Moscow: day 1

We've taken our first day in Moscow slowly, to orient ourselves. Besides getting acquainted with the subways and strolling the length of Varvarka Street (Moscow's oldest), we spent most of the day on and around Red Square, where we plan to return tomorrow for an exhibition that was closed today: "The Myth of the Beloved Leader" at the State Historical Museum. Today we visited the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed (a complex of ten churches under as many domes, where we stopped to hear a 4-man vocal group who made a chapel and its labyrinthine corridors vibrate to old Russian paeans to God), GUM and the other part of the historical museum (open today) for pre-20th century Russia.

Vast and overwhelming. So much history, so complex, and all the labels in Russian — which may be why we were the only foreigners we saw in the place. Fortunately Susana had found on the Internet and printed out case-by-case descriptions of things in all the 18th and 19th century halls, but when we got into earlier times — Mongol invasions, medieval salt production (I think that's what a big wooden machine was doing), cruel and primitive weapons, all the way back to the mammoths and giant rhinoceros that were there before the humans — we could call upon only our memories of past readings and my searches through my Russian-English dictionary to interpret what we saw.

Still, it was worthwhile. Viewing clothing, tools, housing and artifacts linked with images we had retained from Tolstoi and every other Russian author who had passed through our consciousness, each of these experiences (reading and seeing) strengthening the other. So we are beginning to feel Russia, which is important to understand it.

And that of course is the main reason I've been studying the language. I've made small but significant progress: people understand me when I ask directions. The next big step will be to understand their answers, but so far, Russians on the street or the subway platform have been very helpful and very patient, and we've been able to find our way.

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