Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The World's Northernmost Buddhist Temple

Since the 17thth century, Buddhists from Tuva, Kalmykia, Buryatia, and parts of Altai have been part of the vast, ethnically and religiously diverse Russian territory.  These northern Buddhist people are mostly adherents of the Tibetan, Mahayana tradition that arrived in these lands in the 8th century.  Buddhism became one of the officially recognized religions of Russia in 1741, by decree of the empress Elizaveta Petrovna.  Between 1909 and 1913 the northernmost Buddhist temple in the world, and the largest in Europe, was constructed in Saint Petersburg.  The history of the building and the lives of its current occupants are equally fascinating.

The Datsan (as Buddhist university-monasteries are called in Russia and Mongolia) is located in the Primorsky region of the city, close to one of its biggest parks, on the banks of the Bolshaia Nevka River.  Stepping inside the gates of the territory, one gets the impression of stepping outside of time itself – the noise from the large surrounding roadways seems to disappear, the wind seems to blow calmer.  Perhaps it is all self-suggestion born of my idea of what a Buddhist temple should be like… Though, on my first visit to this place a couple of days ago, a tall and unusually-large-for-Russia man with glasses and greasy, graying hair came up to me, introduced himself as a buddhologist and proceeded to remark upon the fact that time moves slower within the walls of the Datsan.  I was not the only one to feel this way apparently.  The rest of what he said, however, made little sense, and after he asked me for some spare change I decided to not take him too seriously.

There are red prayer wheels around the perimeter of the courtyard.  On the walls marble plaques immortalize the names of the Datsan’s founders and important teachers.   Strings of Tibetan prayer flags are wound around the trunks and branches of all the trees, though they strangely clash with the lush leafiness of the local flora.  Their tangled, colorful scraps seem to long for the desolate, windy highlands of the Himalayas, to flap freely in the breeze, away from the suffocating density of the cottonwood leaves.  

The founder of the Datsan was Agvan Dorzhiev, a spiritual adviser and ambassador of the 13th Dalai Lama in Russia.  Dorzhiev received permission from Tsar Nicholas II to build the temple in 1909.  The project was led by the architect Gavriil Baranovsky, famous for his Eliseevsky Emporium on Nevsky Prospekt.  Various prominent orientalists took part in the planning and construction of the Datsan, including Nicholas Roerich, whose stained glass windows depicting important Buddhist symbols are still in the temple today.  The construction of the Datsan was a political move of rapprochement between the Russian Empire and Tibet and the temple was supposed to serve in part as a cultural mission to the imperial capital.  The temple was opened in 1913; the first services were dedicated to the 300-year anniversary of the Romanov dynasty and were led by the Hambo Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, famous today for the life-like state of his body since his death in 1927. 

“This temple is unique; you won’t find architecture like this anywhere in Buryatia or Mongolia. It’s purely Tibetan architecture with some Buryat elements, and there are many European details – the tiles, stained glass windows, stairwells,” says lama Anton, one if the 16 students and teachers who permanently serve in the temple.   The Art Nouveau details of the building and its granite walls place the Datsan at a crossroads of history and culture, like the prayer flags in the cottonwoods.  Anton himself is another testament to the strange fusions found here.

Anton converted to Buddhism eleven years ago and is now in the process of receiving his university degree in Buddhism from the Datsan of Ivolga in Buryatya (one of two Buddhist higher education institutions in Russia).  Anton’s education, however, happens mostly here in St. Petersburg, his hometown.  He came to Buddhism out of curiosity and stayed because he found in it an ethical system he was happy to live by.

“I’ve always had an interest in Buddhism but it wasn’t religious in nature. I didn’t believe in God or the devil. I had a normal atheist family but I was just interested,” Anton explains.  “I decided to do it as a hobby, to learn about all the religions. I began with Buddhism and ended there, because I found all the answers to the questions that interested me right away.”  His interest for religions has continued to develop, but only the ones rooted in the traditions of specific ethnic groups.  Anton firmly believes that without cultural traditions, a religion cannot exist.

Some of Roerich's stained glass windows
“Traditions and religions are two sides of the same coin.  Sects arise when there are no traditions in a religion. So, thanks to the traditional faithful, the people of Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva, and Altai, we have a solid foundation [here in St. Petersburg].”   Anton believes that his own Buddhism is somewhat different from those of the traditional Buddhist people that come to the Datsan.  “I accept Buddhism from an ethical point of view, because the traditional element of Buddhism that was born among those people is difficult for me -- I’m Russian.  The mentality is hard for me, certain practices.  I may know them, respect them, act out the rites, but I’ll never be a Buryat.  As Hambo Lama says: ‘If you want to be Japanese, wait until the next life.’” 

