Friday, October 31, 2014

Underground Art

Russian Soldiers Plaque
at Red Square
Art is everywhere in Moscow, from the churches to the squares to museums to the subways. And examples of foreign and domestic dance, paintings, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass, architecture, and you name it are easily accessed. Before I actually went to Moscow I thought that there would be very little in the way of modern art available in museums because for many years art had to be ‘State approved’. I also thought that the only music and dance would be traditional varieties, including the Bolshoi Ballet. Both of these misconceptions were quickly dispelled once the Near-Normal Travelers started wandering about. Our only real disappointment was that none of us got to go to

Friday, October 24, 2014

Domes, Domes and More Domes

Probably one of the biggest changes that resulted from Khrushchev leaving office was the re-emergence of religious practices. This also opened opportunities for the restoration and reconstruction of historical places of worship, monasteries, convents, and rectories. And Orthodox churches are among the most beautiful, both inside and out. One of the questions that arises when visiting these sites is, ‘What is the difference between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church?’ There are literally hundreds of websites that talk about the differences in belief associated with Catholicism and with Orthodoxy, some with truly heated debates of the issues. The provides a rather succinct list without assigning value to either side. There isn’t quite as much vitriol about how the church governances are structured: the Catholic Church is headed by the Pope in Rome, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is headed by the Patriarch in St Petersburg (Leningrad). Although the Russian government has been accused as making the Russian Orthodoxy the ‘official religion’, we

Friday, October 17, 2014

Луна над Москва (Moon over Moscow)

Saint Basil's Cathedral
Russia, home of onion domes and Czars, palaces and Red Square, poets and dictators, contemporary art and traditional ballet, the dour and the goofy, the ancient and the modern: it’s a study in change and one of the places I’d go back to simply to see how much it has changed, again. Since I’ve been three times in that number of years, I’m consolidating those trips into the next few postings. Right now Moscow is a sad place, with the people nervous and anxious, their welfare hanging on how the world sees them and how they can interact with neighbors who supply them with food and something as nebulous as that missing southwestern influence that seems to soften hard edges. At least that’s how it appears to me, having been there before and during the war with Ukraine.

Before you travel learn at least how to say, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Hello’, ‘Pardon me’, ‘Where is…’ and so forth. Most folks you’ll interact with will have some English, particularly if they are less than 40 years old; as with all places you visit, people appreciate your efforts to be polite. Russians may appear dour and unfriendly, but given a chance to interact, most are helpful and have a good sense of humor. Currently, the country is experiencing unrest so the people are not as out-going as in previous years, but they still want travelers to like their home.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Big Tex Says, ‘Howdy’!

Texas Flag
Fall days in north Texas can be ‘hotter ‘an a fire cracker’, ‘colder ‘an all git-out’, ‘rainin’ a frog-strangler’ or absolutely glorious. And when the State Fair of Texas is in town, the glorious days are rather rare. One year we waded in water up to our knees to get from the parking lot to the fair grounds. The sanitation workers were selling ‘rain bags’ ~ trash bags with head and arm holes torn in them; another year we wore our down jackets, braving 30 mph frigid winds to watch the dog show and pig races. This year we were very lucky to experience a wonderful autumn day. The temperature topped out at about 85oF and there was a gentle breeze blowing ~ just enough to ripple the Texas flag.

For many people, the biggest draw is the new car show. Others

Friday, October 3, 2014

Smokin’ in the Smokys

Hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the most unusual ‘National Parks’ is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a 469 mile road connecting the North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. All along the way are amazing views, gorgeous plants and wildlife and wonderful towns to explore. The parkway has been carefully sculpted to exclude most traces of modern development. You can get a sense of what the Appalachians were like in the preceding centuries discounting the asphalt surfaces.

You’d think it would be easy to find a road as famous at the Blue Ridge Parkway, and usually it is. However, it twists, turns and seemingly vanishes