In this period of intense relations with the foreign affairs of Russia, I was recently presented with a unique opportunity: to visit Russia. My girlfriend, born in Michigan and raised in Indiana, had spent much of the ‘90s living in Moscow. A tumultuous time to be a Muscovite. But having a traveling companion who speaks the language and knows the terrain is a definite plus.
It was a spring break trip. Decidedly not your typical spring break vacation. Tourist visas received, we were off to Moscow. I found Moscow to be a very Western city and one teeming with construction projects. The subway system is disturbingly much cleaner than Chicago’s, and I dare say better run. Short wait times. No homeless people. No panhandling. Chandeliers on subway platforms and exquisite public, admittedly Soviet-era, art, which is quite powerful.
I saw things I had heard of: Red Square, the Kremlin, the Bolshoi, and many I had not: a cosmonaut museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress (St. Petersburg), a demonized statue of Stalin with his nose chopped off, and many churches. I found Moscow and St. Petersburg very religious; there are no pews in a Russian Orthodox Church. At the Museum of Cosmonautics, I sat in on a lecture by an actual Russian cosmonaut. In the following question-and-answer session, a Russian mother seriously asked him about the fake American moon landings (including staged photos). In fairness, he explained the Americans had in fact been to the moon six times. He added the Russians would be the first to Mars!
I had the uncommon delight of breaking bread on several occasions with different Russians families. Acknowledging that I was traveling with a mutual friend, I met genuinely warmhearted people that were well-read, knowledgeable in world affairs and versed in the arts and history with an affinity for vodka. Talk of Western sanctions came up, a topic not high on the West’s radar.
I am concerned that too often we demonize a people on the basis of their national politics. I am not trying to minimize the election and administration tampering, the ongoing tragedy in Syria and the seizures in Ukraine, but the Russians are good people, quite like us. Perhaps that is the start of a common ground.
— Steve Anderson, Chicago
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