Confession time. I am a history nerd. Ok I said it. History is kind of a hobby for me. One day I was talking to a dear friend about how I was watching a documentary about Russian history. She asked if I was preparing for class. I said — no. I was just watching them for me. I didn’t say that I was watching the documentary for the hundredth time because I wanted to memorize what was in it.
I don’t remember when the obsession with Russia quite started. It was probably when I was a kid. I’m a child of the Cold War, with my family directly affected by it. We live in the United States because of the Cold War. I grew up with the images of the military parades in Red Square. I am a huge gymnastics fan and for many years, the Soviet Union had the best gymnasts in the world, wearing these intimidating red leotards, with this Soviet crest on it performing so much better than anyone else, proof positive that socialism was the superior system.
It personal for me as well. My grandfather was born in Russia, in Pechora, a town near the Northern Urals. My grandfather had to leave Russia because of the revolution in 1917, when he was five. The family made their way to Poland. Then his daughter emigrated to America. People move around. Always have, always will.
One time I saw a picture of Czar Nicholas, Empress Alexandra and Queen Victoria. I thought about how these two people controlled almost the entirety of the Earth’s surface at the time and how each of them had affected the fate of my family. The Russian revolution and the Czar’s abdication would fundamentally alert the course of my grandfather’s life, while his granddaughter would come to live in the United States, in the city where another revolution would be sparked to break free of Queen Victoria’s ancestor, King George III.
Fast forward to 1989, when it all fell apart. In 1991, the Soviet Union became Russia and its republics. My obsession continued. In 1997, I got the opportunity to travel to Russia.
It was almost destiny that I would visit this place that was the site of such an obsession for me. I remember the first night I was there, when we had settled in our hotel when someone said we should walk to Red Square. I remember just spotting Red Square out of the corner of my eye and thinking — that cannot be real. I am not actually walking over there right now. That cannot be real. But it was. Just two and a half years earlier, I had been walking across a stage getting my high school diploma, ready to leave behind the podunk town I went to high school in and then there I was in Red Square. Russia remains without a doubt, the most amazing place I have ever visited.
Russia is also known for its icons. The icons play a huge role in the worship that takes place in the Russian Orthodox Church. They have a specific style to them. There’s also something very haunting about them. The figures also look very sorrowful and in pain.
There’s a museum of Russian icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. Kind of a little random corner to have a museum, but it is a lovely place. You can learn about the icons and how they are made and how they are part of the worship in the Russian Orthodox Church. I jumped at the chance to see them, what with my obsession with that corner of the planet.
Here are some icons from the museum, in all of their glory.