RETURNING TO RUSSIA

(The Rest of the Story)

There are self-evident reasons — the museums (the buildings themselves) are jaw-dropping architectural wonders. There are at least five museums we didn’t have time to visit. It would take months and multiple trips to feel as though we had “taken in” the art treasures there. Gorgeous canals crisscross the city and the buildings are brightly lit, despite the White Nights.

This video adjusted for light, making the skies look like night, but it was actually light outside.

And there are other reasons…

When I was 18 years old and a freshman at Baylor, I enrolled in a literature course taught by an incredible professor who loved the Russian writers. One of her required texts was an annotated selection of Anton Chekhov’s short fiction. The stories took my breath away. (Try “The Lady and the Dog” or “Misery” —  I assign it to my classes now that I teach literature — or “The Grasshopper.”)

I read Crime and Punishment in high school, and loved Dostoyevski. Notes From The Underground blew me away.

Tolstoy’s insights and compassion have moved me greatly.  It happened once while Bill and I were on a long weekend in Grass Valley (the Gold Country of far Northern California.) I finished Tolstoy’s A Confession about an hour before we started our drive home. As I tried to explain my thoughts, I started crying and had trouble regaining control of myself. I think my emotional response startled Bill.

The assertion [regarding religious ideas] that you are in falsehood and I am in truth is the most cruel thing one man can say to another.

— Tolstoy, A Confession

My positive associations with Russian literature primed me to fall in love with the country.

But there was also this: on the street, as Bill and I tried to decipher the map on my iPhone, a Russian man stopped and asked us where we were going. Though his English was marginal, he recognized our destination and tried so hard to give us helpful directions. We followed his instructions and arrived without a hitch.

Or the restauranteur who shared her love of wine and was delighted to learn we lived in a wine-growing region of California. She became particularly animated when we expressed interest in pinot noir. She struggled to express her love for that difficult grape and the complex wine it produces. She assured us that if she could speak Russian with us, she could explain why she was drawn to pinot noir… but in English, “I can’t make the words,” she said.

We understood. When it comes to explaining pinot (or Russia) I’m not sure I can make the words, either.

I want to visit Dostoyevski’s apartment where he died; it has been converted into a museum. It’s where he wrote his last novel The Brothers Karamazov (I’m reading it now.) I want to ride the Tolstoy train (14 hours) from Helsinki to Moscow. I want to drive through the rural countryside.

There’s so much more to say about my desire to return, but this will have to do.

Russia? You haven’t seen the last of me.

2 thoughts on “RETURNING TO RUSSIA

  1. This one made me cry, Bart. It started with the man wanting to much to help you find your way and came fully with the woman wanting to explain her love for pinot noir. So, in spite of a sense of not being able to do it justice, perhaps, you were indeed able to “make the words.” 🙂

    Thank you!

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  2. Bart, The account of your travels and adventures inspires interest to explore all the world has to offer outside of my daily life. I read Misery some time ago. Don’t recall, so will re-read. Will add the others to my list of Bart’s Recommended Books. Thank you, Cherin

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