How do I love thee Moscow? Let me count the ways

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia)

I would like to say that Moscow was far more than I’d imagined. The trouble is, I hardly have expectations of anything or anyone. But I did really enjoy my time there.

Photograph Burger King in Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

1. Everything was in the vernacular. No one spoke anything but Russian, all the signs were in Cyrillic (except for a few places right in the touristy bit of Moscow). Amazed myself by learning to read Cyrillic in a day or two out of sheer necessity (also, it’s a little like Greek). Love a challenge.

2. Everyone assumed I was native and were physically taken aback when I replied in English. And I did, in fact, meet many Chinese-looking people. “ру́сская?” they’d ask. “нет,”I’d reply,”Singapore.” But few had heard of it.

3. No one smiled much, so I didn’t feel I had to. Since I’m generally lazy on the facial expression front, what’d been interpreted as unfriendliness in London was the norm in Moscow. Cosy.

Photograph dorm-mates dancing, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

4. I stayed in a cheap Russian dormitory for almost a week and got to know other dorm-mates pretty well. They were guarded at first, but whether it was the passage of time or the fact that I wasn’t China-Chinese or Mongolian (it’s confusing since I’ve relatively light hair and eye colour), they started to enjoy talking to me, asking me about my day, wanting to see my photos, even though my Russian wasn’t quite up to chit-chat standard (I could barely follow the news on Ukraine). There was lots of maternal nagging and clucking, and sometimes there was dancing. One woman was from Azerbaijan (she smelled familiar, though by no means in a bad way, like an Indian friend), another was from a small town outside of Moscow, and the third was a singer who slept all day so she could perform in clubs at night.

Photograph Kremlin, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

5. I loved the show-of-power architecture of the Soviet state: the Kremlin, the State Historical Museum, the Seven Sisters. Stalin wasn’t at all shy about it.

Photograph St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

6. I loved the show-of-power architecture of the Russian Orthrodox Church: the Cathedral of St. Basil, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Photograph Metro, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Metro, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

7. Oh, and the magnificent metro stations – the “Palaces of the People”.

Photograph borscht, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Stolovaya No. 57, GUM, Moscow by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph herring in a fur coat, Stolovaya No. 57, GUM, Moscow by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

8. The borscht I had here was thinner than probably inauthentic interpretations abroad, but happily much of the other food was stodgy enough for the cold weather (hovering around -3°C). In stolovayas (canteens, a good cheap holdover from the Communist…err…oh wait…), we had herrings in fur coats, and dumplings (Georgian, pelmeni), and kvas, and frilly table covers.

Photograph Крошка Картошка (Kroshka-Kartoshka), Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph blini, Теремок (Teremok), Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

9. And on the street, similarly good stodgy baked potatoes (from Крошка Картошка (Kroshka-Kartoshka)), blinis (from Теремок (Teremok)).

Photograph pine nut milk by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

10. Pine stuff! Pine-nut milk. Pine syrup.

Photograph kefir, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

11. Kefir!

Photograph warm sea buckthorn juice, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

12. Sea buckthorn cakes, sea buckthorn juice, sea buckthorn everywhere. I liked it immediately, and was disappointed later to read that it was one of those “miracle berries”. I liked it for itself and not what it could offer in health benefits.

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

13. Yuka the baby mammoth. SRSLY.

14. Does the security industry have the largest share of the Russian service sector? Uniformed security guards, or soldiers, or policemen everywhere.

15. Oh, and this gem: the dorm-mates, upon hearing that I’d lived in London for years exclaimed: a single woman, all alone, living in London?! How dangerous! England is so dangerous! You must be very brave!. I did not at any point admit that the English were similarly wary of Moscow. Ah, the suspicion of other lands and peoples.

Photograph Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Yet, there was the nagging sense that all these imposing buildings and severe men in uniforms were at best temporal and fragile. Not even Putin riding a bear or those nuclear bunker underground stations would not be able to protect the Russians from He who came the first time to save his people, and will come a second time to judge the whole world.

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Ministry through the Dark Night of the Soul

Photograph Thai vermicelli, Aperia food court by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Had a delightful dinner tonight. Dinner companion was someone suffering from clinical depression and on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), yet was able to see clearly how this condition made her depend on God, not as psychological crutch, but rightly, as creature on her Creator. Understanding this, she was able to rejoice even in the darkness.

Came upon an article on “the dark night of the soul” recently. While i may not agree with much of the explanation within, Ministry through the Dark Night very astutely describes what a certain very down period of my life (not amounting to clinical depression) felt like:

“So what is the dark night of the soul? It’s a time when God feels profoundly silent; a time when God feels hidden and inaccessible. Worship, prayer and other spiritual practices no longer deliver the same spiritual consolations that you used to receive. Faith practices begin to feel useless, at times empty, alienating, and even inauthentic. Scripture becomes flat and unappealing and the desire to pray or worship seems to have vanished. During the dark night you are no longer certain of what you know of God or even yourself. In the dark night you can feel helpless, unable to control or understand your spiritual life. While previously you could talk endlessly of your faith and love for God, now words fail. There seems to be no authentic expression for what you’re experiencing, for who or where God is.”

“And yet, despite the loneliness, despite the silence, you notice that sin has no appeal. At times you may want to return to old distractions and escapes, but you find your soul resists these temptations. In the dark night, a person can discover that despite the lack of any spiritual comfort, there remains within the soul a blind trust in God. You feel your faith (your practices, images, words, understandings) dissipating, and yet at the same time you have to admit, somehow your faith persists. Even when you become despondent and try to rid yourself of faith, still, without encouragement, your heart waits for God.”