THIS WORLD of OURS
By Bob Harwood
Our time in Russia in September gave us new perspectives on yet another corner of this world of ours. The West has tended to focus myopically on the Cold War and Communist eras, brief blips in the complex history of a vast country fronting on three oceans and spanning nine time zones. We spent several days in St. Petersburg, Paris of the East, Venice of the North. Its Hermitage Museum houses 3,000,000 works of art with soaring gilded salons devoted individually to the most renowned artists of seemingly every period.
Then it was a superb performance of Giselle at the Bolshoi Ballet Theater and touring Pushkin Palace built for Peter The Great in the 17th century. Maintenance of its exquisitely decorated, still pristine salons required 1000 servants to maintain. Leisurely hours were spent exploring St. Petersburg on land and on a canal system reminiscent of Venice or Amsterdam.
Our river cruise boat hotel then bore us from St. Petersburg to Moscow through the Waterway of the Czarsvia Europe’s two largest lakes and a river-canal system flanked by serene landscapes. Daily we had ample shore time to explore historic villages and towns, ancient monasteries, the magnificent golden domed cathedral of Uglich, other cathedrals with multiple domes in every color of the rainbow, or, on Kizhi Island, crafted entirely of wood. Inside, superb artistry and, more than once, superb singers awaited us. We queued at canal locks with river cruise ships and commercial traffic from distant oceans.
We docked in Yaroslavl as it marked its 1000th anniversary by hosting world leaders for a political summit analogous to Switzerland’s Davos Economic Summit. Well-informed lecturers onboard shared the complex history of Russia from ancient times through successive waves of European nations vying for supremacy, the long reign of the Romanov Czars when seemingly all of Europe’s royal families were intermarried on into the comparatively brief Communist era with both its pluses and minuses for Russia’s citizens.
We must reexamine a variety of Western perspectives. Gorbachev, whom we idolized during the Cold War, has a very negative image in Russia while Putin, their current Prime Minister and former President, has the highest approval rating of any world leader. Yes, many of our nationals lost their lives on the Western Fronts and in Asia during World War II. And 6,000,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust. But Russia lost a massive 27,000,000 of its citizens as so much of Germany’s military might was deflected to the East. And have we forgotten that it was Russia’s Yuri Gagarin who became the first man in outer space on April 12, 1961, prompting President Kennedy to create NASA and all that has followed? Russia, rich in many natural resources vital to today’s global economy, warrants a commensurate place in global discourse.
In the pedestrian friendly heart of Moscow vast Red Square is in turn bordered by the Kremlin’s magnificent cathedrals rivaled only by the multi-colored domes of renowned St. Basil’s just outside its walls.
We walked to classical musical performances in period theaters, to art galleries, to the multi storied open galleries of the Gum Department Store and in an open market displaying colorful Russian wares. The architecture everywhere is magnificent. Commuters utilize multilane highways or a sophisticated Metro whose underground terminal in Central Moscow is another tourist must. There escalators carried us deep into the bowels of the earth to a splendid gallery of exquisite art through which we passed to board our train.
Set aside stereotypes of Dr. Zhivago and the Cold War blip of the 20th century. Put a St. Petersburg to Moscow river cruise on your Bucket List of “Must Do’s.”