Encounters With Lenin


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, July 31, 2004 was originally posted on August 07, 2004.

DAY 287:  “Is it Communist or Capitalist today?” I asked Sam from my bed.

“It’s looking pretty Communist out there,” he answered, looking out the window.  “Communist” was cloudy and gray and “capitalist” was bright and sunny.

“Alright!” I said.  When you’re a tourist in a place like Moscow, sometimes you want that old stereotypical classic Communist feel.

WE HAD BEEN DENIED ACCESS to the tomb of Lenin the day before because of what the security guard called in his thick Russian accent, “Camera problem”:  the simple possession of a camera since none, not even a cell phone camera, was permitted inside the mausoleum.  We learned our lesson and went first thing in the morning, joking on the line like we were obnoxious Americans calling home (while eating McDonald’s take-out from the one conveniently at the back of the line near the Kremlin):

“Hello?  Yeah, it’s Erik, I’m in Moscow…  Uh huh, yeah…  I’m on line to see John Lennon’s body…  Yeah… I know!  Can you believe it, he’s in Moscow of all places!  Where’s Yoko?”

Vladimir Illych Lenin’s Mausoleum (picture above) was pretty much a shiny red and black marble underground fortress.  Once passed security and into the building, you walk down a dark, black marble corridor where a shadowy figure of a soldier stands before you — Sam almost jumped when we realized it wasn’t a statue, but an actually person pointing for us to go right.  After two more corners and two more guards we were in a dark room with the main source of light coming from the inside of the display case of Lenin’s actual body.  The body of the former Communist leader was actually there in a continual open-casket public wake, embalmed to the point where he looked like a wax figure from Madame Tussaud’s.  I stood in awe of his deceased presence; a significant world leader I had learned about in history class was right there.  I wanted to take a photo with him but remembered I didn’t have my camera.  A cranky guard motioned me to keep moving on anyway.  My time with Lenin was brief, but outside I had more time to see the tombstones of other Russian leaders, including the one of Stalin, buried six feet under.

SAM, AN ARCHITECT FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO AREA, makes it a point to sketch out a famous building in every major city he goes to.  Since I’ve known him, he’s sketched an abandoned whaling station on Deception Island off the shore of Antarctica, the Opera House in Sydney and Federation Square in Melbourne.  St. Basil’s Cathedral was his subject for Moscow and so he spent the rest of the morning in Red Square (where some soldiers came marching through briefly) drawing it.  It worked out perfect for me because I wanted to do some catching up on The Blog.

With our “assignments” out of the way, we went off to explore areas away from the Red Square area.  Along the way, I was starting to get a hang of the Cyrillic alphabet with Sam’s help at a local gelati stand; I managed to order a scoop of T, backwards N, P, A, M, H, C, Y, or “TIRAMISU”.  A lot of times if you just sound out the written Cyrillic word, you get a word you’ll recognize in English or a Romance language.  C, T, O, upside-down rectangular U sounded out is what it means in English:  “STOP.”  Still, a lot of times the would pronounced out becomes something totally foreign, making me as confused as a bird in a house of glass.  In those cases, I just say “da” (“yes”) and smile.

After trying to track down an English bookstore to find me a proper Russian phrasebook down a street with anti-American graffiti — the bookstore had moved locations since Lonely Planet’s publication date — we strolled passed the Pushkin State Museum of the Arts to the other grand church in town, the Church of Christ the Savior, a Byzantine style cathedral on the Moscow River.  We stood in awe of its glorious outdoor facade and went to get a glimpse inside.  However, Sam was wearing a sleevelss t-shirt and was denied access into the holy building.  The young architect pleaded to the guard but it was no use.  A woman who had just come out said she didn’t know why; there were women inside wearing worse.

“You have to go in and tell me how it is,” Sam told me.

“Okay,” I said in my sleeved The Global Trip baseball jersey.  “I’ll try and sneak in some pictures.  Watch my bag.”

Inside the church was more of an awesome sight than the outside, a huge high-ceiling nave that glimmered in gold and bright paint.  It was a relatively new church, rebuilt in the later 20th century by order of the mayor of Moscow to replace the original that was destroyed by Stalin’s mandate of atheism.  I couldn’t get into any decent corner of the church for a photo that would give it any justice, but the interior was such a sight to see, I bought Sam a booklet with photos.  It really was a sight to see, even for a “churched out” guy like me, having seen church after church in Western Europe.

“You have to see the inside,” I raved to Sam when I got back outside.  During my time in the cathedral, he had tried to enter again, only to be stopped another time by the same security guard.

“Give me your shirt,” Sam said.

“Uh… okay.”

We went off behind a ventilation column in the corner of the plaza.  “Are there any indecent exposure laws here?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

We swapped shirts when no one was looking so fast, I didn’t realize I put Sam’s shirt on backwards and inside out.  Sam went off to see the inside of the building, getting a smile and thumbs up from the guard.  He came back also raving about the inside with smiles.  We posed in each other shirts before switching back to our regular identities for the rest of the day. 

