Zebras in Moscow

To my friends and family:

l’ve journaled some of my experiences and thoughts during my journey to Spain and Russia, and I’m sharing some here. (One day I will figure out how to set up a blog.) No need to reply, but I will be happy to hear from you.

FYI, I am phasing out my old phone number and I have a new phone number in Spain ±34 XXX XXX XXX and it can receive regular phone calls. I also use this new number for WhatsApp to make internet calls and messages for free. You can get WhatsApp for free if you need to call me.

Love to all!

Dianne

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May 28, 2018

We stood on a busy street in downtown Moscow looking both directions for a zebra. Marina thought that if we walked towards the corner we might find one.

That was my first Russian word, “zeb-rah”. Its meaning was so obvious. It is the painted white bars on the pavement where pedestrians can safely cross. And it was my opportunity to teach Boris a new English word: “crosswalk”. We both practiced our new vocabulary for the rest of the day.

Boris, a self-taught polyglot-engineer-software developer, is both proud and astounded that at age 60+ he has just landed a new job as a programmer with a prestigious firm in a swanky new office building. And he chuckles that in his first week he has completed the project that his predecessor could not complete in a month. “Maybe I need to work slower”.

On the morning that Boris and his daughter Marina met me to begin my personal tour of Moscow he could barely contain his enthusiasm. After quick kisses hello, he wanted to first tell me the history of the name of the street we were on, and then tell about the monument in the park, and then….(Marina gently nudged him and suggested that we get started to see the important stuff). Okay, two blocks in the direction of the Kremlin, and then a short detour to pop in to a church that Boris likes for it’s history and architecture. But, the street was barred and he was disappointed. By the end of the day, I had seen so many beautiful churches, buildings, fountains, and parks that I’d forgotten about the missed church.

The Kremlin has museums filled with diamonds and gold, but the secret treasure in Moscow is Boris himself and his deep and wide knowledge of history (from the Tartars, through the Napoleonic wars, the Revolution, and into modern times), art, poetry, and architecture. Of course they showed me St. Basil church, the Kremlin and Red Square, the White church, and Bolshoi Theater.

 

 And Boris and Marina retold the history of each, and added their own theories about some. But we also visited the art nouveau house where Gorky lived,

 we saw a KGB building where certain residents mysteriously disappeared, and walked past the TASS news agency headquarters. Marina led us to a park and one of her favorite sculptures “Children are the Victims of Adult Vices” by Mihail Chemiakin. It depicts two children playing, and unaware of the dangers lurking around them

represented by 13 grotesque characters representing “violence”, “indifference”, “irresponsible science”, “drug addiction”, and other adult vices. I think it is one of my favorite sculptures, too.

Marina also has a prestigious job, as a recruiter in the human resources department for a company described as “the Russian Google”. She also speaks multiple languages, and she likes to catch her Dad in his rare English grammar error. She learned English first by watching American TV shows, then studied in school. Now she likes to watch American sci-fi and Netflix.

We rode the metro home both days, but I still don’t have the confidence to try Metro by myself. The signs are in Cyrillic, sometimes with the Latin letters in small text beneath. But that is helpful only if you know which platform to stand on and the name of the stop you want (does Kitai-Gorod sound like “kitaygordov”?). There are nine different metro lines and at some stations you can change to a different line. Boris and Marina tried to convince me that I could easily take the metro to the art museum because it is only one stop from my hotel. “You don’t even need to know the names, just get on the right color line”. Well, that was funny because the 3 of us could not agree if the line we rode was “purple” or “red” or “magenta”.

 

In Seville, the chiming of the cathedral bells lost its charm by the second morning’s pre-dawn summons. On my first morning in Moscow, I grumbled when I heard the muffled sound of church bells. That afternoon, I was on the sidewalk in front of my hotel and the little church across the street was ringing its bells at full volume. But after a minute, I saw that there was a collection of bells of various sizes in the tower, and each bell was swinging independently.

Now I heard that it was actually a little melody! It reminded me of a music box, in life-size. The bells were swinging high in the tower, and I could see a little flash of white. There’s a person up there!

