After having been in Moscow for almost six weeks now, there are some things that have started to fall into place and become almost routine, normal even. I have found that I have essentially same routine day after day: I wake up, have breakfast while taking an easy morning, go to my internship, have lunch with my coworkers, have dinner with friends, and study and watch Netflix in the evenings. It has amazed me how quickly things have settled down and I have found myself becoming comfortable in such a strange and new country. Honestly, there are times that I need to remind myself that I am not walking down the street in America as many daily sights here are no different than any other major world city (usually it’s when I hear everybody speaking Russian and remember “Oh yeah, I’m in Russia”).
The fact that everything becomes routine is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it is just a fact of life and a way that I acclimate to my surroundings. It does, however, make the days that stand out even more special as it reminds me why I am here and what fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes there are to be found around every corner…if I will only open my eyes and see them.
One of those such days was this past Sunday. Other American Councils participants and I had spent the Friday two days before touring Tula, so I was not really in the mood to look for anything too exotic or energy-intensive. Instead, my roommate and I decided that we would go see the Moscow Museum of Modern Art in the morning. We had a lazy morning before leaving for the museum. When we got to the museum, I was surprised that there was almost no line of any sort to get in. We went straight up and bought our tickets to get in. I was expecting a modern art museum like any other that I have seen throughout the world; this was not one of those.
It is hard to explain, but the entire museum felt almost like I had fallen down a rabbit hole of true wonderland proportions. There were piles of random objects stacked everywhere, pictures of morphed heads on the walls, and giant inflatable donkeys jumping around as if with a mind of their own. I don’t mind admitting, this was not my type of museum. Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what the point of any of it was, but I can honestly say that it was a unique and interesting experience that I am glad I had. MMOMA is not a museum that I will soon be forgetting.
After that, I went with another OPIT student to get lunch as my roommate had had enough for the time being. After she and I split off, we walked around for a bit looking for a fun place to have lunch. Before we could find a place, we ran into a pirate. He was standing on the street advertising something and waving people down. Neither of us understood enough Russian, but we quickly realized he was the mascot for a local candy store. It was one impressive operation.
In the store, there were floor to ceiling displays of candy. Candy of every color, smell, texture, and type could be found there. In every sense of the phrase, I was a kid in a candy store. I left with more than my fair share of candy and had my mind blown by some gummies that were advertised as “HOT HOT HOT”. Assuming that they didn’t know what they were taking about, I bought a handful and went right for them. I was wrong; they knew their candy and I nearly burned my face off. Again, this may not have been my favorite candy, but between the pirate and every other piece of delicious gummy goodness I will remember that shop.
After a good lunch (which I could talk about for a while if there was room and time) we split up and I went on with my day. I was off to the State Historical Museum. I walked to Red Square intending to go straight into the museum, but when I got there I saw line after line of metal detectors and people waiting to get into the square. This was certainly unusual and I wanted to see what the excitement was about. I detoured. I got onto the square without incident and was greeted by thousands upon thousands of people surrounding a truly gargantuan stage in the center of the square. They were all boxing in unison as an instructor on the stage called out commands in time to the beat of music in the background. All around the square where men, women, and children shadow boxing, laughing at their silliness, and having a good time. Rings were set up all over and I saw old school boxers who looked like they went a round or two with Rocky Balboa giving lessons to laughably cocky teens who were in for quite a shock.
Everything was chaos but the air was infectious. People were out to enjoy the day, get fit, and just be with others. Nobody was taking anything too seriously. As it turns out, it was International Boxing Day—something I had never heard of but was sure happy to be a part of.
I did end up making it to the State Historical Museum after peeling myself away from the excitement. This museum was more my speed. I found fossils and artifacts from millennia past and gold work from true masters who were designing for czars, kings, and bishops. I saw artifacts from Catherine the Great. Were all that not neat enough, the building in which the museum is housed is impressive in its own right. I thoroughly enjoyed walking from room to room and merely enjoying the architecture, the frescos, and the graceful arches of the doorways. After two hours of this, it was time to move on.
The day was still young though I was certainly fading. As a final activity, I heard about the National Gulag Museum. This was certainly not a fun museum per se, but it was an eye-opening experience. One of the most fascinating exhibits there was a collection of prison doors. It is explained that doors are portals to different worlds and to the past, these doors are the past world of the Russian People under the Stalinist purges. The museum is magnificently organized and effectively tells the story of another shadow world with which I was wholly unacquainted. I was not sad to leave after an hour or so, but it was an experience worth having.
Finally, I headed back to my part of town for dinner and rest, but the whole way back I kept thinking “this is why I am in Moscow.” Virtually nothing that had happened that day was in any way, shape, or form as I had planned it. Indeed, I couldn’t have planned it if I had tried. Serendipity just works like that. Moscow, however, makes it uniquely possible to have such a day. There is literally something around every corner. I never know what I am going to get. I don’t always enjoy everything that I see or do, but I can truthfully say that I will remember it forever and I am excited to see what tomorrow holds.
By: Benjamin Valenta
Program: Overseas Professional & Intercultural Training Program, Moscow, Russia
Term: Summer 2019