So yesterday afternoon I was riding along in the metro, as I do on most days. But I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t really minding my own business. I was staring. At my neighbor. You see I was getting off at the next stop, the beautifully austere Kropotkinskaya station (Named for the anarchist Prince Kropotkin.)
In the Moscow Metro: Kropotkinskaya station
I had already abandoned my seat and like a knowledgeable Moscovite was standing my the doors, anticipating our momentary arrival. (There are MASSIVE crowds in the Moscow metro. You always have to be ready to make your next move. Some degree of planning is always necessary, when it comes to entering and exiting the trains, for both the able-bodied and the disabled alike. Turns out though that when you are juggling a mobility aid, you have to plan your entrance and exit a little more in advance.) Anyway. Back in the metro wagon, I was waiting to exit, and I noticed that a very interestingly dressed woman was standing next to me and staring back at me as I stared at her. I say interestingly dressed, because her costume was really one of contradictions. She was wearing a very expensive and luxurious black fur coat (known as a ‘shuba’ in Russian), an over-the-top, puffy, black fur hat, and a canary yellow pashmina scarf. But. She had the upright posture and carriage of a Russian Orthodox nun and was indeed holding in her hands a set of very plain wooden Orthodox prayer beads, which she was steadily working her way around. It was the prayer beads and upright carriage that threw off the costume; Russian orthodox nuns, like Catholic nuns, tend not to dress luxuriously; instead, the dress humbly and simply.
We exited the wagon at about the same time. (I should also note, that the Kropotkinskaya metro station is right next to one of the biggest post-Soviet cathedrals in Moscow, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which is for orthodox believers a very sacred place.)
Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Gold domes, far right.
I stopped on the platform for just a minute to put on my gloves before exiting into the -20 C temperatures. And as I was doing so, the very interestingly dressed religious lady came up to me and asked me quite passionately if I’d like to travel to the sacred village of Sergeev Posad. On Russia’s Golden Ring, it lies just outside Moscow and has some of the oldest most sacred Orthodox cathedrals in the country. It also has a fine museum of post-Byzantine religious objects, and an even finer toy museum, as the village is the birthplace of the famous Russian nesting doll. Students still attend the village’s vocational school to learn how to carve the toys by hand. And as a result Sergeev Posad boasts an excellent (re: reasonably priced!) souvenir market in the main square. I have been to Sergeev Posad many times, but as a nice Jewish girl, I go not to pray at the Orthodox cathedrals (Though they certainly are quite beautiful and worth a visit), but to buy souvenirs and eat lunch in the little basement Italian cafe/bookstore. Since I am not currently in need of any nesting dolls, I told the lady in the canary pashmina that I was not interested in a trip to Sergeev Posad today. And then she said, “Oh well you should go. You should go right away. If you pray at the cathedrals, you will certainly be healed. It is a holy place. You can cure your illness, and you will be able to walk again. I come from there. I can take you now.”
It took me a minute to come to my senses and to realize that she was fixated on my now-visible ‘invalidnost’. Apparently Sergeev Posad also functions as a kind of Lourdes for the lame. Who knew? I politely refused the invitation of the interestingly dressed religious enthusiast and went on my way, out into the Moscow streets…