Sunday, September 02, 2012

Russia: "the scowl that melts into a smile . . ."

Pereslavl (2011)

Celestine Bohlen, writing "Driving Russia's Revived Golden Ring" for the NYT (August 31, 2012), captures a lovely image in an exquisite phrase:
Virtually all of the Orthodox Christian monasteries in Pereslavl are in various states of renovation. One, the Goritsky, which looks like something from a Russian fairy tale, is the home of the local museum, which was closed. We stopped at two others, which are once again functioning as convents. At the 14th-century Fyodorovsky Monastery, we followed a group of black-clad nuns, one on her cellphone, walking briskly toward the main church. There, after donning aprons made available for female visitors wearing pants (we brought along our own head scarves, an essential item in Russia), we had our first encounter with a familiar Russian facial expression: the scowl that melts into a smile.

We had approached the nun behind the candle counter and asked for the name of the church. "And you," she snarled, "who are you?" We explained that we were tourists interested in the wonderful restoration, and her face instantly lighted up. Suddenly Sister Natalya was eager to tell stories about the miracles wrought by the church's breathing icon -- a Byzantine-style portrait of the Virgin Mary, whose face peers from behind a fine wrought silver oklad, the classic protective covering put on Russian icons. (Actually, it was a copy, she confided to us, with the sincerity of someone who truly believed what she was about to tell us: The original had been painted during the Virgin's lifetime by St. Luke, and was stolen in the 1980s.)

This kind of encounter happened again and again. Russians like to tell stories; whether they are true or not is unimportant.
I love that phrase, "the scowl that melts into a smile"! All of Russian literature, culture, and history is captured in these few lapidary words!

That says it all . . .

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