Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RUSSIA: IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL (Coincidental Meetings, BYU vs. U of U Goes International, and a Serendipitous Purchase)

We had a number of amazing coincidences on our big trip this summer that prove you can run, but you can't hide.

1.  When we heard one of the couples on our trip was from Bakersfield, we asked if they knew my sister and her husband. They said, "Do they have a son named Brent?"  Why, yes!  Turns out the man is my sister's stake president.

President Hawkins chatting with a fellow clergyman in a living history museum in Aarhus, Denmark. 
2.  We made friends with a couple of retired BYU professors.  He had been a chemistry professor and she had been a technical writing professor.  He looked really familiar to me.  We finally figured out that his first semester teaching was my first summer term at the Y.  He was my Physical Science 100 professor.  I was proud to tell him I got an A in his class.
"Mr. Zimmerman"

3.  We ran into missionaries in Moscow.  One of the elders, whose name I unfortunately did not write down, was from Payson.  His grandma's sister is Ila Peterson, one of my mom's good friends and the mother of one of my high school friends.
Yeah, I know this is the worst picture of all time of me.  Enjoy using it against me, Dave.

4.  I had to speak in a Sunday fireside for our mostly LDS tour group. (I'm sure it was because of my connection to Doris's stake president, who was asked to conduct the meeting and was the one who asked me to be one of the speakers.)  I told a story about Mom, and afterwards I was approached by a man who asked her name.  Turns out he was married to my Aunt Resa's sister Renata (now deceased) and is in Bob's mother's ward where he has been her home teacher.

5.  I discovered that a husband and wife in our group are in my good friend's ward in Riverside.  They currently serve as temple workers in the Redlands Temple.

6.  We became friends with one of the couples who was seated at our dinner table on the cruise.  When I came home and was telling Rachael about them, she asked if they have a son named Mark who served a mission in Fiji and if their family ever lived in Santa Barbara.  Yes and yes.  Turns out she dated the son Mark when they were both living in the French house at BYU.
The Brinkerhoffs

I often run into people I know in faraway places.  It's bizarre!

We did learn on this trip that no matter how far away from home you are, Cougars and Utes will butt heads.
Bob and Scott.  If these guys can be friends, then the Cold War must indeed be over.

Our Utah State Aggie friend also had to get in on the act.

Finally, one of the most unbelievable chance encounters on our trip happened on Arbat Street in Moscow, where we we spent an hour shopping and sightseeing. 

Bob and I were browsing through the stores when all of the sudden Bob let out a squeal.  This is what he found:

Bob was so excited that he bought this matryoshka doll without even bargaining, probably paying twice what he should have paid for it.  It is a bit tacky, but hey, "To Think That We Bought It on Arbat Street!"  How could we possibly resist such a find?

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I feel compelled to detour out of Moscow for a post.  We have been horrified by the news coming out of Oslo, Norway, this weekend, one of the most beautiful and peaceful cities in the world.  This is, after all, the city where the Nobel Price Prize is awarded. (The rest of the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.) Both Bob and I have been going back through our pictures of Oslo, looking for the places that we are seeing on the news.  One of the gifts of travel is that it gives a sense of place to world events.  We are certainly no experts on Oslo, where we spent just three days, but we know a lot more than we used to!

The old city wall
We stayed in the older, more historic part of town, but we weren't far from the downtown business district where the car bomb exploded.  More than most major world cities, we found Oslo to be a harmonious blend of very old and very new.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers--I took this picture for Nate and Brian

Oslo loves its windows.

I loved this building shaped like the prow of a ship.

Oslo Opera House, built as a kind of extension of the harbor, as if the sea were coming right up the ramp and into the hall to hear the music.  Keeping those front windows clean must be a 24/7 job.
The brand new sculpture in front of the Opera House looks like an iceberg and can rotate with the winds and waves.

This looks a lot like the area where the bomb went off.

Beautiful flowers everywhere:

We have been moved by the images and stories of Norwegians in their grief.  Of particular interest have been the stories about the crowds gathering in the central cathedral in Oslo, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. Norwegians have been flocking there in record numbers this weekend.  (According to Wikipedia, only 5% of Norwegians attend church, compared to 45% of Americans, so church is not part of their usual routine.)  We visited the cathedral several times, intrigued by its blend of secular and sacred. 

