Russia has always fascinated me--the mystical orthodox faith brought to Kievan Rus in the ninth century, the stern heroes who defended Muscovy against the Golden Horde in the 13--15th centuries, the vast spaces, the remarkable literature of Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Bolshevik Revolution against imperialism ... The West has always been a bit jealous of its proud race of genius.
I fell in love with Russia as a teen when I discovered Prokofieff and insisted--rebelling against my teacher--on playing his fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor for my Conservatory diploma. I have no idea how I managed it now, but I did, and the piece and my performance proved to be a fine metaphor for the logically impossibility of 20th century Russia, which lived on war and revolution, dreams and nightmares. Prokofieff returned to Russia in 1933, at the peak of Stalin's repressions, and produced his greatest works, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, War and Peace, his war sonatas (not to mention his Ode to Stalin). That hooked me.
Today's standoff between the Russian bear and the American eagle is yet another epic struggle in Russia's history, at the heart of Eurasia--the world's "heartland". It had a narrow brush with complete collapse in 1985--98 under Gorbachev/ Yeltsin, a weak, indecisive leadership, a metaphorical reenactment of Boris Godunov seizing the throne in the 16th century. 1985--98 was a repetition of Godunov and the legendary Time of Troubles.