Domes on Russian churt

I imagined Moscow as a bleak city, wounded by repression. Although the Kremlin left me wondering about intrigue within its massive complex, and some buildings reminded me of Stalin’s reign, I was in awe of the old architecture, the cathedrals, the Hall of Remembrance, and a subway that is an art museum in itself.

Subway in Moscow

The bigger-than-life expression continued in Novodevichy cemetery, where the dead are honored with spectacular tombs.

tomb monument: hands holding ruby-colored gem

So many unique monuments exist: the circus entertainer and his dog, the inventor, the dancer, Raisa Gorbachov, and the six crew members that died in the 1973 Paris Air Show.

Monument to the Russian pilots who died in the 1973 Paris Air Show

And Moscow at night brought a new dimension. We stood on Sparrow Hill, the highest point, and the city spread out below us. We walked Red Square at midnight. We strolled through a park whose pond stretched across to the Novodevichy Convent, the pond, some say, that was Tchaikovsky’s inspiration for Swan Lake. In the dark, near rippling waters, a group of young Russian men insisted upon reciting Pushkin’s Eastern Song:

Novodevichy Convent
Photo: Anton Zelenov

I think that you were born for this.
To set the poet’s vision burning
To hold him in a trance of bliss
And by sweet words to wake his yearning

Tonight, earlier Russian memories come to mind: Paul Robeson’s new home, Van Cliburn at the piano, Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment,  unending white in Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, sables running free in Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park, and the book that hooks me now, Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.

icon of saint with a bird on his shoulder

Russia, more than a headline. Land of the enigmatic story, I think that you were born for this.