 The date of the cathedral's completion is posted on the exterior wall:

But modern touches reflect the merging of past and present we found so appealing in Oslo.  The bronze doors, for example, were added in 1938.  Here are a few panels:

Inside, the whitewashed walls and muted ceiling murals (completed during a restoration project in the mid-20th century) contrast sharply with the Russian Orthodox cathedrals I've been writing about:

However, the stained glass windows added in 1910-1916 by Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland (more about him in a later post), add a startling burst of color:

The original altar piece is a cross between mural and sculpture:
 I love these faces and poses:
The pulpit also appears to be part of the original church:

There are multiple organs.  This one, positioned in the traditional spot at the rear of the cathedral high above the main doors, was gorgeous.

This more modest and newer instrument positioned closer to the choir was also beautiful:
It had a keyboard that even I might be able to manage:
We loved what we assume is a baptismal font . . .
. . . with this snake inlaid in the floor in front of it. A symbol of original sin, perhaps?
The interior doors were beautiful but devoid of any religious symbols that we were aware of and could have been anywhere--a palace, a government office, a fancy department store:

By far my favorite item in the church was this sculpture in silver of The Last Supper (1930) by Italian artist Arrigo Minerbi:

Aren't those wonderful faces?  By the way, note how someone has tucked a piece of paper between Christ's fingers in that final picture and the apostle's fingers in the previous picture. Requests for  special blessings, perhaps?

As Norway mourns its lost children, I am glad they are coming together in this beautiful cathedral that will remind them who they are.  I hope they find can find some comfort there.
Photo from LA Times, Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011


(This is a long post with lots of pictures.  If you do nothing else, scroll down to the end and watch the video we took inside the Cathedral.)

It is hard to adequately convey the riot of color and shape that is St. Basil's Cathedral, also known as "The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat."  It was smaller than what I expected and rather abruptly placed at the end of Red Square, but it was, nevertheless, breathtaking.

In front of St. Basil's is a monument to Russian heroes Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who led an army to chase out invading Poles in 1612.  I love how they appear to be regaling each other with their stories of conquest:

What St. Basil's lacks in size, it makes up for in originality.  Built in 1561, it had no architectural predecessors; it was a completely unique style. Historians point to possible Italian and German influences, but can find no direct link to any other structure.

No two of the nine onion domes are alike.  Actually, they were originally gold but were gradually restylized from 1680 to 1848, reflecting the growing Russian fascination with color, which can be seen in cathedrals all over the country.

Which dome is your favorite? (Sorry, but I only show seven of them here.  There is another red/green striped one you can see in the very first picture on the post, and another rather dull green striped small one that I don't have any good pictures of.)  I just can't decide which one I like best; it would be like singling out one of my children as my favorite.

There is also a separate bell tower:
We did not get to hear the bells ring, but here is a good recording of what they sound like:

The bell tower is on the right in this picture taken from behind the Cathedral
Not only are the domes wonderfully wild and complicated, but so is the rest of the exterior. There are several sets of steep, covered stairways, seen on both the right and left below:

The painting is colorful and intricate, and the eaves are bordered with a delicate gold filigree unlike anything I've ever seen anywhere else:

Inside, there are eight chapels arranged asymmetrically around a ninth chapel, known as "The Chapel of Intercession."  Each chapel is topped with one of the onion domes that can be seen outside. There are no large open spaces inside as there are in other cathedrals, although there are soaring ceilings. It is quite a maze, and I didn't feel like I really understood the layout at all.

Steps leading up to a viewing area inside one of the domes

(Photo by Scott Zimmerman)
One of my favorite experiences of the entire trip occurred in the chapel with the iconostasis pictured above. A male quartet with a box of CDs for sale and a donation jar prominently displayed just happened to start singing right after we walked into the room.  Their beautifully harmonizing voices (well, okay, except for that last note by the bass) reverberated through this small but lofty chapel.  I grabbed my camera and made this less-than-perfect video which doesn't quite capture the ethereal quality of their music, but it's good enough that re-watching it brings tears to my eyes as I remember the experience.  At the risk of being maudlin, let me just say that it was incredible to think that I was in Russia, in Red Square, in exquisite St. Basil's Cathedral, listening to these haunting voices that transcended time and place and religion and language.  I hope to never forget it.