and cold vodka
by Margaret Anderson ’05
Reed students Alea Adigweme ’06 and Hilary Brevig ’06
January 10, 2004. A group of Reed students, alumni, and faculty has descended
upon Moscow’s Red Square. The focus of our group’s excursion: to spend Paideia
visiting six Russian cities and exploring Orthodox art and cathedrals.
After convening in Moscow and overnighting at the behemoth Hotel
Rossiya, our group of 20 (ranging in age from 19 to 78) departs on a bus for Sergiev
Posad, the Orthodox religious settlement founded by St. Sergius in the Middle Ages. Cerulean
onion domes covered with stars tower before us as our bus rolls up onto crunchy gray
snow. The scent of incense inside the dim cathedral and the ethereal sound of chanting
overwhelm the senses. The most entertaining scene of the day was a bearded priest in
black swinging a Christian Dior bag.
Back in Moscow the next day, we explore the city. At the Park of
Fallen Idols, one of our group is chastised by a guard for climbing a statue of Lenin
for a photo op. Thursday evening it’s off to St. Petersburg, and the all-night
train ride is punctuated by nips of vodka and sausage sandwiches.
St. Petersburg is still dark when we pull into the train station.
As the gray dawn melts into day it becomes clear why this is called the most European
city in Russia. Welcome to the home of Peter the Great, Vladimir Putin, and the State
Hermitage, one of the finest art museums on earth. The Hermitage overwhelms with the
sheer scale of beauty and grandeur contained within its walls. During the 1930s, Stalin
sold as many as 3,000 pieces of art from the collection of European masters to cover
state budget deficits. We visit Pushkin’s last apartment and see the room where
he died after the infamous duel.