Monday, July 5, 2010

Postcard from the Moscow Metro

A Moscow thunderstorm helped me to indulge one of my great loves of travel: Other cities' public transportation systems. Understandably, a ride through the Metro wasn't the first priority of my traveling companions -- we take the train every day in Chicago, after all -- but it was raining and they took the suggestion with aplomb. Off we went to seek the closest station as our starting point.

Down, down, down we descended (if you're a Russian with vertigo, you take the bus). Portions of the Moscow Metro were built during the Cold-War. The deep tunnels were to have served as a shelter in case of nuclear detonation.

For the American equivalent of $1.20, we hopped on the train, then off again, traveling from station to station to see what treasures were in store for us. In the oldest stations, proudly and lovingly restored, you can't miss the twin themes of Russian nationalism and architectural extravagance. Mosaics, stained glass, bronze sculpture, terra-cotta ceiling detail, and portraits of Lenin decorate these underground troves of commuter activity. It's enough to mark a transit enthusiast for life.

It all reminded me of an incident from several years ago, long before my transit fixations took hold. I'd been asked to escort the writer Grace Paley on a visit to the University of Kansas. We were talking about New York City, her home base, and I told her that when I traveled there, I always avoided the subway because I wanted to stay above ground, among the life of the city.

"Oh, but Christy," she rightly corrected me. "The subway *is* the life of the city."

Gracy Paley would have been at home in Moscow.


leslie said...

Okay, this is the postcard that has hooked me. Until now, I'd always considered Russia with almost-active indifference: Were the opportunity to arise, I'd go. But I wouldn't seek out a trip to Moscow. But now...

Rosemary said...

Wow, what fantastic photos! I'm a little bit in love with the Moscow subway. Those mosaics!