremlin wall (among others) were Brezhnev and Stalin. I was amazed to really see Lenin. I didn't know what to expect, maybe just a closed tomb but it was glass and you could actually see him. I wonder how they preserve him (and for how long they will be able to do so - or whether it's really actually him). I had overheard an English-speaking guide the day before mention that this wasn't his idea; he wanted to be buried with his wife in St. Petersburg. A fitting irony that his communist ideology ended up ruining at least his last dreams too. I lingered, but was yelled at, "не остались!" (don't remain!).

Later I went inside the Kremin and saw a bunch of churches and other random things; it was also amazing to really be there. There were some babushkas picking apples in a garden inside. I later saw the church of Christ the Savior, which awe-inspiringly big and actually had two churches, one on the lower level and then the upper. I think St. Isaac's was far more impressive overall though. Outside I got an SMS from St. Petersburg Katya, asking how it was going, and I replied that things were good and that I really liked Moscow, but not to worry, I still loved St. Petersburg. She replied, "don't even think of loving Moscow more than Petersburg!" I then tried to figure out how ot meet both Natasha and Irina on this last day (which I'd thus far managed to avoid), and surprisingly it more-or-less worked; Natasha and I met up at Universitetskaya, and then Irina joined us a bit later.

While I was waiting at Universitetskaya, sitting on a bench, I saw an old guy sitting next to me talking to some teenagers or thereabouts. I couldn't hear them, what with the metro, but somehow, my mind assessed this situation and told me that he was crazy and that they couldn't get away. Sure enough, when they left, he saw presumably saw me writing in English and had me read something about the English king, and said (in English) that no one sat next to him without the permission of him, the English king. Oh boy. Before I could assent to this and flee, he kept going. He spoke to me mainly in English, although it was hard to hear with the trains going back and forth. It was also hard to understand him not because of his English, which he spoke quite well, but rather because half of it was rambling nonsense. He said something about saving Poland form some sort of Soviet invasion in the 80s, and that he'd saved the world and thus was now the English king. Forgive me if I didn't get all the details of that quite right. It was apparent that in spite of his, maybe schizophrenia, that he was otherwise quite learned. In between the nonsense he spoke of, among other things, the upcoming US elections. He figured the next president would be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (saying the fact that he was half [n word] made him a strong candidate among blacks...and then something about AIDS and syphilis). He also made a pun about Bill Clinton, saying that Hillary had "убила (ubilla)" him for his tomfoolery in the White House (with which he had no problem, by the way). He asked me whether I had studied technical things or humanities, and I said technical (computers and math). He said humanities was better - people were far more interesting. Indeed. He apparently didn't hear the computer part, because he was saying that he respected only computer science as a technical field as there were enough mathematicians, but computers were the future, and so I clarified that I was a computer science major first. He was a doctor of political science, and he started telling me about his dissertation from 30 years ago; it was something about the traits of capitalist nations, but I couldn't quite hear or understand him, as it seemed he was reciting it (in English). He also said he hoped the Soviet Union could come back (not the same way) and said it was possible.

He spoke English, I'd say fluently, and there were parts where he spoke perfectly sensibly in between the ramblings and gibberish. There was something in French on the first sheet about Chirac, and I wondered if he spoke French as well. I marveled at this man, obviously once sharp and clear, his once-young mind now muddled by dementia. It's amazing and downright scary how one's mind can just disintegrate, e.g. Alzheimer's, with one being helpless to stop it or even being blissfully unaware of it - who knows what goes on inwardly within one's consciousness when the outward signs point to nothing? He eventually left, the episode reminding me of a similar one last year with Anna, where a Russian guy went on about such things about Russians having invented the radio, the television, etc, although that time it was entirely in Russian, in spite of my not understanding him, with Anna translating from time to time. As I walked away I saw Natasha on the train and amazed her by meeting her as she exited it; I tried to convey what she had just missed.

So she and I walked around there at the university, and then met Irina at Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow hills?) which is a really nice station, with an open view of the river from the Metro. We were unfortunately at the wrong exit (not realizing there was another) and I was unknowingly without cellphone service. We checked upstairs after a while, and found her, and then I got the messages and missed-call notifications that I hadn't known I was missing. We chatted, and the rapport was fairly interesting, as conversation in Russian when meeting people is fairly rapid fire and doesn't elaborate past what is asked (as I'd seen a little bit in lessons, but this was the first time I'd really experienced it). We walked along the embankment for a while and stopped at a cafe. Afterwards, we had difficulty finding a metro, yet again, but Irina hailed a cab to the metro (less than 5 minutes away, of course) and that was that.

The next day was my last in Moscow; I was leaving early afternoon to Smolensk. I went to the internet cafe and made arrangements Vienna (following Rome) and Barcelona. The internet cafe was terribly slow, thanks to a slow proxy server (basically, all web requests were going through one machine). I stayed longer than I wanted, until an hour before the departure, and compounded by other small things - I missed my train. The "baggage check" at the hotel in the morning consisted of leaving it behind the counter in the lobby; when I returned, all the luggage had been moved downstairs to the real luggage room, which was confusing to find (you had to use a specific elevator and press the button to the 6th floor), and then the attendant wasn't there so I had to wait a minute. Of course my luggage was all the way in the back so I had a tough time retrieving it through the jungle of other suitcases. I hurried to the metro; fortunately I exactly made the train - unfortunately, at the transfer, I just missed it, being unable to make my way through the crowd in time. The doors closed right in front of me. At the train station, I only saw a sign for suburb trains (but the long distance onces turned out to be there too), and I rushed around frantically trying to find the track info. I made my way upstairs to the waiting room to see it was exactly 14:06 (my would-be departure time), and saw my train on the board briefly before it disappeared. Блин (equivalent to "fudge").

I swore lightly but didn't worry too much as there would probably (hopefully?) not be much trouble getting another train as Smolensk was on the way to Belarus. I figured out the scheme of the station, and maybe have made the train if I'd known exactly where to go, although I may not have made it to my car on time all the same, as it takes a while if you're far down the track. Oh well. I bought a ticket to the next train for only 380 rubles (about $15) which left in another hour-and-a-half, and settled down. I was surprised to actually be able to return the ticket for the train I just missed, albeit for about 1/4 the cost; still, missing the train had only ended up costing me a net 200 rubles ($8), so off to Smolensk it was.

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