“The history of the Kremlin is the history of Moscow and Russia itself,” Natasha said as we walked through the Kremlin’s Trinity Tower, past the fifteenth century walls of the medieval fortress and into Russia’s very heart…. “Outside the Kremlin’s fortifications, scores of wooden houses, churches, and shops sprouted in rings around the citadel. Inside the Kremlin, the city within a city, each successive ruler left his or her mark, until the Kremlin’s sixty-six enclosed acres contained a half-dozen of the country’s most sacred cathedrals, numerous palaces, nineteen towers, dungeons, secret passageways, and the Terem, or woman’s quarters, a medieval palace of parapets, stained-glass windows, gilt ornamentation, and intricately painted interiors straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.”

We strolled through Alexandrovsky Garden and into Red Square. Here was the Moscow I’d known of, instantly familiar from photographs: GUM, the nineteenth century shopping arcade; the Kremlin Wall and Spassky Clock Tower; Lenin’s Tomb and the Lenin Historical Museum. St. Basil’s Cathedral appeared at the far end as a shimmering chimera, its twisted towers and painted domes undulating in the heat waves that rose from Red Square’s ancient cobblestones.

“So,” Natasha turned to me, “what do you think?”

“Walt Disney on acid,” I said.

—CHRISTI PHILLIPS, “Working for Rubles”