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Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Tuesday on Tverskaya
I’m writing this in pain. The consequence of doing that special toe-point snow shuffle for three or four hours wearing heavy-ish snow boots is a slow-burn ache in my hips, sore soles, and hurt calves where the top of the boots hit my legs, albeit muffled through two pairs of socks and long underwear.

Pretty much all I ate today was another monster American-style breakfast of pancakes and bacon. I feel guilty eating such Yankee food when there are so many interesting-looking restaurants around, but when I’m out I just don’t feel like stopping, and when it’s time to eat (Russians seem to follow a southern European eating schedule despite their climatory differences with the Med folks), I’m wiped out. On Tuesday, I got back to my hotel around 4 p.m., intending just to drop off my tacky tourist purchases and head out into the snow again, but instead I fell asleep watching EastEnders on BBC Prime (a pattern is emerging), and only got up at around 1 a.m. It’s not the right sleeping schedule, but at least I got the required number of hours kip.

My first stop Tuesday morning was the Central Museum of the Revolution—a messy but interesting collection of pictures, posters, and memorabilia. It was hard to figure out exactly what was going on—it’s a monolingual museum, and my rudimentary Russian couldn’t handle the long expositions; there were no quick overviews I might have had a chance with. Basically, though, the museum presented artifacts from a swath of modern Russian history, beginning pretty much in the late 19th century. There were images of the Romanovs, through revolutions (failed then successful), revolutionaries, the setting up of the Soviet Union, and World War II, but at that point things got confused and confusing. Suddenly I found myself in an exhibition of capable but uninspired contemporary landscape paintings, and then in the middle of a series of Dalí drawings, which required a special ticket that I didn’t have. The army of older women who have the lonely task of guarding the exhibits (I was the only visitor on that snowy December morning) were alarmed at my wandering into the wrong exhibit and took great pride in pointing me toward the continuation of the permanent collection, but I felt like I’d lost the plot.

Spaced among the rooms are little “interior fragments,” stage sets that are intended to present a slice of life of a particular time and place. Some of them were hard to contextualize—artifacts from a traveling circus seemed rather specialized for a general museum, but I’d read that there were two particularly interesting scenes: a glimpse of life on the Afghanistan front in the 1980s and a “typical” Soviet-era communal apartment. Unfortunately, despite much wandering, I never found these treasures, since the final rooms seemed to be given over to images from the Russian Orthodox Church—patriarchs, priests, nuns, vestments, etc. I’m sure the resurgence of the church is a very significant change in Russian life, but the goodies behind the glass were very un-fascinating, at least without the benefit of interpretive text.

As I was getting ready to leave, I followed a sign for the museum shop, which turned out to be the most unusual I’ve ever visited. These days, major museum shops highlight the down side of globalization: homogenization. You see the same concept in lots of different iterations, the only differences being that each museum “personalizes” the products by slapping on an image from their collection. Not at the Museum of the Revolution. Here the product was history, since it was basically a second-hand store. You could buy “typical” CP badges/buttons (I got about 40 for about $30—I saw them cheaper in a lot of places, but here I could browse and pick out the ones that drew me for some random reason), the kind of tchotchkes you see in lots of places, but also posters (obviously taken off folks’ walls), stamps, leather goods, old radios, old cameras, space paraphernalia, etc., etc. People were coming in off the street selling their possessions to the store manager—two old guys came in to shift some Christmas tree ornaments while I was in there. In effect, the museum store’s a relatively inexpensive junk shop!

After that I spent quite a lot of time getting turned around. I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction, but since I was pretty much retracing my steps from the day before and was just walking in a straight line (the street I’m staying on leads right to the Red Square/Kremlin area), I figured there was a chance I wouldn’t get lost. Fuhgeddaboudit! By the time I’d found Lenin, the object of my search, he was closed up for the day. Then I tried—and failed—to make a return visit to a couple of other places we’d visited on Monday.

In a state of almost total exhaustion I stumbled upon a Metro station (almost literally—it’s -10 or so, with snow on the ground, so walking conditions aren’t ideal), where I proceeded to get semi-hopelessly lost. It didn’t really matter, except that I was already so tired, but in the end I found the place I was looking for (a huge bookstore on Tverskaya I’d popped into earlier when I hadn’t wanted to schlep my purchases around), then headed back to the hotel.

One of the weirdest things about Tuesday was how many Russians asked me questions—I could tell they were asking directions or whether you could access buildings from certain points, but I wasn’t able to answer. I’ve always had the weird pheromones that mean people stop me on the street to ask directions, etc., (which, given my nonexistent sense of direction is always tricky—I don’t want to diss them, but I always know they’d be better off just asking someone else), but I was still surprised to be questioned yesterday. I just don’t look Russian—I don’t mean physically, for one thing in this weather no one’s showing their features, but in the way I dress. In a part of the city where most people wear furs or sober-colored cloth coats, I’m decked out in a bright-blue down parka and a wooly hat with a whale motif.

I probably won't be able to blog again until early next week. I'm off to the seminar tonight, and I don't think I'll have Internet access there.