After hours cruising across the Scandinavian arctic frontier, and then the endless miles of Russian rural lands, you come upon this...this infestation called Moscow. (I'm sorry to say that, but it was the first word that came to my mind when I saw that awesome sight.) Tall white buildings by the tens of thousands. Scattered giant clusters of human habitation. A gigantic monolith-studded cemetery also comes to mind.
But Moscow is far from dead. It thrives with people and vehicles (white Anglo-Saxon the former; Hyundais and Kias the later) all trying to get into the same space at once; the faces looking serious and determined and the cars looking filthy. I want to start a car wash business in Moscow.
Muscovites are healthy looking and rarely over weight. The women are beautiful. But most of them, men and women, are cold as ice. They don't nod and they don't wave. They don't say good morning (dobraye utra). They don't even make eye contact, yet you get the feeling they are very aware of you.
I was stunned that, there in one of the world's largest cities, I never saw a black person. There were few Orientals also, despite the fact that the Ural Mountains are only an hour's flight east, and those mountains, as you know, are the separator between Europe and Asia. You did know that, didn't you?
Moscow was not the gun-slinging wild west a friend warned me about. I didn't see a hint of lawlessness, nor did I ever feel unsafe. Muscovites are an unsmiling, dispassionate people, but they respect authority. They don't j-walk and they don't do graffiti. They dress well—no jeans and sneakers. The younger women like mini-skirts and high boots, the men dark slacks and brown leather shoes. The middle class seems to be thriving here. On the two hour drive from the airport we passed clusters of new subdivisions packed with beautiful brick homes. They could have been suburbs of Atlanta or Denver.
But it wasn't Atlanta or Denver inside the city. Kansas neither. Uniformed men in enormous wheel hats stood everywhere, solemn and composed, some unarmed and others wielding hideous weapons. They stand watch on every corner and between every corner, and sometimes between betweens. Do you hear a whistle? Look for the guard. He's blowing it to tell you not to walk there. You must walk here he gestures. Does he know I once trained and stood ready to fight him in a desperate battle to the finish? The finish of the world.
I strolled through Red Square where Stalin, Khrushchev and their thugs watched their Soviet armadas parade past. I remembered the images. High stepping battalions, menacing missiles and skies blackened with war planes. Here was the spot—the center of the Soviet empire, Red Square. No, I wasn't asked for my papers.
At the south end of the square stood St. Basil's Cathedral, possibly the most beautiful man-made structure I have ever seen, its gold plated onion-shaped towers jutting against the gray overcast. I thought about US warheads coming out of the sky to turn it into dirt. No wonder the Soviets never attacked us; losing St Basil's would never have been worth destroying the planet. (If that statement sounds senseless, you didn't live through the Cold War.)
The hotel was nice. The TV had a Russian news program that broadcasted in English. I noticed they focused on the things that are wrong with America. They played interviews with disgruntled Americans. They showed a group of US soldiers at a base in Kazakhstan. One held up the finger of contempt at the cameraman. Does the idiot know he flipped off millions of Russians? That's how they will remember us. On a higher scale, do our own leaders know that when they say things like “America is a nation of cowards” it will be taken out of context and broadcast to the world?
Back on a proletarian note (excuse the pun), you probably wonder how the food was. How many Russian restaurants do you see in your town? I trust no further culinary discussion is necessary.
The highlight of the trip may have been the Atlantic crossing. Since Moscow is so far north, the route took us up over Greenland and Iceland, far north of the busy North Atlantic Track System (NATS). The sun dipped slightly below the North Pole, which was off my left shoulder. A glow followed it toward its eventual reemergence at our ten 'clock.
But before big Helios came back, we were treated to a dazzling display of Northern Lights. My eyes have seen much Aurora in my time, but seldom have they ever feasted on the Heavenly display that night. It descended around us in cascading emerald curtains tinged with a hint of rose, bathing the darkened cockpit in a pale fluorescence, and then it galloped away like a frightened animal. It fell on us again, morphed into a shimmering celestial snake and slithered away.
When you watch that you feel you've been selected. You're the only one in that high silent, ethereal theater, and the performance is being masterminded for you and you alone. It leaves you flying in a deep peace toward the rising sun and beyond; toward Russia.
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Answers to the last post:
The wind at the time of eruption was from the west.
Joe is on the mark: The "walls" are igneous dikes.