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.
The bigger-than-life expression continued in Novodevichy cemetery, where the dead are honored with spectacular tombs.
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.
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:
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.
Russia, more than a headline. Land of the enigmatic story, I think that you were born for this.