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Tretyakov Gallery: The Duality of Ivan IV

Standing in front of Ilya Repin’s painting, it was clear to me why people had fainted during its first unveiling. Seeing the smear of red paint was like I had never seen the color red before. Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan is one of the most famous in the Tretyakov Gallery, and one […]

Orthodoxy in America

Deep in Siberia, in a town right on the border of Mongolia, a friend and I decided to visit a closeby church. When we arrived, it appeared we were out of luck – a priest was leaving the grounds, locking up. Actually, our timing couldn’t have been better. I asked if everything was closed, we […]

After the Era of Palaces

When it came to choosing a new district of Moscow to explore, I settled on one I knew next to nothing about: Lefortovo. It was the architecture that captured my interest first. I read that several old palaces stood there, including one used by Peter the Great; that it had previously been a district populated […]

Untamed Lake

A dead nerpa. Unknown photographer. The only one of Baikal’s endemic seals, called nerpa, that I saw in the wild was dead. It was on a beach near a town called Ust-Barguzin, a settlement on the edge of Lake Baikal. To get to Ust-Barguzin from Ulan-Ude was a two hundred and sixty five kilometer slog […]

From the Banya to Baikal

“Respected Guests, please conserve water.” This was written on a sign hung above the sink in one of the hotels we stayed in near Lake Baikal.  It has two purposes: one is to save money on a water bill, the other is to not waste water in a world where fresh water is limited.  In […]

A Not So Gentle Man in Moscow Part 2 – In the Kremlin

“The Kremlin released a statement today…” “Sources close to the Kremlin…” The Kremlin.  It’s a dominating presence overlooking the Moskva River and Red Square, housing the upper house of the Russian parliament, a presidential residence, and numerous cathedrals and museums.  In American news, the above statements are quite frequent when referring to the Russian government […]

City of Sleight-of-Hand

The bridges over the Neva River in St. Petersburg go up every night to let oceangoing ships pass. I’d heard that staying up until 1:30 a.m. to watch them was a magical experience. But the night I went, we were inexplicably out of luck. There were plenty of other people standing on the embankment, also […]

Trees at Last

As a small town kid, living in the city has been pretty different for me, not least because I’m used to being surrounded by trees and grass all the time. I was excited when I heard that Moscow State University has its own botanicheskii sad or botanical garden. (MSU also has another botanical garden farther […]