 A woman in a peasant dress and scarf was busily pulling ropes and stepping on levers. A tune flowed from the tower, and then repeated again and again. Her hands flashed quickly. Then suddenly, it was over. As the last note faded, the woman hurried down the steps behind the tower and disappeared.

Today and tomorrow I am on my own in Moscow. From my hotel I can walk to the Kremlin, and I will eat at the Georgian restaurant on my block and try the Georgian wine that Marina recommended. Then I board the train to St. Petersburg.

To Boris and Marina, I say the only other Russian word I know: spasiba!

Seville – week 1

May 20, 2018

Seville, Spain
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‘El Giraldillo’ weather vane, replica, Seville.

My 4th floor balcony looks down on the cobbled street where the turistas, with heads bowed to their cell phones, attempt to navigate the maze of narrow twisting calles. But no one is mad, because getting lost in Seville is part of the magic. After a couple of turns around blind corners, the Giralda (the city’s famous bell tower) comes into view and the wanderers instinctively know which direction is “home”.

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Giralda Bell tower, Seville Cathedral
My temporary home for six nights is a sunny room in the historic district. From the rooftop terrace, I see church towers too numerous to count. 00013xtr_00013_burst20180517190333On my block is Iglesia San Salvador, which declares its devotion by enthusiastically ringing its bells in the morning and around noon and sometimes in the middle of the night. Soon, the sound of bells echos from every direction. I’m thinking there is a message for me. I say a little prayer of gratitude for all the good in my life.
But secular life dominates, as the many bars and shops on every block attest. Iglesia San Salvador has plazas in front of and behind the church, and cafes and bars fill both plazas. Socialing at the neighborhood cafe until 11pm is customary. On my second night in Seville, I shared a table with honeymooners from Ireland (they’d been living together a long time, so apparently the novelty was past and they were both eager for fresh conversation). In no time I was invited to visit them in Ireland -“sincerely!” It was a fun night and I was happy to have extended dialog in English and learn the difference between a barrister and a solicitor, and hear of the good deeds of the lads in the Irish Navy.
I have also connected with the American Women’s Club in Seville. The “welcoming chairman”, Donna, invited me out for coffee on the first morning and offered lots of helpful advice, including a couple of leads on a long term rental. She is retired from a position as a U.S. university fund-raiser, and has lived here about 1 year.
I attended the Club’s monthly luncheon on Thursday, where I met several other women who speak English (many are not American). I received a warm welcome and many vague invitations to meet. I plan to call them! (Don’t worry…I plan to make plenty of Spanish friends, too)
On Friday afternoon, one of the club members, Karina Carmen Velasco produced a flamenco show for the club. Carmen is a renowned flamenco artist and she had brought amazing artists with her: guitarist, singer, and a rising-star dancer. The performance was spellbinding…we were a small audience (20) in a tiny venue. It was fantastic!
I’ve walked around the Seville historic district several times and seen the exteriors of the Cathedral, El Alcazar, the Arcivo, Plaza DeEspana, and countless chapels, monuments, and modern art too. I’m deliberately waiting to take the interior tours until after I have done some reading/research about them, in order to fully appreciate them. For now, the exteriors are more than enough to keep amazing me. I feel like I’m at a banquet of history and art, and I want to savor every bite.
So, Week 1 has been wonderful. Seville is even more magical than I expected. I hope to secure a long term rental next week before I depart on my 2 week Russian excursion. Then I will be looking forward to my return to Seville on June 9.
For now, my best communication options include email (best for longer dialogs), What’s App at my Spain number +34 XXX XXXXXX for text messages, voice calls, and video calls. Or you can place an international phone call to that number, which will be free for me but possibly expensive for you. Seville is 9 hours ahead of Minden. My Nevada phone is connected for a few more weeks, but I won’t answer calls unless I recognize the caller ID ( it’s political poll season in Nevada).
One day I might get a blog site set up, or a dedicated Facebook page to journal my experiences. But for now, my brain is at its limit for new things, and I already know how to email. You don’t need reply to this email; just know that I’m thinking of you. Please do write me with exciting (or mundane) news from your life, if you’d like.
love to all,
Dianne