a trip to Moscow State University

Opposite the Tretyakov Gallery there’s a beautiful footbridge that crosses a canal (which in turn branches out from the Moscow river) and on this bridge and the nearby embankments are rows of squat metal trees.  The branches of the trees are cluttered with colorful objects… get up closer and they’re locks of all shapes and sizes with names written on them in permanent marker.  Mitya + Sasha, Nadya and Vova, etc.  When a couple gets married in Moscow, they get a lock (some locks are manufactured for this purpose alone and are big, red and heart-shaped and hang it up on one of these trees, which were erected by the city government after all the locks were cluttering up the bridge railings) and put it up there.  It’s such a nice sight to see, especially when statistics say that the institution of marriage isn’t doing so well in Russia.

Anyway.  Really kicking myself for not bringing a camera on my walk, but thanks to the google image search function, you can see pictures anyway!

Anyway, Moscow State University, or Moskovskiy Gosudarstvenniy Universityet, MGU as it’s called here.  My friend showed me around campus this Friday and I got an inside peek and especially at the math department, which is more than four hundred students strong and which is located in a place of honor in a soaring 1930s-style skyscraper, one of the famous seven “Stalinskie Viysotki” around the city.  (The humanities departments are housed in a 1960s-style flat gray box).  I got inside by borrowing somebody’s student ID card and then we took the elevator up a good many floors to get to the math department, which looks very charmingly old-fashioned, with its wood-panelling, the signage which doesn’t look like it’s been changed since the 30s, the steeply sloping lecture halls.  It’s a quiet and distinguished and especially insular place to go about one’s business, as many students have parents who are professors there or brothers and sisters who are students or alums.  The walls decorated with plaques listing department alumni who fought and died in WW2.  And the whole place is labyrinthine, the department covering multiple floors with identical doors bearing the names of departments within departments, the names of which I have forgotten not so much because they were in Russian but because they were in math language.  It seems like a lovely place to study and to be immersed in the quiet, abstract and unchanging world of math.  Even I could find that appealing.  And you get to be close to the academic (especially scientific) glory of Soviet times, which, when you’re in these halls, is still palpable.  After you have your degree though, the real world is a grave disappointment, because scientists and mathematicians make almost nothing here.  Unless, of course, they work in the economic sector…


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