Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Moscow Metro: pics and articles

The Moscow Times noted the Metro's 70th birthday earlier this year.

The Metro is full of glorious artwork. Here is an excellent picture gallery of the Moscow metro stations with wide angle lens (also a stations map). Also a more pedestrian view (with photos).

The actual Moscow Metro website has many interesting photos as well, though I would use Worldlingo (see previous post) to translate the entire page. For those too lazy to cut and paste, here are some sites with pictures:

3D cutaway of Metro entrance
Art posters of the Metro
Russian stamps of the Metro throughout the decades
matchbox art
station photos (click on links)
metro cars (click on links)
early drawings of the Metro
building the Metro

Extra: Subway art/architecture throughout the world
Nationmaster lists some interesting stats:
Top 10 Busiest Metro Stations (annual passenger rides):
- Moscow 3.2 billion
- Tokyo 2.7 billion
- Seoul 1.6 billion
- Mexico City 1.3 billion
- New York City 1.3 billion
- Paris 1.2 billion
- Osaka 957 million
- London 886 million (4.6 billion miles)
- Hong Kong 798 million
- St. Petersburg 784 million

Top 5 Largest Metro Stations (number of stations):
- New York 468
- Paris 368
- London 270
- Tokyo 217
- Moscow 140

Extra Extra: a Dacha seen through wide angle lens

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cantonists and the Pale of Settlement

For me, a crash course in Russian Jewish History:
Here is a NewTimes article on why Jewish children were forcibly inducted into the Russian army as Cantonists during Nicholas I reign:

Why would Nicholas I drive Jewish children into those schools? Not for a
stronger Russian army, not at all: Jews were considered too weak for army
service, cowardly and generally unreliable. It was just one of Nicholas’
extravagant ideas. He saw it as the simplest way to assimilation, more
accurately, christianization of the Jews. To make an adult Jew change his faith
seemed an absolutely impractical idea; but a child was a different matter.

That was Nicholas I for you- accordingly, "half of the twelve thousand anti-Jewish laws passed between 1649-1881 originated in his reign" (here).

Incidentally, The Jewish Magazine on why Russian Jews referred to Nicholas I as Haman the Second (after Haman of Purim).

I'm also learning more about how Nicholas I created the Pale of Settlement. As a Jew, you needed a passport (pic) to travel outside the area. Of course, Jews weren't the only ethnic group resettled by Russian authorities within the past two centuries. However,

Tsar Nicholas I created the Pale of Jewish Settlement in April 1835 ("The Pale
of...") --- a limited geographical area where Jews were mandated to live. The
Pale included Lithuania, Poland, the south-western provinces, and White Russia
with a few variations until its end in 1917 (Ritter). "The Pale was the single
most destructive legal burden borne by Russian Jewry, and one of the most
enduring," said Klier (5). Within the Pale, Jews were banned from most rural
areas and some cities (Ritter); they were prohibited from building synagogues
near churches and using Hebrew in official documents; barred from agriculture,
they earned a living as petty traders, middlemen, shopkeepers, peddlers, and
artisans, often working with women and children (Kniesmeyer and Brecher). After
1861, "the Pale became choked by a huge, pauperized mass of unskilled or
semiskilled Jewish laborers, whose economic condition steadily worsened," said
Klier (6). "Often repeated," said historian Shlomo Lambroza, "the official view
was that Jews were a parasitic element in the Russian Empire who lived off the
hard earned wages of the narod [people]" (219). (

This map is enlarged here. However, I like this clearer map showing relocation movements.

As a Jew, what a pogrom under Nicholas I (pic) might look like from a London newspaper.

A Jewish Virtual History Tour of Russia is worthwhile.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Look whose reading about Alexander II...

Yes, I was surprised to read a Mosnews article that President Bush read Edvard Radzinsky's book Alexander II: The Last Great Czar. Apparently, he found Alexander II's interest in fighting terrorism relevant. Radzinsky is somewhat circumspect to this news:

"Being a president is a profession, and when an American starts familiarizing himself with it, he tries to do his best,” Radzinsky pointed out. “And of course when he (Bush) learned that there is a book about terrorism, hewanted to read it, because for one thing, it is about terrorism and,secondly, he could find out that the war against terrorism was declared before his time.”

Accordingly, Radzinsky assumes Bush has

..drawn the connection to the terrorists of today. “Very noble young people who dreamed about the future of Russia became killers, because blood destroys souls,” Radzinsky said. “That for me is the most important lesson.” (here)

Finally, gotta love the intro to this Washington Times Book Review:

There are several good reasons for calling Alexander II the last great czar, a reformer in the tradition of Peter the Great. A young Queen Victoria fell in love with Alexander, but to no avail. Alexander eventually married his long time mistress and legitimated their children which was more than his great-grandmother, Catherine the Great, with 13 official lovers, ever did.

