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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interiors: Fascination for the Land of Tolstoy

It is easy to forget that Chris Alexander is employed by the Canadian Foreign Ministry and not the Russian one. On his first foreign posting after college and government training in Ottawa, Alexander seems besotted with the land of Tolstoy and Turgenev. Nearly a year into his posting as third secretary and vice counsellor in the embassy's political section, Alexander's enthusiasm comes as much from a thrill for adventure as from a love for literature, philosophy and history. His apartment off Tverskaya Ulitsa is a renovated, functional one-bedroom place with embassy-issue floral couches and innocuous art. But the hotel-like efficiency is softened by several personal touches: Alexander's guitar, a collection of alternative-rock compact discs, and an impressive library with volumes in English and German, plus a few scattered Russian-language books. Alexander, 25, is an avid reader. If he were not in the Canadian foreign service, he said, he would probably be "locked up in a library, in a university." Instead, he is absorbing everything about Russia and the former Soviet Union, from Richard Pipes to Mikhail Bulgakov, and gaining first-hand experience of the far reaches of Russia such as Tula, Omsk, Yakutsk and Smolensk. Alexander's father was a Toronto lawyer who was active in politics, and he absorbed much of his intellectual drive and interest in public service at home. After two years of post-graduate work at Oxford, he was as surprised as anyone to find that his first posting was Moscow. But there is nowhere else he would rather be, he said. "My second posting choice was South Africa," he said. "I like countries that are starting anew." During his travels, the Caucasus has become an area of special interest for him, he said, adding that he hopes eventually to specialize in the tumultuous region that moved Mikhail Lermontov to write "A Hero of Our Time," one of Alexander's favorites. "The thing about the Caucasus is that there is such a density of culture there," he said. "And just insanely beautiful countryside." True Confessions What Russia could give Canada: A national literature and a sense of nation-building. What Canada could give Russia: An example of functioning federalism. Number of cities visited in the former Soviet Union: "At least 20 or 30." Favorite CIS city for a weekend visit: Volgograd. "It has a green and prosperous city center. It is a reform success story. Plus it is a sister city of Toronto." Least favorite CIS city for a weekend visit: Makhachkala in Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea. "There was shooting in our restaurant one night. It turned out to be celebratory, but it got pretty ugly. It's sort of a rough town." Favorite author: Robert Burton, who wrote "The Anatomy of Melancholy" in 1621. "It's a great book to read in Russia."