Anton laments that the resources needed to properly maintain the temple are difficult to come by.  Despite the fact that the building is designated as a historical landmark, the city allocates few funds for restoration efforts.  Though money was given recently to fix the roof, the majority of the repairs are financed by the Datsan members and the local Buddhist congregation. 

Overall, however, the state of the temple is far from decrepit.  Six magnificent glass mosaics adorn the walls – gifts from Regina, a local Buddhist artist.  New benches stand everywhere and the interior is well painted and clean.  There are plenty of offerings in front of the Buddha statue.  True, the stained glass is aging and fractured in places and there is a heap of old construction materials behind the building.  But, nevertheless, the place does not breathe of abandonment and disrepair.  Despite the roughness around the edges the hundred-year-old Datsan is full of life and activity.

There are about 10,000 people in the St. Petersburg Buddhist congregation connected with the Datsan.  About half are from the Buryat diaspora alone.  There are also Tuvan, Kalmyk, Altai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and some Thai Buddhists that come to the temple, as well as converted and curious Europeans.  Two services are held per day and liturgy is read in both the Tibetan and Buryat languages.

Anton leads tours in the Datsan as the historical expert of the community.  Now there are 3-4 tours per week of 40-60 people.  In the past year the tour traffic was even heavier: as many as 7 groups of forty people each per day.  Because of its unique location and connection with Itigilov, the Datsan is also an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists the world over.

After the Revolution, the Datsan suffered a fate similar to that of many other religious sites in the Soviet Union – it was pillaged in the years immediately following the uprising of 1917, then continued to be open to worshippers until the mid-1930s.  Buddhism and buddhology were outlawed under Stalin in 1935; the priests and students of the Datsan were repressed.  During the Second World War it served as a military radio station and continued on as a glushilka to block foreign radio transmissions into the Soviet Union until the 1970s.  Then, the building was given to the zoological institute of the USSR Academy of Science.  The Datsan was not returned to the faithful until 1990. 

As I walked around the temple and spoke with Anton, I began to wonder what it is like to be a Buddhist in Russia.  This country has not had the best reputation for religious and ethnic tolerance in recent years and so I asked Anton to weigh in.  I asked him how he thought the treatment of ethnic Buddhists differed from the treatment of Muslim, Central Asian migrants in the city.

“There are few Buryats in the city and the Buryats are a less provocative people [as compared to other ethnic minorities], they’re unpretentious, and so people don’t complain about them.  Anyone who is even a little familiar with Russia’s history knows that the Buryats are fully in their right to be here,” he says.  The same goes for the other Buddhist ethnicities in his opinion.  However, the sheer number of migrants from the Caucuses and Central Asia is much more threatening to local natives.  “We’re afraid for our culture, all peoples are afraid for their culture.  When [migrants] come they bring a different culture, even in terms of clothing, and it causes irritation. One shouldn’t bring one’s own rites to someone else’s monastery.”

Lama Anton
Anton seemed to be speaking both as a Buddhist and as a Russian as our conversation continued.  On one hand he criticized certain migrant groups for participating in criminal activity and culturally insensitive behavior while praising the inconspicuous comportment of Buddhist immigrants.  These cultural generalizations are a dime a dozen in this country.  On the other, he meditated on the causes for turning to a life of crime – poor working conditions, low pay, exploitation, discrimination and fear.   Even as he claimed to have never seen Russians direct racism at immigrants, he explained how the aggressive behavior of some such immigrants is a direct result of the poor treatment they receive from their employers, neighbors, etc.  Just as so many other things in the Datsan, Anton’s views represent a fusion of perspectives. The seemed to float between a Karmic fatalism which sees suffering born of suffering and a distinct Russian determinism which condemns our future to our cultural history.  Somewhere between the two, he finds his middle way.   

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cooperative Memories

In Saint Petersburg, like in most Russian cities, people live in apartment buildings of various sizes. Buildings can range from gargantuan, 40-story, space station style developments in the new neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, to humble 5-story buildings, to the infamous, flimsy Khrushchev era blocs. As anyone who has ever lived in a city knows, a building is like a neighborhood and 22 Orbeli St. was a wonderfully close one back in the day.

