Like Rick Steves—With Bombs

So I can now add another entry to my list of  “Places The Luna Family Has Been That Have Later Been Bombed.”  Some people pick up little shot glass or thimble souvenirs to commemorate their travels.  The Luna Family?  We bring back memories of future terrorist sites.

I’m not kidding.

Back in August of 1999 when we first arrived in Russia, the Von Luna Family, ready to sing and frolic their way through the hills of the former Soviet Heartland (note: there are almost no hills in the former Soviet Heartland),  landed in Moscow.  (Second note: Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow makes Buffalo International Airport look like the Ritz…). We spent the next day, before training 300 miles east to Nizhny Novgorod where I’d be lecturing for the next year, seeing some of the Moscow sights.  After walking all around Red Square we stopped off—me, the wife, four daughters and grandma—at the glitzy Manezh Mall at the foot of the Red Square  to get out of the heat and get something to eat.  We dined downstairs at the food court, having our first dinner—and only bad meal–of our stay at a little Russian takeout.  We finished eating and walked back to our hotel, the Belgrad, out on the Garden Ring Road.  Walking up the pedestrian shopping street, the Arbat, we heard all these sirens going off.  Reaching the Ring Road we saw dozens of official vehicles, lights flashing, going by.  We got back up into our rooms and turned on the TV.

A bomb had just exploded in downtown Moscow.  By the Kremlin.  In the Manezh Mall.  In the food court. It went off about twenty minutes after we had left.  The next time I was in the mall—about a month later—I could see from the repair work where the bomb had gone off—about twenty feet from where we’d been sitting.  While we were blissfully enjoying a bad meal an explosive device had been ticking down a few yards away.  The blast injured dozens of people.

I didn’t take it personally.  I didn’t think whomever placed the bomb was gunning for one lowly American community college professor and his family.  A radical anti-consumerist group claimed responsibility for the blast the next day, claiming they were protesting the corrupting influence of Western consumerism on the Russian spirit.  A few days later bigger bombs ripped through three apartment complexes in three Russian cities killing almost three hundred people.  The Yeltsin government blamed Chechen terrorists for the apartment bombings as well, belatedly, for the Moscow mall blast.  The second Chechen War had begun.

Since then we can put pins in “look what just blew up” map for both the March, 2004 Madrid train station (we were there summer 2000) and the 2005 Edgware  Road Tube Station bombing (we stayed in London about three blocks from the station during the summer of 2004, using it daily.)

Now I can add Monday’s  terrorist bombing at the Moscow Lubyanka metro station.  My daughter and I passed through the station several times in 1999/2000 during one of our many forays into Moscow that year.   Detsky Mir (Children’s World) Moscow’s premier department store for kids—a truly wondrous place—is just off the station.  So is the infamous Lubyanka—the KGB’s notorious headquarters into whose bowels thousands of prisoners disappeared ‘nere to be seen again.

(I always found that juxtaposition:  a wonderful children’s department store across the street from a heinous secret police headquarters to particularly apropos in underscoring the contradictions that  are Russia.  That and the way  the GUM Mall—the ultimate symbol of western capitalist consumerism—is reflected in the polished granite of Lenin’s tomb. Or the fact that, in Nizhny, there was a big prison directly across the street from the University I taught at. )

So, if your planning a trip any time soon you might want to run your itinerary by me to see if we Lunas have been there.  If we have, there seems to me more than an outside chance that it might blow up…


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