Katherine in Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Just after editing The Magic Circle, I made a quick trip to Moscow where 850th birthday celebrations were still underway. The city was festooned with posters of St George, their patron saint. I felt this was an omen, because though St George does not appear as a character in The Magic Circle, his presence is there through his channeling of earth’s energies by pinning the dragon forces of nature. The whole Russian trip was laden with enough synchronicity to make Carl Jung’s head spin.
With my wonderful student translator, Elina Igaunis
Our first day in Moscow, the Russian parliament voted to suppress all religions but Judaism, Islam, and the Moscow Russian Orthodox church. Other religions were outlawed as johnny-come-latelies. When I told our student escort and interpreter, Elina, that The Magic Circle was a book about the dangers of such rigidity and reactionary behavior, she insisted that I must read “The Master and Margarita,” a 1960s Russian irony where the Master is a writer who’s written an opus all about Pontius Pilate and Jesus, and Satan descends upon communist-era Moscow, a city that doesn’t believe in God or the devil!
Elina accompanied our group of westerners to the famous monastery of Zagorsk. After four hours on the bus, we were still trying to escape traffic jams in Moscow and reach the monastery just outside. We were dressed for what we’d been told would be a “typically beautiful Moscow Indian Summer’—but Zagorsk had bone-chilling wind and sleet—and just one church open. From the expressions on the faces of the worshippers within, I got the uneasy sense that the Invasion of the Body Snatchers had arrived at Zagorsk like the devil at Moscow. Back outside, it was so miserably bitter that Elina hiked up some steps to try the door of a larger church. A man in a leather jacket and shades arrived and tried to take her off to get ‘clearance.’
Karl—my best friend and significant other, who was all too familiar with former time-tested communist techniques of “clearing’ people—grabbed Elina’s other arm, and a tug-of-war ensued. Elina and the two contestants were suddenly surrounded by guards toting shoulder holsters and walkie-talkies. Karl insisted “You’re taking her nowhere!!” And he stood with arms akimbo between Elina and the guards. I jumped in the middle and yelled, “You’re taking him nowhere!” Karl’s fellow professors, who could speak no Russian, saw their translator being kidnapped with Karl and me, and they joined the kluge. We moved as a human block across the compound to the office of the Head Monk, where the door was locked behind us.
The Head Monk, who looked about fifteen, with pimples and a three-whisker beard, stared through thick glasses at little Elina, while the thuglike guards formed a line to denounce her as a treacherous whore attempting to conduct unofficial guided tours of a sacred sanctuary, in exchange for filthy western capitalist dollars. When it was clear we weren’t prepared to ransome Elina from the Mafia Monks for any of our own filthy capitalist dollars, we were reluctantly released and we made our escape, badgered en route by black-clad harpies right out of Zorba the Greek.
That same evening, Karl and I went to dinner with American businessmen friends at an upscale restaurant that would have done any Pacific Rim chef proud. We were shocking our friends with our tale of the near-kidnapping of our young escort, when deafening screams came from the table just behind us. Since this was just after the massacre of German tourists by terrorists in Egypt dressed as businessmen—and since everyone in our restaurant was also dressed as a businessman—I scanned the entryway where bartenders and waitressess stood in shocked silence. I glanced over my shoulder, where I saw one diner being stabbed by another with a knife. Karl jumped up and said, “That man is having a seizure, but his friend isn’t handling it properly.” We all suggested that Karl sit down.
When the hit man had been removed, and the stabbed one’s bleeding had been stanched, and his blood had been mopped from the floor, our plates were removed to another dining room as if nothing had happened. We were offered a free bottle of red wine on the house—not too appetizing. Though thirty police arrived, none of the hundred witnesses was ever interviewed about the stabbing. For the next week, we watched the newspapers, but no mention was ever made of the event, though everyone who’d witnessed it agreed it was a mafia hit. It was as if it had never happened at all.
An Ode to St. George, Patron Saint of Books!