Stranger in a strange land

I am not at all sure we should be in Russia right now.

Not for the… safety reasons, I suppose. At least not for me. But as a country, it’s racist, it’s endemically corrupt, and increasingly it’s trying to violently legislate a significant number of my friends out of existence. The European stops we made on our way here were the story of the misery and devastation the Soviet regime inflicted through the 20th century. Had the intensification of the homophobic agenda (I don’t kid myself it’s completely new) happened before we’d planned and booked this part of the trip, I’m not sure we’d have come. Should we have come anyway? I don’t know. And all the things I’ve said are also true of the African countries I went to last year. To what extent does visiting a country involve colluding with policies you find repulsive? Where does cultural imperialism stop and standing up for your values begin?

unsettling Soviet art in the Russian museum

Anyway, here we are in Moscow. We caught a compact, modern night train from St. Petersburg, leaving just before midnight and sharing our compartment with a young Dutch electrician named Christian on his second big travelling trip in three years. I’ve more-or-less taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet and now compulsively translate everything I can; street names, Metro stops, advertising posters. That helps a lot; it’s very dislocating not to be able to read a word of what’s around you. The staff in hostels and in a few upmarket tourist establishments speak English; otherwise we’re getting by with pointing, smiling a lot, deploying our few words of Russian, and the international language of money. St Petersburg was a bit of a lull; I struggled to get enough to eat for a couple of days with so much travelling and was low on energy. I enjoyed the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games considerably, the Russian Museum to a degree, although I find a lot of Soviet art considerably unsettling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the things that being in Russia has been good to remind me of is that not everyone can rely on the police. Even having diligently registered and having the correct visas, I find myself shifting my eyes nervously away from the very many policemen on the streets and in the metro.

For those that are interested, you can see my point-and-shoot photos of the trip here, via Flickr, but you’ll probably want to check out Loz’s stream for a higher-quality setup and more editing.

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