Housing cooperatives started to become common and popular in the Soviet Union throughout the 1960s. Before that, families lived in government-constructed and distributed apartments and often spent long years on waiting lists to receive them. Single people were almost exclusively confined to dormitories and rooms in communal apartment. Cooperatives were constructed with money contributed by workers of various state enterprises. The resulting homes were usually more expensive but their quality was much better and the wait to receive separate apartments shorter.

In the case of our building, it was the military-industrial enterprise Granit, that sponsored construction. My grandfather, Vladimir Leontiev was an engineer at Granit and became the president of the cooperative. Construction started in 1964 and residents moved into the forty apartments of the 9-story building by 1967.

Originally, the people who lived there were all somehow connected to my grandfather through Granit or to my grandmother through the Leningrad Medical Institute of Sanitation and Hygiene. In this cooperative people were handpicked to join in the construction. They were generally engineers, doctors, professors, and other respectable professionals.

Zenaida Listvina was also a member of the board of directors for the cooperative and is one of the last-remaining original residents of the building. "This house began construction back when the word cooperative had only appeared," she said. "Many people didn't yet understand what it was. I wasn't the most attractive candidate, and had it been a more hectic time my documents wouldnt have been considered." Being a single woman without a family and relatively little personal savings she would not have received my grandfather's blessing to join if it hadn't been for her persistence and charm.

"I'd seen your grandfather before in the cafeteria and at various work functions. Though we had never been formally introduced, we often gave each other the eye, if you know what I mean," she continued with a lighthearted laugh. "I found his office and was surprised that he was the one in charge! 'So you're that Leontiev!' I said, and he responded in kind. He put my name down and that was that."

At the time, the down payment was 1,800 rubles; it was the most expensive type of cooperative structure. Elements like public balconies on every floor and bathtubs sealed with tile brought up construction costs. According to Listvina, the building was constructed based on Swedish plans. "It took me 15 years to pay off this one-bedroom apartment," she said, "the down payment was 40% and the entire cost amounted to 3,700 rubles."

Today, most of the original residents, including both of my grandparents are deceased. Their children have moved to other areas of the city or immigrated like my mother. Most of the apartments, including our own three-room, have undergone many renovations. Listvina's 7th-floor apartment, however, retains the relics of a by-gone era.

Green and black PVC tiles lead from the entrance into the kitchen. Equipped with one big cabinet, cramped counter space, a crude metal sink, and an almost dangerously old, two-burner gas stove, the only new piece of equipment is a Daewoo washing machine. The bathroom is unlike most of the others in the building, the toilet and bathtub being in the same room which is unusual. The single room in the apartment doubles as a living room and bedroom. Worn parquet covers the floor and 1970s furniture nestles cozily in the dusty corners. A large Symphonya radio stands lifelessly as a plant shelf, no more pirated Radio Free Europe reaching out through static.

We sat together and drank red demi-sec, and talked about the old birds still living in their nests. 43 years after the original residents moved in, the building has lost some of its friendliness and hospitality. Every year takes a few of them away and those who remain are increasingly lost in the swarm of young, busy inhabitants. But on warm afternoons elderly women still sit on a bench on the concrete porch, their familiar faces wrinkled and worn by time.

Listvina herself keeps active with a part-time accounting job and a computer. Her spirits always seem high and running into her is never a simple 'hello'. "I just love listening to jazz and playing solitaire! I could go on for hours!" she told me with excitement." "It's great exercise for the brain and it gives me something to do!" Her daughter and grandson often come to visit and help her clean the apartment.

The building has been well maintained due to the efforts of an affluent 9th-floor resident. An intercom guards the door, a new elevator was installed last year, and one can frequently see Tajik maintenance staff cleaning and sweeping the stairwells. For 43 years my family's life has flowed through the 5th floor of this structure. And though I have spent most of my life far away, and though my grandparents are no longer there to greet me when I ring the doorbell of number 24, the mere sight of the familiar structure and the occasional run-in with an aged but recognizable face keeps this place forever Home.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Last Hero Revisited

Twenty years ago yesterday, Viktor Tsoi, one of the legends of Russian rock music, died after a tragic car accident. For months afterwards, faithful fans and friends gathered at the Bogoslovskoe cemetery in Saint Petersburg to pay tribute to their hero. Teenagers ran away from home, some lovesick girls committed suicide, and everyone knew that the scene would never be the same again. The cemetery has since become a Russian version of Père Lachaise, with our own Jim Morrison attracting scores of people to his final resting place twice yearly for the days of birth and death.

Visiting Bogoslovskoe yesterday turned out to be a mournful experience on several levels. Approaching the cemetery, one could apprehend small groups of people trickling back and forth down the path. Some were wearing Kino t-shirts, some were in plain clothes, some were urinating on surrounding fences and in bushes. One man was sitting on the railroad tracks and having a loud, drunken argument with someone over the phone.

As we got closer to the burial sight, the crowd thickened. Notes of familiar songs drifted through the air from all directions. People with guitars, some alone, some surrounded by groups, camped out in between tombstones of war veterans and young criminals. Then, a clearing to the left of the road, and thousands of roses. From the sea of red, yellow, and white flowers, a thin rectangular stele rose like a lighthouse. At the top of the tombstone, a large, metal composition: A star called the sun and the singer's profile.

Looking around, however, it was difficult to discern a sense of somber respect or nostalgic euphoria. Most of the people around us were plastered. In the middle of this cemetery, the atmosphere was reminiscent of Woodstock. People were in various states of undress, some were singing loudly, some drinking quietly, some smoking joints, some crying, some fighting. But most of them didn't seem to be there to honor the memory of the legendary singer. They came there to party, to see their friends, or for a free drink. They came there to forget where they were, pass out on other people's graves, and take the symbolic cigarettes left by others in front of the tombstone.

Among the sea of degenerating, oblivious faces, fleeting glances of sobriety could be discerned. One woman was quietly organizing the masses of flowers being dropped haphazardly around the tombstone. "I think that this is wrong," she said, "but I'm not capable of going around right now and putting people straight, and neither is the rest of the small cluster of normal people. Everyone tries to express his sympathies to the best of his abilities."

Occasionally, someone came to kneel in front of the grave to
smoke a cigarette in memoriam or shed a few tears. In general, the crowd around the monument was very thin compared to the outposts of intoxicated interactions in the vicinity.

Some people looked like they had listened to Kino back when the band first started. But the majority of the human landscape consisted of a younger generation of gopniks, born after Tsoi's death and growing up in a very different time. Yet this youth, the few that were sober and decent enough to converse with, insist that they too hear a call for freedom and hope in his lyrics.

"I grew up far away from here but I grew up with Tsoi's songs and have always remained faithful to his music. I come here often to honor his memory." said Nikolja, 21. "I started listening to him when I was 7 years old. His music gives your soul freedom. It gives me faith in tomorrow, unlike most of the stuff you hear."

His friend Gleb, 24, has similarly loved Tsoi's music and lyrics from a young age. He even underscored his devotion to Kino with a clearly false tale of meeting Tsoi in the hallways of Lenfilm sound studios at the tender age of four. Gleb claimed that his father worked as a sound engineer when Kino was only getting off the ground and begged for studio time where they could find it. This was an impossible scenario in 1990, but nevertheless, the young man's loving account of the events spoke of a tender attachment to the cultural icon.

Despite the occasional encounter with a sober and somber, grieving fan, the totality of the scene was disturbing and disappointing. This was not an alcohol and drug-soaked, outraged crowd of bereft Kinomaniacs that descended on Bogoslovskoe in 1990. Nor was it an intoxicated gathering of depressive nostalgics. It was simply a sh*t show and Tsoi was today's excuse to get wasted.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Shocking Apology

The train trip from Armavir back to Saint Petersburg was full of unpleasant experiences and pleasant surprises. Traveling by train through Russia, there are certain things one comes to expect. Among them are dirty bathrooms, almost unbearable heat in the compartments, free glasses in metal holders (podstakanniki) to drink tea, fried chicken and hard-boiled eggs made by caring relatives for the long journey, and dominoes, checkers, and chess provided upon request by the attendants.

Right away, I'll say that the bathrooms and heat were not that much of a problem, since we decided to pay more for a car of "heightened comfort". This heightened comfort meant air conditioning and a decent sanitary situation.

