A generous dose of Xanax is highly recommended for anyone wishing to visit the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia.  Among the themes featured in the Russian art are disease, flooding, derelict architecture, drowning, war casualties, funeral processions, and death in general.  One especially uplifting image entitled "Inconsolable Grief" depicts a widow dressed in black holding a handkerchief to her mouth to stifle back tears as she adds yet another bouquet of lilies to the blooming collection in her living room.  

For the Christian enthusiasts, there is the ever-pleasant "Christ in the Wilderness" by Kramskoy, featuring a very Russian Christ sitting in a forest, arms clasped, brow furrowed, heavy cloaks covering his hunched shoulders.  

There's also "the Princesses of the Underground Kingdom".  A portrait of the three royal ladies of Hell.  Who knew there was a hierarchy in Hell?  Let alone, led by three snobby (based on their expressions) dames.  

Yet another uplifter is the "Apotheosis of War" by Vereshchagin.  A Russian interpretation of the Middle East featuring a human skulls piled high in a pyramid formation in the desert, as crows and vultures circle feet above.  Where is my Zoloft when I need it? 

Fortunately, there are a few distractions to keep you from reaching for that bottle of Arsenic.  First of all, upon entry to the museum, every guest receives two blue plastic booties to cover their slush-covered shoes, and keep the muck from dirtying their hard wood floors.  Even as I'm viewing depictions of death and destruction, I still giggle every time a Russian beauty scoots by me in her stiletto boots covered in the garbage bag contraptions.  They also come in very handy, I would find out later that day, when searching without avail for a trash can, just as the annoyance of chewing gum that has long lost it's flavor begins to cause a headache.    

Another distraction from the depression one may feel is the game that always helps me survive room after room of paintings, which I like to call "Mister Pompous Fruity Pants' Inner Dialogue".  This is an especially fun game to play in the Tretyakov Gallery, as there are several portraits of nobility sprinkled through out the ominous collection.    

Some of my favorites are as follows:

"Portrait of a Merchant" Unknown Artist:  Very fat nobleman sitting in a dark armchair holding a letter sealed with a red stamp, sporting some kind of 1800s mullet.  
"It's very important that this letter gets delivered straight away!  That barber shan't cut another hair in all of Moscow!"

"Portrait of AI Baryshnikov" Tropinin VA:  A mister dandy dressed in a sparkly gold vest and ruffly ascot casually leans against a pine tree with his legs crossed, while a pissed off looking servant herds horses in the background.
"Why, hello!  Yes, I own this forrest.  Oh, Farren, see to the horses while I continue to do nothing but look fabulous here against this tree."

"Portrait of DA Derzhauina" Borovikovsky VL:  An attractive woman wearing red robes cloaked over a white gown holds a small, angry-looking white puppy as she stands to one side of a river bank to reveal a large mansion across the water.
"Let me show you my villa.  Isn't it large?  Winston, don't bite!  That hurts Mummy."

"Portrait of the Dancer EA Telesera" Kipensky OA:  Woman wearing a white gown with a red scarf, a oversized cross hangs around her shoulders, holding in her right hand a sprig of wheat which she coyly brushes against her cheek.  
"I'm very pious, indeed.  Every night I say fifty 'Hail Marys' and ten 'Our Fathers,' but I'm still going to tease you with my flirtatious eyes."

As wonderfully distracting as this game is, by the time I'm about halfway through, my dogs are barking and I have to take a seat.  I choose to sit on a long, red bench in the center of a room holding a large mural depicting a rural scene.  Just as I'm about to stretch out a bit, I hear what sounds like a herd of animals stampede into the room.  I turn to see an group of about 15 seven-year-olds chattering and swooshing loudly in their blue booties, led by, I assume, their teacher, who resembles Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus.  She's wearing a large mustard colored poncho sweater, which compliments her frizzy red hair, and is compensating for her lack in height by wearing six inch heels that clip clop across the floor as she leads the kids over to the bench where I am sitting.  

Before I know it I'm surrounded.  Kids sitting on my toes, kids standing behind me, and kids sitting on either side.  The one on my right looks up at my confused face and softly giggles.  

"Hi," I say with uncertainty.  She giggles louder and swings her two braids from side to side.  Then she scoots closer to me, her grey snow suit rubbing my against my jeans, making a sound that could be mistaken for a fart.  More giggles.  The teacher begins to lecture, and I know I've lost all chances of escaping.  As she rambles on in Russian to the half-enthused children, I pretend to be able to understand despite only knowing key phrases in Russian like 'where is the toilet?', 'thank you', and 'I'd like a beer'.  

For entertainment, I scan the crowd of children and find the two trouble makers of the class, who are poking each other incessantly and not-so-secretly sharing sketches that poke fun at their teacher and other classmates.  Eventually, Miss Frizzle concludes her speech and herds the kids on to the next room.  As the little girl with braids and the teddy bear backpack peels herself from my thigh, shyly smiling at me as she joins the mob entering the next room, I think to myself how great it was to have a break from becoming "cultured" for a little while and just return to the first grade.  It's always nice to have a reminder, especially while in a place as somber as the 
Tretyakov Gallery, to not take oneself so seriously.