For the past four days, Wendy and I have been in Moscow. The ghosts of the recent past are still very much alive here as evidenced by our photo (taken just off Red Square) with Lenin and Czar Nicholas II.
We've enjoyed touring such sites as Red Square, the Kremlin, the Armory, Stalin's Bunker, Izmailovsky Market, Tretyakov Art Gallery, and various churches and convents. As a child of the Cold War (see my previous post), I've long been curious to see these places.
My favorite site on Red Square is St. Basil's Cathedral (shown at left) with its delightful array of swirling colors and onion domes. The cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and built in the 16th century. To make sure the cathedral's architect never built anything as nice,
Ivan had the architect blinded after the work was completed.
Also on Red Square is Lenin's Tomb where Lenin's embalmed body lies in state. Interestingly enough, this is the second embalmed body of a famous leader I've seen this year; the other was Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II which is in Cairo.
We waited in line for 45 minutes before being admitted to the tomb. We spent the time chatting with some Ukrainian construction workers who asked us how they could emigrate to the US. One of them, Victor, proudly wore a "The USSR Is My Homeland" t-shirt (in Russian) and told me his favorite Soviet leaders were Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev. He had little use for Gorbachev.
Once inside the tomb, it takes about two minutes to walk around the body. I thought Lenin looked small. Since 1924, it's estimated that over 15,000,000 people have viewed his body. Curiously, being embalmed and put on display for Soviet propaganda purposes was about the last thing Lenin wanted: he wanted to be buried next to his mother in St. Petersburg.
Once outside the tomb, we walked slowly past the graves of former Soviet leaders, including Stalin, who was the greatest mass murderer in history (estimated 40-60 million victims). For me, it was a weird experience. On the other hand, the Ukrainians we were with were deeply moved by it all. As were most of the other visitors.
Riding on the Moscow Metro is quite interesting. The stations are clean and deep underground (some 80 meters). Most were built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s by slave laborers. Different stations have different themes and art. The Kiev station, for example, has many murals (such as the one shown at left) with agricultural and bucolic motifs. The trains come every 60 or 90 seconds and travel fast.
We got to spend some time with the Russian screen-writer Pavel Gelman (Pavel is a reader of this blog; that's how we met). Pavel's father is Alexander Gelman, the noted Soviet playwright. I enjoyed sharing creativity ideas with Pavel, and also hearing his thoughts about what it's like to write for Russian TV and movies. He feels free except for one constraint: he's found it wise not to show the Russian state security police in a negative light in his crime stories (it makes it more challenging to get financing).
All in all, we enjoyed Moscow. It's a bustling metropolis of 12 million people, and those ones we met and talked with were friendly. Also, we had great sunny weather in the high 80s (30+ C.) With the price of petroleum at or near record levels, these are boom times in Moscow.