OK, we did it. A group of 17 Americans went to Moscow, then to Novosibirsk, and Saint Petersburg. We did have a conference, of course, and actually it worked well despite the language barrier. But for most people, it was also an adventure, an experience, and an event.
Can't speak for others, but here is my impression. It is rather interesting to see my own country through the eyes of my American friends. It does look a little different, a bit more exotic, and somewhat less explainable. The country has changed so much since I left it in 1991. Even though I have been back almost every year since 1996, it does feel like a different country. It is very familiar, and yet strange.
I just had to remind myself that every time I go to Russia, it is a holiday: I don't have to work, I see old friends and family, I get to be nostalgic. Vodka, banya, shashlyk, sightseeing – this is not real life, not everyday experience of a typical Russian. It is tempting to just come back, but I probably never will return for good. Like a transplanted tree, I have too many roots here, I like my job too much to abandon it. Our kids are here, one of them is married to an American, and neither will consider going back to Russia permanently. But it is fun to visit, and I would like to be more involved with Russian education. We do have much to learn from each other, and I hope we will. I was very happy to see how well my Russian and American friends got along with each other, considering all the cultural differences and the history of Cold War. I always believed Russians are much closer to Americans than to Asians or to Europeans, and this is just more evidence. Both cultures have a strong egalitarian streak, both value directness and openness in relationships. Both countries have revolutionary experience and can be mistrustful of governments and politicians, which they compensate by excessive believe in personal encounters. There are many profound differences, of course, about which I will write separately one day.
Just before my flight back to the States, I had some three hours to kill in Moscow, between 6 and 9 AM. I just walked the streets. Moscow is a beautiful city in the early morning. Muscovites are not early risers, and the streets were sunny and almost empty. The city is just incredibly varied – from ancient churches to Stalin's high-rises, to ultra-modern contemporary buildings. All of it is almost randomly thrown together, and yet there is some common sense to it. Anyway, it is hard to ex-plain, but I had the most wonderful walk through the city – from Belorusskiy Tran Station to Barrikadnaya Metro Station. Here is my exact rout, with some photographs which you can repeat, thanks to Google's magic. It is just hard to explain, but this was a wonderful walk.
A couple of links to our own pictures: