i have good travel karma. everywhere i go i luck into beautiful things and beautiful people... and this trip was no exception.
the first day i was there, i decided to take the metro to red square. the lady at the ticket window didn't speak english, and even when i held up ten fingers to show her i wanted ten rides, she didn't seem to understand. she slipped me a scrap of paper to write my request, on which i wrote 'десять' ... ten. she understood, gave me a ten ride card and i was off. i was proud of myself for clearing the first hurdle, but a little nervous about how it would be traveling around the city with minimal russian language ability.
so, i got on the train... everyone stared! i will say here, that during my entire trip, i did not see another black woman. i saw several black men, most of whom were students from nigeria... but no black women. none. so everywhere i went, everyone stared. the older generation glared, but many just looked on curiously. when it was particularly mean spirited, i got a little uncomfortable, but i tried to ignore it, or fight it with friendliness. there was a woman one day, who stared at me like i was responsible for every last one of her problems, for the duration of my 30 minute ride... when someone would stand in front of me, she would crane her neck so she could continue glaring. i had a school group of girls giggle after me through tsaritsyno park; i'm pretty sure they were laughing at my hair. a family in a mall parking lot rolled down their car windows to get a better look. they were actually pointing... i couldn't help myself and waved. they sheepishly waved back.
anyway, i could go on, but i won't. so... i was on the train, everyone was staring, particularly this one guy facing me by the door. i tried to ignore him, but when my stop came, i looked at him and he smiled, so i smiled back. i was off the train, toward the escalators when i felt a tap on my shoulder. i turned around and it was him! he started speaking excitedly in rapid fire russian, to which i responded in english. luckily, he spoke some english... long story short, he ended up being my guide that day, and every day after. Евгений... or zhenya. he took me to all over the city, explaining the stories and history around everything we saw. he introduced me to his friends and they took me out nights to see the city... which was nice, because i was worried i wouldn't be able to see night moscow, as it is dangerous to travel alone at night as a woman. he taught me useful russian words and phrases, and about russian culture... his english improved a lot over the course of a few days, but sometimes we were forced to converse on iphone google translate.
i asked another tourist to take our picture... we were standing side by side, and all of the sudden zhenya picked me up for the photo. turns out he does mixed martial arts and my considerable weight was not a challenge.
paying respect to viktor tsoi
eugene's friends, konstantine and lena. when i first met lena, she actually went 'pffft' and turned her back, refusing to speak to me. (i did not find the russian girls to be overly friendly) but i was so nice to her all night that by the end of it, she was smiling and speaking english with me!
one may think i am crazy for trusting a stranger on the metro in russia, and maybe i am, but his energy was so light and awesome... it felt like he was put in my path for a reason and that we were meant to be friends. (remember the woman i met on the plane to berlin?)
and speaking of planes, from nyc to paris, my seat mate (see below) ended up being a charming italian actor named lele gabellone... from lecce, italy. we laughed all the way to paris, and the flight flew by! again, good travel karma.
and i met friends of my nyc friends who live in moscow... all of whom were beautiful and gracious... i had more people than i had time to hang out with, and i was so thankful. they helped me feel more comfortable among the stares, and it helped to always have someone with me who spoke russian. i think i had a more positive, and definitely more authentic experience than i would have otherwise.
this is stephen, a friend of a couple friends of mine, traveling through afternoon traffic in konstantine's little, old russian car. stephen is from ireland and has lived in moscow for 4 years. he was able to offer me some interesting insight into the city. other quick note here, we went to the moscow musuem of modern art... they informed us AFTER we paid admission and were about to enter the exhibition space, that the entire permanent collection was closed, and all we were allowed to look at was a less than mediocre collection on loan from venice. no apologies... no warning when we paid... stephen said that is just how they roll over there.
so thank you to all the amazing new friends i met in moscow... i can't wait to see you all again.