Dubna and visiting Shafarevich (2018)

In 2018, I visited the Moscow region to give lectures at the Dubna math summer school. To get registered in Moscow I brought my travel documents to the Independent University of Moscow, which had provided me with visa support. Inside its building I found some pictures on the wall of several mathematicians, including Riemann and Wiles. I'm glad that Wiles is writing on a blackboard rather than a whiteboard.


While walking outside I saw something surprising in the window of a post office: postal worker action figures! Take a look.


The Russian post office is selling postal worker figures from different historical periods: collect all 9! For example, in the first photo, the woman is from the second half of the 20th century and the man on the far right is from World War II. I decided to buy the guy on the far right in the second photo: a figure representing the start of the 20th century. It comes not only with its own stand, but also a magazine (see below) with stories about the post office, calling the start of the 20th century the "golden age of postal business." It also includes a table game where you can try to deliver a letter to different cities around the world. The action never ends!

From the magazine I learned about the efforts of Heinrich von Stephan (pictured above) to create the Universal Postal Union, which greatly simplified interntational mail delivery starting in the late 1800s. (That hyperlink describes what the earlier system was like.)

To get to the train station that would take me to Dubna I used the Metro, which always looks great. I can't imagine a marble armrest like the one below would last long in the NYC subway.

Here is a view looking back on one of the many very deep escalators in the Metro.

Next is a typical shirt with nonsense English at the bottom: "All product are grafted for style and quality since 1988 product style".

This reminded me of the text I have seen for decades, unchanged, on Chinese chopstick wrappers: "the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history and cultual".

The Onion knows this line, having used it in 2002.

The last Metro station I had to transfer lines on to reach the train to Dubna was Mendeleevskaya, where there are lights in the ceiling enclosed in a lattice of atoms, honoring Mendeleev's work in chemistry. (The station is called Mendeleevskaya rather than Mendeleev not in reference to Mendeleev's wife, but because the ending of the name has to match the word "station", which in Russian is feminine: stantsiya.)

One of the trains below on the left would take me to Dubna. Up close, in the photo on the right, you can see on the train car the ubiquitous red logotype of Russian Railways. It's a stylistic merging of several Cyrillic letters (РЖД), but to me it always looks first like PID, which shows Russians want to understand math so much they put it on their trains.


At the Dubna summer school, the first day has a general meeting where each lecturer describes his/her course to the students. The lecturer for a course on sphere packing illustrated his topic with a slide showing oranges packed into a box in 4 different ways; the last way, on the lower right of his slide, is a screenshot of the Russian cartoon character Cheburashka when he was first found by a shopkeeper in a packed crate of oranges. A bigger view from that scene is to the right.


Another lecturer offered colored paper and instructions for the students to build a torus (doughnut) by origami, as described in the first photo below. The bugs in the window were just "dying" to find out more. Over the course of several days, the shape took form until the students indeed had used small folded pieces of paper to build a full torus!


In the conference hall building big windows were kept open on most days, so butterflies flew in and then couldn't figure out how to leave. I helped a few of them get back outside using a piece of paper and a plastic cup.


Students at the summer school played 4-person chess on 1 board and 6-person ping pong running around a table.


At the summer school I gave 4 lectures on L-functions and the Riemann Hypothesis. When my lectures were over, but before the summer school ended, I returned to Moscow for a day to visit the grave of Igor Shafarevich, who was a prominent Russian mathematician and, in particular, the founder of the Russian school of modern algebraic geometry. He had some non-mathematical views that were controversial, as the hyperlink on his name discusses, but that's not why I was going to see the grave.

Shafarevich is buried at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery. (As I wrote this page I learned that the person who created Cheburashka, Eduard Uspensky, recently died and is also buried at the same cemetery.) To get there I took the Metro as close as I could get to the cemetery, and then took a cab the rest of the way. Actually, the nearest Metro station to the cemetery (Kuntsevskaya station) was undergoing reconstruction (the photos of it below were taken on my return trip), so outbound trains did not stop there; I had to go one more stop and turn around.


The driver's steering wheel in my taxi was misaligned. In the first photo the car is really going straight (!) and in the second photo the driver is making a right turn. No kidding!