AFTER SEEING THE NEW SQUARE OF EUROPE and walking around the Novodevichy Convent, “one of Moscow’s most beautiful buildings” (according to Lonely Planet) — and I mean that literally, “around” since its main gate closed by the time we got there — we took the escalator down to Metro, which took us to the VDNKh stop, which stands for Vystavka Dostinzheny Narodnogo Khozyaystra CCCP, or USSR Economic Achievements Exhibition.  While that sounds impressive, the former Soviet showcase of Soviet progress turned out to be a permanent street carnival with a roller coaster, ferris wheel, carnival rides and games, breakdancers and vendors selling everything from ice cream to bootleg DVDs.  Sam and I watched in amazement as in front of an important-looking Soviet palace was an inflatable super fun happy slide with a rambunctious little kid going up and down. 

“Who says Russians don’t know how to have fun?” Sam said.

The most noticeable part of the former Soviet “World’s Fair” was the 100-meter-tall titanium moment with a retro-looking space rocket on top, celebrating Soviet cosmonauts in outer space.  Underneath it was a pedestal with an iron cast relief of the men and woman that made it happen.  It may be interesting to note here that while America may claim having a better space program, the Russians were a bit more resourceful; so I’m told, the Americans spent tons of money developing a space pen that would work in zero-gravity — while the Russians simply used a pencil.

THE SUN STARTED TO SET when we arrived back in the city center at Sculptures park, a park where all the old Soviet statues (and some artistic ones) were placed when democracy came ringing in.  Old CCCP monuments shared the lawns with statues of Russia’s former leaders and intellectuals like Stalin and Marx.  It was there that I finally got my photo with Lenin.

Right outside Sculptures Park was the monument of Peter the Great, an over-the-top statue of a huge Peter navigating a tiny boat in the Moscow River.  I’m not sure what the scroll he was carrying in his hand, but maybe it was a copy of Maxim for those lonely nights on that little boat.

SAM WAS TO LEAVE FOR ST. PETERSBURG in the morning, so for our last night out together we kicked it Rusky style at the traditional Kitezh restaurant, which was just super because the menu came in English.  It was a final night of black Russian caviar, blinys (Russian pancakes), beef stroganoff and toasts with shot after shot of Beloi Zoloto Premium vodka.

Needless to say, Sam passed out in his bed that night in his clothes, only to wake up in a frenzy by a wake up call, barely making his early 5 a.m. taxi ride to the airport with all his belongings.  And so, there went my friend Sam the architect, who had served as my personal travel agent for arranging my host invitation into Moscow and had eased me into the confusing world of the Cyrillic alphabet — a good friend, so good I’d give him the shirt off my back.

Next entry: A Room For The Night

Previous entry: Classic Russia

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Encounters With Lenin”

  • onion domes, onion domes, onion domes smile
    btw - the ‘toast’ pic is duplicate of ‘stroganoff’ and main pic isn’t working :( 
    I know, complain complain complain - that’s all the BH’s ever do wink

    Posted by Liz  on  08/07  at  04:41 PM

  • guess LIZ qa’d this one…

    Lenin with a Yankees hat…now that is capitalism winning over communism right there…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/07  at  08:14 PM

  • an embalmed Lenin - creepy!  That’s cool you got to see that.  The letters there remind me of Greek letters - sometimes you can spell/sound those out too…a little bit.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/08  at  06:58 PM

  • wow, sam did an awesome job with the sketch. oooh, the beef stroganoff looks gooood.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  12:16 AM

  • Okay, disregard my Capitalist Pig question. Glad you got to see it. Y’know, if you REALLY wanted a pic with Lenin, all you had to do was go to Seattle. Hee hee… they have a big statue that Russia sold in 95 or something, to some guy in Seattle.
    Great sketch of St Basil’s. A flight to St Petersburg? I took the train - overnight, mind you. I guess the plane would be better. Man, the pictures from St Petersburg by him would be killer! So, Sam, if you’re reading, I’d LOVE to see the sketches from St Petersburg - that’s one of my favorite cities - EVER!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  01:10 AM

  • Oh, and BTW, you spelled Tiramisu wrong - should have been a backwards N before the C.
    And, if you think of the p sound as PI from Greek and math class, it’s easier.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  01:12 AM

  • That Yankee cap has seen better days, bud. I hardly recognized it.

    Great sketch SAM. You should post all your worldly doodles.

    Good thing you weren’t wearing the camisole (hehe!)—that 3/4 sleeve jersey will get you into the best places!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  02:56 AM

  • Clever closing, Erik.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/09  at  07:08 AM

  • The sketch is awsome Sam!!

    The mystery interior of the chruch will pleg me until I get to Moscow and see it for myself.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  06:16 PM

  • The sketch is awsome Sam!!

    The mystery interior of the chruch will pleg me until I get to Moscow and see it for myself.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  06:16 PM

  • See, Markyt? I’m not the ONLY one who double posts.
    Thanks Td0t for making me not feel so alone with my double postings. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  10:05 PM

  • itchy mouse/trackpad fingers huh?  or just impatient for the page to load?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  10:40 PM

  • Writing about how the cyrillic letters when pronounced are often english words reminded me of my time in Macedonia.  It was funny to read the words in how the letters are supposed to be pronounced and ending up sounding like a Macedonian speaking English. (example: “Veedeeo Cloob Keeng. Oh! Video Club King!) Good times.

    Posted by Alyson  on  08/14  at  10:34 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
A Room For The Night

Previous entry:
Classic Russia


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