The Luzhin Defence / Russian History of Chess

My brother will visit in a few days and we can play chess again- a favorite pastime. The last time we played, my almost 2-year son tipped the chessboard over in the middle of an intense game- well, better to laugh than cry. Thinking about chess reminded me of an interesting movie I saw, The Luzhin Defense . The plot:

Set in the late 1920s, The Luzhin Defence tells the story of a shambling, unworldly chess Grand Master who arrives in the Italian Lakes to play the match of his life and unexpectedly finds the love of his life. Discovering his prodigious talent in boyhood overshadowed by his parents' failing marriage, Luzhin's lyrical passion for chess has become his refuge and rendered the real world a phantom. Already matched up by her family to the very suitable Comte de Stassard, when Natalia meets Luzhin, she is drawn to the erratic genius and offers him a glimpse outside of his chess obsession. But it is a world he is not equipped to deal with and his two worlds collide to tragic effect. (

As the ending neared, my wife said something like "I can't watch this unhappy ending. I should have known that anything based on a Russian novel would end in tragedy." However, looking over the comments, I'm not sure that the movie is faithful to Nabokov's book. An excellent review of the ending chess moves (the movie's climax) can be found here. A physician who blogs muses on how Nabokov depicts the mentally-ill main character here.

As for Russian chess itself, some Russian chessplayers have found worldwide fame- such as Spassky and Kasparov (who by the way I admire for acting on his political convictions- more on that here).

Indeed, I was not aware that

Russia (or the former Soviet Union) first competed in a (chess) Olympiad in 1952 and has won all but two since then. Only for three years since 1948 has there been a non-Russian (Soviet) champion. Bobby Fischer (USA) won crushingly in 1972 but did not defend in 1975 when the title went to Anatoly Karpov by default. In 1985 Karpov lost the title to 22-year old Garry Kasparov in a marathon struggle lasting 72 games, starting in September 1984. (here).

Though recent news does not look so good.

Mark Weeks briefly details Russia's history with chess in this article. Or you can read a quick timeline if you're familar with the chessmasters.

A really interesting page on chess pieces created to corresponded to early Russian history. Finally, if you're into chess battle pieces, Russian Legacy sells three Russian battle chess sets (Borodino, Poltova, Battle on Ice) -ad on left hand side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Russia's Tocqueville: Astolphe de Custine

Custine Quote: "Nations have always good reasons for being what they are, and the best of all is that they cannot be otherwise."

The Russian Dilettante Weblog compares a French Aristocrat to Tocqueville:

Back in 1831, a young French gentleman took a boat to New York,
planning to study American penal institutions. He spent nine months in the
States of North America, met people from various walks of life and in due course
published two volumes of what an encyclopedia of American life. Several years
after Tocqueville's American journey, an older French aristocrat stayed in
Russia for two months and produced another influential book. I am talking about
Astolphe de Custine and his Russia in 1839. George Kennan found
it prophetic; Theodore Dalrymple based a book on it; Alexandr Sokurov (the film
director) centered
The Russian Ark around a Custine-like figure.
However, for the Marquis de Custine, the Russians can't win:

...don't reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I
blame them for is their desire to appear to be what we [Europeans] are . . .
They are much less interested in being civilized then in making us believe them
so . . . They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric
then they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them
better and more civilized. (

Perhaps Custine's attitude toward Russia is merely a reflection of his French aristocratic background- or simply a common attitude toward Russia among Europeans. I wonder what Pushkin would have thought- though he died before the decade (1830s) was out.

A new blog entry by The Russian Dilettante has some relevant observations about Custine's visit (scroll down). Amazon currently features Journey For Our Time: The Journals of the Marquis de Custine Russia 1839

Update: Given his observations above, I can imagine Custine sneering at The Bronze Horsemen -(picture). Why?
It has frequently been noted that Peter gestures to the West, the
source and inspiration for his ideas of transforming Old Russia. Peter's horse
tramples on a serpent, generally interpreted to stand for the backwardness of
Old Russia. (

American Relief for Russia's Famine 1920-21

Still reading The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921.

The book is long but a good read - to get a brief overview, I recommend this Hoover-Digest site (with pics). Stanford's Hoover Institution also has an online exhibit based upon the book (includes pics).

A review of the book found on H-Net.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fourteen Months In Siberia during the Revolution

The Alexander Palace website has an interesting online book entitled Fourteen Months In Siberia during the Revolution.

