Right Brain Curiosity

I have traveled, studied, and taught overseas. I love travel and have done post-graduate studies in Scotland, and traveled throughout all of Western Europe, parts of Central Europe, and even got to Morocco in the summers prior and following my year in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have guided tours to the Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Greece, and Turkey. In the past decade, my wife, Ann, and I have been to Chile, Easter Island, French Polynesia, Nepal, India, Tibet, China, Mali, Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, South Korea. I taught a college history and religion class in China and Tibet.

Ann and I have a deal about where we go; we call it—good trip/bad trip. Ann loves the good those to the beaches of Bora Bora or Easter Island. However, I like to go on bad trips, which means more adventurous trips like to Vietnam or Tibet. We alternate between good trips and bad trips. Having just returned from 5-weeks in Indochina, it is Ann’s turn for a good trip. She wants to go to Greece. However, I’ve already been there. Therefore, I threw in Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey. I would love to see Hagia Sophia again, go through the underground cisterns of Istanbul, and the cave homes in Cappadocia, which I haven’t yet done. Therefore, this summer is a compromise—a blending of good trip and bad trip. We will spend some time on the white sands of Mykonos, but we will also have an adventure-filled trip to Turkey.

Then the question will be where will we go next? While teaching some of my online college classes, I listen to some pieces of classical music. I’m right-brain bilateral, which makes me love the arts. However, while I love music, I have absolutely no musical talent. I couldn’t play any piece of music on any musical instrument regardless of how much I love the music. However, I do love good music.

One such piece was written by Modest Mussorgsky (his Russian name: Moдéст Петрóвич Mýcopгckий). The selection is the suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. It is a musical presentation of what Mussorgsky saw at a St. Petersburg’s art exhibition. This art exposition was for the Russian painter and architect, Viktor Hartmann, who had recently died at the age of 39. Mussorgsky takes his listener around the presentation of Hartmann’s paintings and allows the listener to see in music what he saw at the exhibition.

There are four movements, which contain different groups of Hartmann’s paintings. The four movements are musically separated by what Mussorgsky calls promenades, which I merely call traveling-music. The traveling-music is music created by him as he went from one room of paintings to the next. The two pieces that I love from Pictures at an Exhibition are the promenades and the last musical painting, which is called The Great Gate of Kiev. The entire suite was composed and written in the first three weeks of June 1873.

I love to listen to The Great Gate of Kiev so much that I started to think about going to Kiev to see it. You laugh. However, I always have a reason for my trips. What got me to go to Tahiti? Paul Gauguin lived there from 1891 until he died. He said the Tahitians were the most beautiful people that he had ever seen. Since I also teach art history, I wanted to find out if his was right, and he was. I wanted to visit Timbuktu because a millennium ago, it had a university there that had 25,000 students attending when Europe was coming out of the Dark Ages. I went to Dharamsala, India to try to interview the Dalai Lama. I went to Easter Island because I read Aku Aku by Thor Heyerdahl. I went to South Africa because of Steve Biko, who fought and died for the freedom of South Africans ...and the list goes on.

Listening to Mussorgsky's The Great Gate of Kiev, I thought it would be surely worth the effort to travel to the Ukraine and see Kiev’s Great Gate. As it turns out, there isn’t any such gate, great or not, at Kiev.

Mussorgsky had a friend, Vladimir Stasov, who was an art critic. Stasov also knew Victor Hartmann, and artist, and introduced him to Mussorgsky around 1870. Both artists, one in music and the other in painting, became good friends and pushed for inherently Russian art as opposed to the influence of European art on their work.

However, within several years, Hartmann dies of aneurysm. This death had a profound effect upon Mussorgsky and Stasov. Stasov put together a memorial of 400 of Hartmann’s paintings at the Academy of Fine Arts at St. Petersburg in Russia in early 1874. Mussorgsky was so emotionally affected by the paintings that he wrote his suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. He was able to transfer the sight of the paintings into musical pictures of the paintings.

Hartmann had drawn a gate for the city of Kiev as his entry into a national contest to celebrate Tsar Alexander II’s fortunate avoidance of an assassination attempt upon him. Tsar Alexander referred this assassination attempt as "the event of 4 April 1866."

The intriguing thing is that I’ve spent hours researching Hartman’s city gate in Kiev, which became Mussorgsky’s musical picture, The Great Gate of Kiev. Hartman won the national contest, but for some reason Tsar Alexander didn’t build Hartman’s gate in Kiev or anywhere else. It is doubtful that I will arrange my overseas travel schedule to visit Kiev without the gate. Hmmm. I wonder where Hartmann’s painting is. That might be worth the trip though.

While doing my research on the gate at Kiev, I was also doing a PowerPoint Presentation for a 20th century history class that I teach at DeVry. I thought that I could find the painting of the gate near St. Petersburg, then I could get some photos of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Гpигорий Ефимович Распутин). Rasputin also had a more common name, the Mad Monk. Early in his career, he put on the apparel of a monk and called himself a staretz, which meant a traveling holy man. Even though a drunk and probably not an ordained monk, he was Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra’s spiritual confident.

This would also allow me to visit Moika Palace, which is located on the Moika River. It was at the palace that Rasputin was poisoned, shot, castrated, tied up, and rolled into a rug then thrown into the Moika. After his body came to the surface, he allegedly had been alive under water long enough to untie himself and escape from the rug...only to drown.

Some Russians hated even the dead Rasputin that they exhumed him and built a huge fire where they started to cremate the Mad Monk who was lying on the funeral pyre on his back. When the fire started to consume Rasputin’s body, there was a muscular contraction due to the flames. This caused the Mad Monk to sit up much. This terrorized the onlookers who had set him on fire to dispose of him.

Interesting historical events create my travel itinerary. Where next? Time will tell. Actually, I have some interest in going to Juan Fernandez Island off the coast of Chile. It is where Alexander Selkirk lived for several years, which became the basis for Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe.