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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 55.75, 37.62
After a strange night of sleep that came and left easily (we were certain, at several times, that it was time to get up, but alas, morning was nowhere near), we headed past the big portrait of Stalin down to the breakfast room. A woman was playing a harp and included selections from the Beatles, Ave Maria, and the Titanic theme. The breakfast spread was designed for champions, and included salmon, sandwiches, made-to-order omelets, tea, coffee, orange juice, cherry juice, shots of "vitamin water" (in shot glasses—not sure what it was), and various pastries. We spent a nice hour eating, socializing, downloading yesterday's speech by the President (we are slightly concerned about a loss of buying power if the debt talks derail) and uploading yesterday's blog entry and photos. This is the only place in our hotel with internet access, so we will likely be blogging in Word and posting when it is convenient. Jake also was disturbed to hear that AP U.S. students are unaware of what their summer assignment is as letters were distributed with appropriate websites at the end of last year. He wrote a frantic email to hopefully get the information posted on the school
We met our guide, as scheduled, in the hotel lobby at 11:00, only to find that the itinerary had been revised (without anyone informing us) to 10:00. So, while we were eating our breakfast of champions, she was sitting across the hall in angst. It all worked out in the end.
From our hotel, she and the driver took us to Victory Park. Along the way, she pointed out the differences between pre-revolutionary, Soviet-era, and modern architectural styles. There were seven buildings constructed by Stalin in the postwar years dubbed the “seven sisters” to demonstrate Soviet economic and political strength. Currently, 2 serve as hotels, 1 is a university, some are embassies, and the rest privately owned apartments. Kira, our guide, said that because craftsmen were so afraid of “punishment” during those years, that the buildings are among the most solidly crafted in modern times, often outlasting buildings constructed on an even larger scale in the 1990s. She also lamented the new trend of building communities for Russia's “new millionaires,” a class that is growing at “the official rate of six per year.” These individuals and others of means have bought up tracts of land and restricted access, similarly to
“gated communities” (Briar Ridge?) in the U.S. Kira said such places have led to a “social loss.”
Our next stop was Victory Park, a monument and museum constructed in 1995. Moscow is a city of seven hills, and Victory Park is atop the one dubbed “bow hill” as people show reverence to military losses. In the museum, which we did not tour, there is a dome from which hangs 12 million tears, symbolic of the military and civilian losses (12 million EACH) to the Russian people during WWII.
At the center of the park is an obelisk, at the base of which is a famous rendition of St. George killing the dragon, which is the official symbol of the city of Moscow. The serpentine “dragon” had scales and was very much fish-like. We noted the similar image in other places, such as St. Patrick driving out the snakes from Ireland and another statue we remember from Munich.
Behind the museum was a fascinating piece of public art known as “Disaster of the Nations.” Designed by the sculptor Tseretelli, best known for his statue of Peter the Great in the Moscow River, it is a depiction that can be interpreted in one of
12 million tears inside
two ways. On one hand, it could illustrate the decline of humanity, from the civilization to genocide to rubble. Another take might show the rise of human civility, from rubble to an unknown future. (The most upright figure looked toward the future holding a child wearing a blindfold.) I suppose it all goes in cycles, more than we can understand. Sometimes disasters lead to rebirth; sometimes great egos and achievements lead to disaster.
As we left Victory Park, Kira shared with us a story when she had a tour group to visit Red Square. Upon arrival, it was closed without notice. Upon inquiry, she was told, as in Soviet times, “It is a state secret. It is not a matter of your mind.” Later in the day, an exhibit on Faberge eggs was closed without notice. “Things close frequently here, “ she said, shrugged her shoulders, and moved on. Such occurrences are normal here.
Next, we stopped in a park below the Novodevichy Convent. It has functioned continually from the 16th century to the present, except during Soviet times when it was shut down. Sophia, sister to and mastermind behind Peter the Great, was once cloistered her for 10 years because there
Base of Obelisk
St. George killing the dragon (serpent)
was no suitable person of royalty to marry her.