The author, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, speaks on her travels through Tobolsk, Ekaterinburg, and Omsk and her exile in Siberia- though she eventually reaches England . So if you have a few minutes, or if you want to simply print it off and read later, it seems as if a good read.

About the Baroness:

Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden became one of 200 honorary ladies-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra and first served at court in November 1904. Later in 1913 as a mark of confidence and special honor she became an official lady-in-waiting and served at the side of the Tsaritsa and her family until their removal from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg in 1918. During these five years she enjoyed a degree of intimacy and trust from Alexandra that was only matched by two other women...(

The Commissar Vanishes

The Commissar Vanishes illustrates Stalin's terror in practical terms- in essense, seemingly determining a person's very existence though photographic retouching. Many before/after pictures shown.

Then I found the Commissar Vanishes website by accident. Look carefully-

Solzhenitzyn Background

Brother's Judd has Solzhenitsyn's Harvard Speech from a few years ago. He turned 87 yesterday. Excerpt:

It has been pointed out by various thinkers many times (and I quote here the
words of the 20th century Russian philosopher Nikolai Lossky): If a personality
is not directed at values higher than the self, corruption and decay inevitably
take hold. Or, if you will permit me to share a personal observation: We can
only experience true spiritual satisfaction not in seizing, but in refusing to
seize. In other words: in self-limitation.

For those that don't know, Solzhenitsyn famously wrote The Gulag Archipelago, detailing life in the Soviet Union's famous gulags. For this work..

...Solzhenitsyn collected excerpts from documents, oral
testimonies, eyewitness reports, and other material, which all was inflammable.
The detailed account of the network of prison and labor camps - scattered like
islands in a sea - in Stalin's Russia angered the Soviet authorities and
Solzhenitsyn was arrested and charged with treason. In 1974 the author was
exiled from the Soviet Union. (in worthwhile article

Solzhenitsyn's other works include Cancer Ward, The Red Wheel, First Circle, & One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The Boston Globe's 1984 interview with him. Another site. Famous quotes here and here. A BBC report on his 1994 return to Moscow. In 1974, he was arrested for penning this essay- that passed around Moscow's dissident community.

MosNews reported on his meeting with Putin last summer.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tools to explore Russian Archival Sites

When I come across a Russian-only page that I know will interest me I go to
Worldlingo Machine Translation Page. Here its simply a matter of cutting and pasting a URL (website address) or text for that matter. The translation is necessarily rough but often just good-enough.

I used it to explore these Russian archival links (listed in English)- takes a minute but worth exploring.

Early Russian History Pictures

Early Russian history pictures by Ivanov, Biblibin, Vasnetsov

Extra: Leo Tolstoy's house

Vladimir: Capital of Kievan Rus

Ancient Vladimir, part of Russia's Golden Ring around Moscow, is a frequent stop for tourists. The city (pop. 315,000) will be celebrating the 900th anniversary in 2008 (though perhaps somewhat older than even this).

Vladimir is best known for being the capital of Kievan Rus (12th-14th c.), and the seat of the Russian metropolitan then as well - explaining why so many stone churches were built. In the 12th century, it was "one of Europe's largest and most beautiful cities, enjoying immense growth and prosperity" (Wikipedia).

An interesting article on what happened to this great city (pop 315,000) - still industrial, part tourist -aside from the Mongols destructive pillage in 1238 (putting Vladimir in permanent decline). My favorite line: There are more monuments of pre-Mongolian architecture per a square kilometre than McDonald's restaurants in Moscow. Incidentally, I couldn't find a single McDonald's in Vladimir.

Vladimir is also known for the Ikon of the Theotokos.

Photo Gallery: here (historic sights) and here (life).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

In memory of Soviet dissidents

...A rally in Moscow to commemorate the first Soviet demonstration:
On Dec. 5, 1965, several dozen activists demanded that the trial of two Soviet writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, charged with anti-Soviet activity in their yet-unpublished writings, be open to the public. The rally, triggered by a series of arrests of intellectuals who spoke out against the Soviet regime, was regarded as the start of the Soviet dissident movement.

Evotional on what dissidents can achieve.

The article states that yesterday's rally in St. Petersburg attracted twice as many demonstrators (100+ people) as in Moscow's Pushkin Square. hmmm

Russian Antiques

The Russian antiques market has exploded in value the last few years- especially Russian icons. And of course forgeries come with that territory.

BTW, the best short essay I ever read on icons was Sergei Averinsev's "Visions of the Invisible: The Dual Nature of the Icon" in Gates of Mystery: The Art of Holy Russia.

More on this late Russian scholar, invited by Pope John Paul II to pray with him before the Kazan icon.

Update: A New Times article on a Kazan icon's return from the Vatican.

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