Since Russian Railroads belong to the government and are part of the military-industrial complex, the attendants have all the benefits and character flaws of typical mid-level state employees. They are part of a service industry but, as we are used to thinking, they do not feel the need to render services well in order to keep their jobs. Our experience with the attendants on this trip, however, revealed an interesting new paradox. On one hand the attendants had the sour attitudes typical for people who feel too secure in their jobs. On the other we also got a dose of the improving efficiency of quality control in the industry. In other words, we got all
the rudeness and incompetence we could have hoped for but for once, actual measures were taken to redress our grievances.

First, a short presentation of our attendants:
Galina Nikolaevna - a middle-aged, very tan, gypsy-looking woman
. Visibly irritated 90% of the time. Mouth partly filled with gold crowns. Matching gaudy gold earrings. In Gogol stories, these were the kind of women you could run into in the dark corners of closing markets and they would promptly curse you and all of your relatives.
Larisa Dmitrievna - from what we observed she was the one really in charge. Tall, heavy-set, middle aged, short blond hair. Can probably out-drink most men. Most likely from a village or very small town. Judging by the extent to which she could express herself in vulgarities, this woman was serious business.

And here's a brief description of our situation:
We're a party of five. My mother and step-father,
me, my step-brother, and his girlfriend. Compartments are only designed for four people, and we were one ticket short so the ticket for my step-brother was purchased at the Armavir station about fifteen minutes before we left. He was supposed to be in a different car, but needless to say no one thought there would be anything wrong with him staying in the compartment with the rest of us. He did pay for a place on the train after all, why would it matter if he was actually using it? Right?

The train stopped at the Armavir station for a total of 3
minutes. There was a mad rush of passengers with suitcases and large boxes of food, scrambling into the train. We
happened to be in the last car, so far away from the locomotive that there was no platform in front of the entrance, making boarding more like spelunking.

Once we were finally settled and the train was
moving again, things started to get really exciting. Within the first ten minutes, Galina Nikolaevna was verbally assaulted by Larisa Dmitrievna for having left some trash bags in the hallway. The intensity and vulgarity of her tirade was surprising. Subsequently, a visibly disgruntled Galina Nikolaevna came to our compartment and harassed us about the extra person, making him go to check in in car 11. She warned that
she didn't want to see him again, which would obviously not be the case. My step-brother would have to listen to her angry mumbling every time he passed her to get hot water all through the trip.

Next, we decided to secure some glasses with podstakanniki. However, when I went up to get the glas
ses, the attendants rudely declared that to receive them I'd have to buy teabags from them for 25 rubles apiece (almost $1). Surprised by such an unheard-of
turn of request, I went back to our compartment and sent my step-father (who was an attendant himself in the 1970s) to try to reason with them.

Fifteen minutes later he came back with five glasses. They only cost him 50 rubles instead of 125. He claimed that he made a comment about it being inappropriate for the attendants to be making money off of their passengers. Of course, he himself made extra money from being a train attendant, but not by charging for glasses. The standard method was to take up extra passengers and split the revenue with head of the train, which, as we soon found out, these ladies also did.

When we noticed the extra people in our car, a young woman and her little daughter lodging in one of the attendants' beds, we decided that the attendants would probably not bother us again about our extra person. But, we were wrong. In the evening Galina Nikolaevna came again and warned that if the fifth person didn't go back to car 11, they would call the head of the train and we would have to answer to him.

At one point in the trip, bored by everything else we could have done in the compartment, we decided to ask for the chess board. Once again, it wasn't about what we wanted to get but about wha
t the attendants were willing to give us. The chess board or common courtesy were not among those things. They told my step-father that they had no chess board and instead, shoved a set of dominoes at him. At the next stop, he simply went to the next car over and asked a friendly attendant there, who gave us the chess reserved for his passengers. In reality, it wasn't that Galina Nikolaevna and Larisa Dmitrievna didn't have a chess board. They just didn't want to take the chance of someone losing a piece or breaking it, and then be held accountable for the damaged item.

They came to threaten us one last time, on the last night of the journey, and promised to call their superior if the fifth person was not out by 23:00. We said th
at when they came to check, they should bring along their complains book because we had had enough of their rude treatment and audacious money-making schemes. After that, we didn't hear from them all night.

The next morning something astounding occurred. At 8:00, a few hours before we were to arrive in Saint Petersburg, there was a knock on the door of our compartment. Larisa Dmitrievna came in with a smile. Galina Nikolaevna cowered behind her. "On behalf of myself and my partner, I'd like you to accept our apology for our behavior and for not rendering our se
rvices at the expected level of excellence." She proceeded to babble on for a few more minutes about how sorry they both were. Galina Nakolaevna just peeked out from behind her and nodded. At the end of this little discourse, she gave us back the 50 rubles and asked to please not write in the complaints book.

