We’ve been on the road for a month now, and we’ve learned a few things. One, spend more time in places. We’ve spent a lot of time moving from train stations to hotels and back to train stations; I’m looking forward to settling for slightly longer periods in places. And I’m looking forward to shorter train rides; it’ll probably be a while before we do another overnight trip.
One of the surprises is how much I’ve enjoyed some of the museums we’ve toured. Today we spent a couple hours in the Tretyakov Gallery, apparently one of the world’s great repositories of Russian art. We thought we might just spend 45 minutes or so, but found ourselves going from room to room, effectively traveling from the 14th century to the 20th. One of my favorites was this painting of Ivan the Terrible and his son; I was fascinated by the look in Ivan’s eyes.
Ivan, it turns out, actually killed his son, and the artist wanted to draw attention to political violence after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Alexander was actually a reformer who had freed the serfs in 1861. But, in eery parallel to our own history with freeing slaves, he was later assassinated, in his case by left-wing extremists who thought his reforms didn’t go far enough. I’m a big fan of liberals, but really? This is a guy who freed the serfs, promoted Finnish nationalism, helped liberate Bulgaria from the Ottomans, and was proposing an elected parliament for the empire. After the leftists killed him, Alexander III turned back to repression big time. Every so often liberals need to be reminded that it can and does get worse. (Talkin’ to you, all those complaining about the NSA, etc.)
My other favorite was The Unequal Marriage by Vasily Pukirev, which also has political overtones connected to Alexander II. In this case, after he freed the serfs, the artist wanted to draw attention to the unequal position of women, and so drew this apparently unhappy girl being forced to marry a much older man. I wonder why I’m so attracted to political art?
Speaking of politics and art, we can now move to the absurd. Today we also toured Lenin’s mausoleum. After a surprisingly short line and checking any piece of technology that could remotely take a picture there he was, still lying in his embalmed state nearly 90 years after his death. How anyone could tell the difference between that weird body and a Madame Tussaud wax image, though, I don’t know. But there he was. Makes me even more disappointed that we missed the chance to see Mao when we were in Beijing.
Finally, even less about art. Back in Beijing, Mark saw a shiny pink car, shiny in a way we’ve never seen shiny cars before. We saw another in Ulan Bator, and now, here in Moscow, a gold shiny car. How soon before they arrive in your home town?