To Red Square we went. On the way, we crossed the Moscow River, for which the city was named. Even in ancient times, the was unsuitable to drink. In the middle of the river stood the famous Peter the Great statue by artist Tseretelli, memorializing his desire to grant Russia access to the sea (ultimately St. Petersburg). The statue was originally honoring Christopher Columbus but was re-purposed. On our arrival to Red Square, we learned that the name predated the Soviet era by centuries. Red was a color that symbolized beauty and importance. The Kremlin and surrounding square date to the 14th century!! We then cut through GUM, the elite shopping mall dating back to 1890, to avoid the hot sun and 90+ temperature.
Then it was time to view the interior of St. Basil's Cathedral. We were shocked to find that the interior consisted of nine small chapels (corresponding to the nine domes of the roof). Unlike Western churches, there was no central meeting area and now pews or chairs. In the Russian Orthodox church, people stand out of reverence. It was our pleasure to hear a five voice choir perform
the Orthodox liturgy, which is always sung and not spoken. St. Basil's is named for Basil the beggar, who had power to foresee the future and spoke the truth to Ivan the Terrible. Remarkably, he died of natural causes.
Next it was time for lunch at Café Yesenin, which featured air conditioning, unlike our hotel or van. It was great to sit and enjoy the comfort. Our meal started with pesto salad, a welcome drink of cherry vodka, and was followed with soup called “sche” (cabbage, potatoes, and broth). Kira told us that her mother, a doctor, said pure vodka was a good headache cure, but not the stuff made with impure water. A good kind is known as “krystal production.” The main course was filet of Baltic salmon and rice, followed by a pancake and cherry sauce blini. The restaurant was very nice, and had pictures all al the place of the poet, Yesenin. It was like a small cottage inside—a respite from the heat and humidity outside. The banner outside read “NOT A PROSAIC CAFÉ.”
After lunch, it was off to the Kremlin. Security made Rich and Jake check their bags. Kira said that they like their power, and don't
always require this. We were reminded of the U.S. Capitol police, so we weren't too bothered. We walked up a ramp and were inside a wonderland of domes and cathedrals. To us, Kremlin had always meant the seat of the Soviet government, but it was really nothing like we had imagined. Though it was a governmental complex during the Soviet years, it was really founded in the Middle Ages and was the home of the czars until Peter the Great moved royal quarters to St. Petersburg. We did see one building that housed the offices of Lenin and Stalin. Even today, the Russian president does not have a residence here, nor does the Russian Duma meet here. There were many cathedrals, including the Church of the Annunciation, where czars were baptized, the Church of the Assumption, where they were crowned (even after the move to St. Petersburg), and the Church of Archangel Michael, where they were entombed. The orthodox cross, featured atop the many onion domes, has three transepts, one for the crown of thorns, one for the nailed wrists, and one for Christ's nailed feet. Another church featured twelve domes which stood for the twelve apostles. It certainly came
across that Russians loved things on a grand scale, like the czar's cannon that was too large to ever be fired, or the czar's bell, that was so large it cracked before it could ever be rung.
Our final destination of the day was the Armory, which housed everything from 12th century treasures of the czars, to chainmail suits, to gifts from foreign ambassadors, to ornate icon frames, to 18th century carriages, to a few Faberge eggs. A rough British equivalent would be the display of the Crown Jewels and other treasures in the Tower of London, or the Hapsburg treasures as displayed in Vienna.
From there, the weary Pilgrims boarded the hot mini-bus and returned to our un-air conditioned hotel. At some point during our day, Kira shared with us some interesting information about Stalin. There are competing theories about the death of his second wife, Hope (English spelling). In one of Barb's books, she read that he hated suicide, because Hope had taken her own life. The competing theory is that, as she grew to know his political life as opposed to his personal life, he once criticized her publicly and she called him out on it. This was not
traditional behavior for a woman. Soon after, she was dead. The documents relating to her death were sealed for 150 years.
Tomorrow, we are off to Sergiev-Posad, the center of Russian Orthodoxy and head of the Russian Church, known as the Petrarch.
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