My first few weeks in Russia have been a whirlwind. I was first in Moscow for what was supposed to be two days but ended up being three due to an iPhone time zone mishap. I did some light sightseeing: Red Square, Moscow State University and Tolstoy’s grand Moscow home. I also wanted to go to Gogol’s last residence in the city but ran out of time. There are so many grand museums to see in Moscow but I rather enjoy the home tours. I like to imagine how the great Russian writers lived in their time, however grand or tragic. It’s a perspective you don’t get in a regular museum.
On the third evening in Russia, I did manage to get myself on a train heading to Kazan. Riding the Russian trains is as romantic as it sounds. I decided to spring for a bed in “Kupe” which is considered second class. There are four berths to a compartment. My roommates were a woman and her four-year-old son, and two men, one of whom was rather drunk but harmless. These compartments become their own little universe for the duration of the trip. The inhabitants are like a makeshift family; eating, chatting, sleeping, drinking tea, watching the landscape whizz by. I was running late for the train and didn’t have time to go to the store for food so I had to buy whatever was available in the train station. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. My cabinmates absolutely refused to allow me to eat the mysterious fried bread products that I purchased. So they fed me what they had: bread and cheese, apples, oranges, and chocolates. I was grateful.
I lived at first on the far outskirts of the city with a Tatar family. In researching my project I met a young woman named Elza. She invited me to stay with her and her mom and I ended up staying almost two weeks with them. As a guest, I was treated to my first real taste of the Russian hospitality that I experienced during my first trip in 1999. I have been to many countries all over the world and have never been treated with such genuine regard. Russian hospitality is not for want of money, status, gratitude, bravado or anything of the sort. It comes from a level of humanity deep within the soul. It is a part of daily life here. I see it as a guest in someone’s home and I see it in everyday interactions between people on the street. This is a topic I will explore in greater depths in the upcoming months and it is an important aspect to understanding the Russian experience.