I finally reached the cemetery and found a diagram of it with numbered parts. Where is Shafarevich? In an administrator's office I was told that he is buried in region 25, which is in the lower right of the diagram (see second photo). The entrance and administrator's office are on the left side of the diagram. I started the long walk to region 25. There are numbered posts at the corners of each region so you can tell where you are.


While walking around the cemetery, I passed a building with a display of different grave designs, and it included a photo of Steve Jobs! Look below in the middle of the images behind the glass. This is the second unexpected place I've found Steve Jobs in Russia. The previous time was in Kazan; see here.

Here are some graves I passed between the cemetery entrance and region 25. The first one below is Konstantin Yeremenko, who was a star player of "futsal", a sport I never heard of before I looked him up while making this page. The second photo is Vitaly Churkin, who died in 2017 in NYC while he was Russia's UN ambassador.


In 1986 Churkin testified before the US Congress about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which made the front page of the NY Times on May 2nd here (if you have subscriber access). I got a quote in the NY Times on the following day on page 5 when the tour group I was with returned to New York from the USSR after visiting Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad.

Next we see the grave of Engels Vaulin (such an unfortunate first name). I took the photo since the grave has a curious image of a road and a car with sirens. This fellow was the founder of Russia's "modern system of traffic safety" according to this page (in Russian). The next photo is what looked to me like the grave of Archimedes; at least I remembered it is supposed to have had a sphere on top of it.


Below we see the common grave of a family named Eidelshtein. I took the photo since all but the first person are listed as being shot in 1941. (The person on the right died at the age of 1, so no image.) I had no idea who these people were when I took the photo, but while writing this page I looked up some of their names and discovered they are relatives of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose last name when growing up was Eidelshtein. The first person on the grave is Wolf Isaacovich Eidelshtein, who was Zhirinovksy's father: the name, birth year 1907, and picture match information about him elsewhere. The 2nd and 3rd persons are Zhirinovsky's paternal grandparents, and the 4th and 5th persons would have been his aunts if they had lived longer. Their names and fates are consistent with information I found on this page (in Russian) about Zhirinovsky. Zhirinovsky's father died in Israel in 1983 (run over by a bus) and this page (in Russian) from 2007 mentions Zhirinovsky buying a plot of land at this cemetery for him and all of his relatives to be buried together, including the reburial of his dead relatives. (Update: Zhirinovsky died in 2022, and he was buried at the more prestigous Novodevichy cemetery.)

Finally I reached region 25 in the cemetery, where Shafarevich was supposed to be, and here is is the kind of scene I was facing with no further guidance. Uh-oh.

Finding someone's grave here reminded me of Tuco running around looking for Arch Stanton's grave in the clip below from the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. My search space was not nearly as big, but it was not small. (The music in this movie scene is also a reminder of the opening of the World Cup final I had seen the week before, which I wrote about here.)

To locate Shafarevich's grave I started at one end of region 25 and walked along every row, with the goal of confirming the name on each grave I passed was not Shafarevich (Шафаревич) until I reached a counterexample. Near my starting point I saw a vehicle with a Ш on the back window (photo below), which was a good omen: Russians respect Shafarevich so much they put his initial inside a triangle (a geometer!) on their cars. Seriously, the letter Ш on the decal really means the tires of the car have small spikes embedded in them for better winter road traction (шипы = shipy is Russian for "spikes"; do a Google image search on the Russian word) and the driver puts the sticker on the back window to tell the driver behind to keep a safe distance since cars with spiked tires can brake to a full stop over a shorter distance. (Update: at the end of 2018, Russia dropped the requirement for cars to show this sign if the tires are studded; see here if you read Russian.)

Above I showed the grave of Yeremenko with a soccer ball on it. Below is another grave with a soccer ball, but this time found in region 25. It is Viktor Tsaryov, and while his image is carved flat on the surface, the soccer ball is in 3D: it is a hemisphere coming out of the gravestone.


Since Shafarevich was of course in only one grave out of many, my fear was that I'd miss it and keep walking back and forth until I reached the other end of region 25. And that is exactly what happened. Ugh! I thought briefly about checking the graves in region 25 all over again, but the first time took me at least 30 minutes and I was worried that I would get the same result if I went back over them once more. Since there was a region 25a next to region 25 (see the cemetery diagram above again), I thought that perhaps he was really buried in 25a and the administrator told me 25 by mistake. So I started walking back and forth in region 25a. After several minutes of this, still without seeing his name, I noticed something crucial: all the graves I was passing were in chronological order by date of death. That is not how cemeteries work in the US, so I never thought to use such a pattern earlier. On my phone I looked up Shafarevich's date of death on Wikipedia (Feb. 19, 2017) and returned to region 25, where tracking the dates of death instead of the names led me to his grave in about a minute. Here it is from two viewpoints.