Our jaws dropped. My step-father was so shocked at this unexpected apology that he could not muster up anything coherent to say, only that if we had also behaved inappropriately to forgive us.

So what exactly happened here? What solicited such an unparalleled change of attitudes? If we had actually written a complaint, it would have been taken
seriously! These women could have lost their jobs or perhaps been fined for their behavior. None of us had ever imagined that these kinds of consequences were possible given the nature of the railroad business. A few minutes later, Larisa Dmitrievna came to us again and asked to write a statement to say that we had no complaints and that we would not contact their superiors with any grievance and sign it.

Guess all that anti-corruption legislation really is working. Now if only we could train middle-aged state employees to not be rude in the first place...

Oh, there was also a man in our car who looked like Lavrentiy Beria and was traveling with a pit bull.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Southern Hospitality

The South of Russia is pretty much just like the South of the United States. People aren't as religious but in most other aspects, life looks familiar: Hot, hospitable, and heavy-set.

Kuban is a region bordered by the Black Sea, Caucus mountains, and Volga delta. This is one of the most agriculturally productive areas of the country, and most people earn their living through farming.

Villages in the region are expansive yet people know each other well, and fill one another's houses daily. Since arriving to celebrate my step-father's sister's birthday, no one meal has been eaten without the company of at least ten people. Large bowls of home-slaughtered, fried meats, home-made pies, beer, juices, soups, salted fish, dumplings, salads, and honey cover the long wooden tables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Endless relatives come and go and invite one another to their homes. The evening air is filled with tall tales, clinking glasses, and loud laughter.

In recent years, however, ethnic tensions with neighboring regions have been felt more that ever in Kuban's villages. Migrants from struggling areas of the Caucuses have come to settle here. There has been a particularly high influx of Armenians since the violent altercations in Azerbaijan in the late 80s.

One long-time resident of the region says that before the perestroika everyone lived fairly tranquilly because "there was nothing to divide or share, nothing belonged to anyone." But since the Soviet Union fell apart, tensions about land rights and traditional cultural dominance among the many ethnic groups surrounding Kuban have been on the rise. The ripples can be felt in the Russian villages as well.

But at the birthday festivities, all of these concerns appear far off for a few hours. Tables are laden with local specialties. The toastmaster tirelessly rouses the crowd to new rounds of congratulatory alcohol consumption. Episodes of heartfelt dancing intersperse the seemingly endless courses of the meal.

Russians have historically loved to celebrate with abandon. A hundred years ago such a party would not have been complete without a band of hired gypsies and their trained bear cub. Today, the gypsies and bear cub are replaced by Armenian circus artists and their crocodile, cobra, and small flock of doves dyed green.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happiness is just 20 minutes away

Toksovo is a disheveled village just a 20 minute train ride away from Saint Petersburg. It is surrounded by various communities of summer homes or dachas. Walking to one of them from the train station will expose you briefly to a parallel world. In it, people walk slower, grass grows taller, and the elderly have plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bureaucratic City Crawl

Today was an exhausting day. From 9:30AM to 9:30PM I was primarily occupied with visiting local bureaucrats for answers and solutions to all sorts of questions and problems. There were a few hours of lectures at the University as well. All in all, it feels like I should have had a productive day. In reality, most of the answers and solutions I got have led me to further questions and appointments with other bureaucrats.

Last week I was told that the current bureaucratic organism of the Russian Federation far surpasses anything that ever existed in the Soviet Union. After today I believe it. Giant, modern office buildings have been built to house all of the bureaus and offices now in existence to punctuate the Russian citizen's life activities. As always, of every five information booths and contact points only one is staffed.

Just about the only bright side to a day of aimless crawling from one department to another office and from one bureau to another center is that the sparse employees of this humongous apparatus were in general quite friendly and competent.

Tomorrow will be another day of trying to get things done.

Below is a map of my journey. The green markers are for places where I got things done fairly successfully. The red markers are the various extensions of the bureaucratic apparatus. The two long straight lines are metro routes. 90% of the rest of the trajectory was done on foot.

View Bureaucratic Office Crawl in a larger map