On the morning of Saturday, December 10, just as news was breaking of CIA reports that state-sponsored Russian hackers had sought to influence the US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor, I was visiting The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis (a family event had brought us to the Twin Cities).
There I was, standing in the museum’s beautiful main hall, surrounded by works by Fabergé and Formozov, while outside the Twitterverse and the 24/7 mediocracy was subsumed by stories of cyber this, Putin that, and endless analyses of Trump’s ties to the Kremlin.
It was another taste of the dualism that now dominates the Russophile’s world, and it made me think of a wonderful quote by Toni Morrison about how artists keep working when the world around them seems to be spinning out of control:
"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal... I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art."
We speak, we write, we do language.
We tell stories.
A bit ironically, by a design set down months ago, two of the feature stories we tell in this issue (Monuments, page 38 and Ivan the Terrible, page 44), as well as the Post Script (page 64), deal with what happens when art becomes a tool of the state, of how the Russian state has sought to refract history through public monuments.
But we also take you to the furthest tip of the Russian Far East, where battles are being fought with poachers. And to a remote village in Tver province, where we meet a horse named Boy. And to an unusual museum in the Russian breadbasket.
This eclectic mix of stories and the strange attraction of this country brought to mind another quote, this time from Nikolai Gogol:
"Russia! Russia... Everything in you is open, desolate and level; your squat towns barely protrude in the midst of the plains like dots, like counters; there is nothing to tempt or enchant the onlooker’s gaze. But what is this inscrutable, mysterious force that draws me to you?"
I could not think of two more perfect quotes with which to begin our magazine’s sixtieth year.
And so, with the arrival of another January (got your Wall Calendars yet?), I reaffirm our commitment to continue taking you to Russia in unusual ways, to allow that inscrutable, mysterious force to work on us, so that we will speak, write, and tell interesting stories.
Enjoy the issue.
p.s. If you have not already, sign up for our free email newsletter at russianlife.com. If all goes according to plan, just after New Year’s we will announce an exciting, new year-long book project that will make The Spine of Russia project look easy! We’d love to have you join us.To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.
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