Sunday, 17 July 2011

Episode 1: Rob gets nostalgic

The planning of a year in a foreign country is a pretty big task and naturally it spurned a reappraisal of my reasons for getting here in the first place...

I remember falling asleep in the back of a car in a Moscow traffic jam, knocked-out by the muggy contrast of icy February cold and blazing Mercedes heating systems. I remember staring open-eyed in terror at a Kalashnikov-armed guard in St Basil’s cathedral when I got too close to one of the display cabinets. I remember sledging down snow-banks without brakes (they’d frozen overnight). I remember the smell of old churches in Suzdal mingling, really weirdly, with my first taste of smoked salmon…
(1) AK 47 - (sadly) a 20th century Russian icon

I was about 6 or 7 years old when Russia began its first invasion of my life. I went with my family to visit my cousins who were living in Moscow for my Uncle’s work at, I think, a large cigarette company. Despite my age I remember many episodes from the trip in vivid detail, things that would inform the choices i'd make in later life.

At secondary school back home in Devon I had to pick my language options for first and second year. Without the slightest hesitation I picked Russian over French - those "onion domes" and snowdrifts constantly reappearing in the back of my mind. I took it through to GCSE and again ended up in Russia for the Year 10 trip with the history department. This time my imagination was captured by the European-styled imperialism of St Petersburg. I stood outside in the cold reliving the chaotic and beautiful film scenes of Eisenstein pictures, imagining those rehearsed hordes clambering on the gates of the Winter Palace...

(2) The Winter Palace
With an interest in the country stretching beyond its language, it was an obvious candidate for A-level. The chance to study it in parallel with English literature (my other academic passion) at university was the final step to where I am now. Again constantly playing in my mind, and to the annoyance of a few university friends, I seem to name-drop Russia in almost every conversation. (“six degrees of Russian separation” they call it) Well now’s my chance to meet the country once again.

While obviously heading abroad to pursue a study of the country, literature and language for my degree, this trip is, in a way, a personal journey for me. A journey back to some of my earliest memories and some of the foundations of my personality and world-view. It’s time to see whether Russia feels the same to me as it did in 1997 and it’s time to see how she reacts to an older version of me. How will she keep me? What will she teach me? And most exciting of all where will she take me?


PHOTO CREDITS: (1) "AK 47" taken from (2) "Winter Palace" taken from

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