My Russian Mosaic

A metronome ticks and stops. Music plays. The metronome ticks and stops. Music plays. The transmission of Leningrad Radio keeping alive the hopes of the city’s inhabitants. It is 1944. The German army siege continues to its strangle-hold over the city during the past 900 days. One million people are dead due to cold and starvation.

I stand in the windowless museum commemorating the heroic defenders of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). That recreation of the radio’s transmission takes me back in time, more real than the battered army helmets, rifles and photos on display.

Valentín, our 40-year-old guide, tells how the siege affected his family. His grandmother died of starvation. His grandfather’s brother disappeared. The rest of the family was eventually evacuated through the one route open to the interior. In impeccable Spanish he tells us, “No one is alive today who hasn’t lost someone in the siege.”

Siege Memorial

Siege Memorial


Back in Chile, I look over the past three weeks of travel in Europe trying to process all that my senses have taken in. Certain moments and places stand out, like the siege museum in St. Petersburg. Already my memories grow fuzzy. I write to Valentín. What is the music in the radio transmissions? He sends me a recording of the transmission and the popular Russian song on which the music is based. I listen. It strikes me that the ticking of a metronome and the strains of a song can affect me so strongly. Once again I am back to those tragic times. These are no longer just historical facts but real events within my generation’s lifetime.

Valentín takes us to a metro station constructed during the years of Communist rule. We descend into a work of art of marble columns, mosaics, gold carvings of Soviet designs and of workers of different trades, their faces reflecting pride and strength. Beautifully wrought chandeliers light up the spacious hall. We board a train that rattles and rumbles us to the next station. We stand awe-struck at the elegance.



Metro Station


These impressions are mosaic pieces that I must fit together in my mind, constructing a picture of the Russian people, their history, their culture. I have begun to read a biography of Catherine the Great. More pieces to fit into my mural.

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