Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Day 6, Moscow: Shitewatch

Tourist attack, Wahey the Vlads, Stalin for time

Day 6 features a number of valuable lessons from Russia in how to make life difficult for tourists.

Lenin’s Mausoleum
a) get tourists to pay 60Roubles to place bags in cloakroom (compulsory)
b) inform tourists that small bags cannot be placed inside larger bags
b) seal off the whole of Red Square so after visiting tomb, tourists must do an entire circuit of the square to reclaim bags

Visas
a) make tourists hand over migration cards for half a day for Visa registration (compulsory), ignoring fact that police will attempt to arrest those without migration cards
b) once registration has been completed, insist that registration forms must be returned before tourist leaves the country

Tretyakov (new) Gallery
Seal off rooms 20-40. Allow tourists to buy full-price ticket without informing them that half the gallery has been closed.

***

It was a good day though. With the help of a heady combination of chemicals, Lenin’s 137-year-old body has been preserved since his death in 1924, and so, at appointed times, you can actually go into his mausoleum, and see his corpse. Because of terrifyingly blank-faced soldiers standing guard throughout, you don’t linger, filing slowly past the glass case which the deceased revolutionary now inhabits.

It’s just occurred to me that before now, I’d never seen a dead body in real life. How strange to think that my first is Lenin’s!

***

Behind Lenin’s mausoleum are the graves of other prestigious dead Russians; most I don’t recognise, but Gagarin, Brezhnev and Chernenko are there. Most graves have a single flower lying on them. Stalin’s, unsettlingly, has two enormous bouquets.

Your Rough Guide quote-hit:

Khrushchev, [who]… in 1956, was by no means unassailable, gave a “Secret Speech” to the Twentieth Party Congress, in which Stalin’s name was for the first time officially linked to [Leningrad Party boss Sergei] Kirov’s murder and the suffering of millions during the Great Terror. So traumatic was the revelation that many delegates had heart attacks on the spot.


That evening, after a meal in the excellently-named Ludi Kakludi (“people for people”), we ask our young Russian barman about Stalin. He tells us that, yes, many do still revere Uncle Joe, but it’s mainly the older generation. Life was comfortable back then, and it’s thanks to him they collect decent pensions. It must be hard not to be grateful when you were spared.

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