Posted by: Anna | October 19, 2010

Fur trim and What a Babushka is Thinking

I spent a day alone while Tommy was feeling sick. Being alone gave me more time to notice the background of my day, as opposed to the focus – the sight we are visiting, or where we are on the map (a conversation we must have at least 25 times every day, no joke), or that I’m hungry…etc.

I will tell you first that the foreground of my day was great – I visited Fallen Monument Park (interesting note: this name exists only in English), where statues of communist leaders were gathered after the fall of the USSR in a passion of anti-communist sentiment. Added to these statues are modern sculptures of various kinds. It’s large, and beautifully laid out. Unfortunately, it will cease to exist in the future as the park will be redeveloped into luxury condominiums. How’s that for a change to capitalism?

My second sightseeing stop was at the Tretykov Gallery, focused on Russian art and icons. Another interesting insight – rather political and social history of the elite as shown through portraiture evolving over the years. Some very interesting Russian artists, and a much more thorough understanding of Russian icons and their meanings. It has enhanced my appreciation of cathedrals we’ve visited since then, as I can identify the figures shown and the symbolism of certain positions or items. At least a basic understanding.

Now that you have the foreground of my day (Note: if you really want to see it, hit up our flickr page – link on the right for pictures and captions), let me share some of the random details that don’t usually make a blog post. These are the ones that give you the feel of the place, of the people, the sensation of being somewhere different.

  • At the sculpture park, it was full of Russian families, out for a lovely, cold stroll through the park. Tommy alluded to the fact that guns are common toys for young boys here, and at the park, a small boy (maybe 6) was running rampant with his babushka (grandmother) fake shooting at statues of Stalin with a small plastic machine gun. He was cute, sporting the common mullet that trendy Russian children have. But I wondered about the babushka – was she a party elite during the soviet era disappointed that things didn’t turn out differently?  Did she lose friends to Stalin’s famous purges and wishes she could shoot the bastard herself? Is she resigned, believing that politics will always be corrupt, absorbed in watching her grandson have fun?
  • As I see older people on the subway, walking down the street, or in line at the grocery, I wonder how foreign the modern era seems to them. How do they see it? The GUM (mentioned before) is now a beautiful shopping center full of Dior and Chanel today. During soviet times, it was known for long lines and empty shelves. If you are a working class babushka today, what do you think of that? They still have nothing for you. What happens when your society shifts so dramatically? I certainly take capitalism for granted as a way of life, as a manifestation of human nature, but what if it was a johnny-come-lately to your life in your later years?
  • As I walked back to the subway, I observed the women stopping to peer in the windows of the shops in the subway tunnel. Evaluating stockings and tights, purchasing cigarettes (only $1 per pack here approx.), looking at a purple sweater. What is the profile of the subway tunnel shopper? Is she busy? Are these the affordable options – certainly Moscow is full of high end options – is this the best place to get $3 tights? How does a Muscovite woman shop? Is she like a stylish French woman with a smaller but more expensive wardrobe? Certainly she is chic.
  • Russians seem to have only a vague concept of lines. In America, we strictly observe standing-in-line protocol. In Russia, standing in line is a task for the mentally alert. If the line moves up and you don’t immediately move also, the person behind you will edge around and get in front of you. Only through vigilance can you keep your original spot. Russians line up four or five across, which adds to the confusion of who is next, because there does not seem to be a system for the line at all.
  • Tween girls are sexy Russian women in training. They sport tight jeans, or even more often, the miniest of mini-skirts and heels. How do Muscovite women wear stilettos ALL the time? It’s amazing. I could never do it. They certainly strive for a very uniform sexy ideal. It’s not a European funky style…it’s a direct, polished sexy, usually accented with fur. 
  • I stopped in a cafe for a coffee to warm up. Menus in cafes show just how caught Russia is between places. Coffee options include loads of regular coffee shop classics – lattes, mochas, cappucinos – plus american coffee, french drip coffee, two kinds of hot chocolate, regular and Russian (which is like melted chocolate, very thick), fruit juices, milkshakes, smoothies, a full bar, Russian jellied cranberry drink (common, but I haven’t been bold enough to try it – I just don’t understand drinking jello), and more.  That’s not even considering the food menu, full of ice cream, blinis, sandwiches, soups, salads, etc. Every little coffee shop offers this wide selection. It’s multiple personality cafe – is it a coffee shop? a sandwich shop? an ice cream parlor? Who can say.

Oh, and then we took the train to St. Petersburg. Easily the nicest train I’ve ever been on. It even included breakfast, sparkling water, and a comfy bed with a fluffy pillow and a down duvet in a nice clean cover. Here we are, ready for our second stop (not counting Suzdal).

Here we are, ready to set off on our next adventure!


  1. I am really enjoying your Russia trip! The pictures are great, love the onion domes. Who took your picture on the train? And how long it the trip to St. Petersburg that you get a sleeping car? It just seems like such fun- Tommy, I hope you are feeling better!

    • We were in a four person sleeper car, so one of the other passengers agreed to take our pic. Tommy is feeling mostly better now – thanks!

  2. Looks like fun. All the pictures and stories make me want to go to Russia, which I never wanted in the past.

    I recommend everybody also go to the Flickr photos. Just click on the “more photos” link on the right side.

  3. Anna:

    I don’t like you venturing off by yourself! I’m sorry Tommy was sick, but hope he is better now.

    Really enjoy your posts — you both are so articulate that it makes me feel like I am right there. Maybe you should write a book to put on the market of your travels — no??

    Da wants to know if there is snow anywhere. He didn’t see any in your pictures so if y’all get a moment, please send him a personal email. I know he will enjoy it. He is reading and re-reading all your posts and is thoroughly enjoying them (Mary Lou is also).

    Lots of love —


  4. What wonderful stories you will be able to tell your children & granchildren!!! We have more adventures to add to the family tree! You are brave & VERY trusting souls! God bless you & keep you safe. All my love,XOXO, Kita

  5. Anna, I loved your views and perspectives regarding the Russian women. It’s true how much we take for granted sometimes. I was surprised that the young Russian women are so “chic”, as you put it. Also, you should consider writing a book and publishing it regarding all your travels and adventures, not to mention how well you write and are able to convey your own thoughts and perspectives. Please keep the posts coming. I have been checking every day in hopes of reading about a new adventure or new friends that you have made. Take care, and tell Tommy I hope he feels better. Judy

  6. I feel like I walked with you. I enjoy hearing about the everyday things just like I like experiencing them when I travel. A sense of the people and their lives is the most interesting aspect of travel – it gives us the opportunity to broaden our horizons.

    I am a train nut so I am so jealous of your train trip. The car looks very nice. My one time on a sleeper car in Switzerland makes me want to do it more.

    I agree with your Dad — Russia definitely looks worth visiting but Israel is one the I cannot wait to hear about. Especially using Bible verses as your guide. Love you!

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