Moscow is beautiful. Last night, My wife's uncle (looks exactly like her father, and just as kind) took us on a guided tour of Moscow. We went inside the Cathedral of the Transfiguraton, which was spectacular. I've been to Rome, with its cathedrals (and Florence, for that matter, which was better than Rome), and I've actually found a city that does 'em better. And they're all Orthodox! That's so cool.
We also did the Kremlin area. We only had a few hours, so we didn't get to see everything (more is planned for this weekend.) St. Basil's (the big cathedral that is the default image for Moscow and, therefore, Russia) is actually kinda dinky in person. It looks bigger, because you can only get a good picture of it from across the square, and the effect makes the building look bigger. Inside was nice, although really it's just a museum and a gift shop, next to the tomb of one of the finest theologians to live, St. Basil. Turning sacred sites into tacky tourism traps is something that the U.S.A. excels in. But Russia? Lenin is surely turning over in his grave, which by the way is 500 feet away. (Additional irony: Across the square -- Red Square -- from Lenin's grave is the largest shopping mall in Russia.)
We also tried to get into the Kremlin (the building) itself. Like many Americans before who tried, I wasn't able. No matter how many times I hummed the theme from Mission Impossible, I couldn't get in because we couldn't find the entrance.
Spent the rest of the time sneaking into Tanya's conference on bio-energetics. This may be the penultimate in nerdom. They were actually checking ID badges at the door (why?) and so I had to sneak in to a conference where I had no idea about the subject matter anyway. I used the old "carry a clipboard (in this case a poster tube) and look like you belong" method. That's right, I snuck into a conference on mitochondria, and read a book the whole time. Why? Because my other option was to be literally trapped within a dorm room. To further glory in my nerdiness, there was also a statue of Ivan Pavlov in the foyer where the posters were presented. I had my picture taken with him and was proud of this fact.
This exchange took place in front of Moscow State University:
Me: So, when your relatives talk about me, do they just refer to me as "The American"?
Me: Do they give you grief because I'm an American?
Wife: Not really. It's just that when other people are introduced to you the reaction is kind of like a mix of novelty and mental illness.
Me: Me being an American?
Wife: Yeah. It's like, "Wow, an actual American. But go easy on him. He's a little fragile."
My niece is just adorable. As soon as the pictures become available, I will post them.