All it says on the cross is his name with last name first (Shafarevich Igor Rostislavovich) and the dates of birth and death; no indication of his career, awards, or anything else. He is the only person in region 25 who died on Feb. 19, 2017 (or 19.02.2017 in European dating format), so if you will be in Moscow and want to find the grave it shouldn't take you long after you get to region 25. The grave above of Tsaryov with the soccer ball, which is along the left side of region 25 (oriented as on the cemetery map), is a useful hint: that big grave marker is very easy to find and Shafarevich is buried along the same row.

I had seen earlier on the internet that Shafarevich's grave marker was that wooden cross; see the screenshot from my computer below, which is a photo from soon after he was buried. While there are now many flowers around the grave I was surprised at how poorly the area is being maintained: there are weeds growing all over the place and the original bed of white rocks is far less visible. What happened?!?

A rear view of the burial plot shows the gate around it isn't being held closed.

As I was walking away from Shafarevich's grave, an old woman called out to me to help her. She was trying to keep the gate on her military officer husband's grave closed with a small piece of wire, but it wasn't working (see 1st photo below). I asked if she has relatives who could help on a later day and she said no, that she lived "far away". I asked where she is from, figuring it is some distant city, and she said Moscow! It's true that Moscow is a big city, and it can take a while to get between places within it, but still... I told her that an example of a place that is actually far away is where I am from, which surprised her: why is someone from the US visiting this cemetery? I explained, but she had no idea who Shafarevich was. Next I suggested she ask one of the cemetery workers to help her, but she didn't want to because she was "afraid" to talk to them. I asked one of them to help, and the guy (with gloves) lifted the whole front gate around the burial plot out of the ground and pushed it back in to be more level. The end result is in the 2nd photo below, with the gate successfully closed by green wire.


On the way out of the cemetery, I passed by the cemetery's very own Express Bar. It lived up to its name, as the line indeed was quite short.


Back in central Moscow, below I am standing along the Yauza river, which sounds like "Yowza". I couldn't believe the name when I first heard it; is there a Yikes river too?

Near the Yauza river is a group of 13 sculptures depicting different adult vices: alcoholism, ignorance, indifference, pseudoscience, theft, and so on.


During this trip I visited two other cities in the Moscow region besides Dubna: Suzdal and Vladimir. There are separate pages about those places by following the links.

When leaving Moscow I took the Aeroexpress train to the airport, which is much simpler than a long ride by taxi in the notoriously bad traffic. While sitting near a door between train cars on Aeroexpress, I saw many people approach the door (photo below) and struggle to open it manually: the door is meant to be opened by pressing a button, but the button is located on the side of the door that is opposite the side from which the door slides open. That is why people were not seeing the button for the door. What a ridiculous design decision!

I also saw a nice geometric suitcase fabric design. Can you see both ways of looking at the cubic staircase pattern?


During the Aeroexpress ride, the overhead screen ran a video about airport safety, shown in the next 6 photos: a person in black puts a mystery package on a stand near the stairs and tiptoes away, a kid with spiky hair interrupts a security officer talking with a woman to point out the package, the officer tells his dog to investigate, and then the package is opened to reveal a bomb.

I have seen this video being broadcast for over 5 years and something is defective with it now: the whole thing used to last maybe 15 seconds, but this time each part runs verrrrry slooooowly, so it takes a couple of minutes in total (based on the time on the bottom of the screen, at most 2 minutes). Evidently nobody at Aeroexpress is paying any attention to it anymore.




In the airport gift shop area I found matryoshka dolls of the Trump family: DJT with his wife and youngest child on the outside, his older children as smaller dolls, and their uncle Vladimir. Also there were chocolate bars named A Priori (АПРИОРИ). The year before, in Kaliningrad, I saw a furniture store named A Priori. It seems strange for companies to use a term about reasoning as a brand name. Would you think of calling a commercial product "A Posteriori" or "Contrapositive"? I asked around and was told that the word in Russian just sounds nice. At least a priori, I guess.