I got a job at Kazan University for a quarter of my wages. At the same time, I began working in my brother's consulting company in Kazan, registering companies, because I needed something to live on: the salary at the university was 750 rubles.
My dream of going to Italy took shape by the time I defended my dissertation, when I realized that I was writing about frescoes that I had never seen. Or about the valley of Spoleto, and I can't even imagine what it looks like.
I was in Warsaw in 2008, quite by accident, for the Icon Today conference, and on my way back I was riding with a very handsome young monk who said "We have a van; come visit and we'll travel all over Italy." At the time, the idea seemed incredible, and we didn't exchange contacts.
Then my mother and I once went to a public banya [Russian steam bathhouse], and there was a woman who said that they were extending the deadline to apply for the Algarysh grant. I applied and won. I went to Italy for two months in 2008. I studied Italian in Florence at the Michelangelo Institute; I remember sitting under the monument to Dante and doing my Italian language homework.
Later I applied for an Erasmus grant for postdoctoral research and went to Bologna for two years to study in the Department of Art History, where I came across an amazing professor, an Italian version of Jean Reno: Fabrizio Lallini, a very smart and sensitive person. He believed in my research, although the topic wasn't really en vogue.
Once I was at a lecture by Professor Carlo Ginzburg. I approached him afterwards, still not speaking Italian very well, and said that I'd like to talk to him about research. He invited me to his house, a medieval palazzo. I brought chak-chak [a Tatar desert made of deep-fried unleavened bread and drenched in hot honey]. I told him that I'm from Kazan and started talking about my research topic. He told me that if I narrowed my topic, he could help me, but I decided not to, because I still wanted a to do large-scale, daring, and independent research.