Jet lag is not a joke, ya’ll. I’m sleeping at night, which is a plus, but it’s in four hour chunks from roughly 6 pm to 7 am. I can tell my body needs food, but absolutely nothing sounds good. And I have a headache all the time. Lucky for me, my employer has kept my social calendar very full, so I haven’t had a lot of time to feel sorry for myself.
On Saturday, the International Office hired an undergrad to teach me how to be an adult in Moscow. He showed me grocery and drug stores, gave me recommendations for not-too-expensive restaurants, and we discussed such essential diplomatic issues such as which English words sound sort of like Russian profanities and vice versa. We also went to get a SIM card for my phone, where I learned that in spite of all its egregious problems with civil liberties, Russia is a veritable land of the free when it comes to telecommunications services. There’s none of this signing over your life for two years in exchange for a discounted smartphone. You’re expected to pay full price for the phone itself (and a lot more for American models), but in exchange you get extremely cheap, fast, and flexible phone and data plans. You can change rates and/or carriers any time you want, and it costs like 20 bucks a month, as opposed to the 150 we’re paying in the United States. Of course, first, I had to get my three-year old iPhone released from AT&T’s proprietary stranglehold, which took three tries, even though our contract has been complete for over a year.
My twenty-year old guide said you can tell a Muscovite by whether or not they have been to the Tretyakov Gallery, a gallery entirely comprised of Russian art through the centuries. Moscow natives, as a rule, have never been. Like most major landmarks in big cities, it’s a tourist attraction. So, naturally, he took me there (said guide is from the sticks himself and had just taken an art history class and really wanted to go). It was, indeed, swarming with tourists, but there was also quite a lot of gorgeous art.
I like the religious art quite a bit, though looking at icon after icon from the medieval period can get rather monotonous. I think my favorites from the Tretyakov were the genre paintings from the nineteenth century, which are moody and dynamic and violent.
On Sunday, my guides were another faculty member and his wife, who are from Siberia and Belarus respectively but who both went to university in North Carolina. Moscow contains a surprising amount of green space. Virtually every neighborhood has some kind of park. Stas and Tanya took us to one of their favorites, Kolomenskoye, which contains several old churches and used to be the site of the summer palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, father of Peter the Great, before it burned to the ground. It probably didn’t help that the palace was built entirely of wood, as most buildings in Moscow were back in the day. Happily, at some point, they built a replica of of it (complete with a bathhouse), so you can see exactly how the tsars lived in the sixteenth century. Just outside, we had kvas (a mildly alcoholic fermented grain beveraged) and blini (Russian crepes).
Kolomenskoye is also in the middle of a honey festival, where you can walk into a tent and go to stand after stand and sample local honey and things made from local honey. Because I am a philistine, the only honey I’ve ever had is the stuff that comes out of the bear and that you buy at HEB, so this was something of a revelation. Artisanal honey is apparently like fine wine or beer. Even samples of the same type and preparation taste different depending on the farm.
In Moscow parks, they do not mind if you walk on the grass, and they also do not mind if you climb right up into the trees and pick the apples that are starting to turn ripe right about now. So we did that, though the easiest trees with the ripest apples had already been picked pretty clean. I think it’s been about 20 years since I last climbed a tree.