July 11, 2014 -Struggling with Pictures
We needed to bundle up since it was 48 degrees as we left the boat for the Kremlin. The drive to the city center illustrated some basic truths about Russia. It is argued that Russia is an Asian country masquerading as European. I think this endless argument misses the point. Russia is Russia and is unique in its own way. Its uniqueness is not only size and natural resources but also its national personality.
The Russian personality to me is demonstrated by its architecture. Our bus rides were enhanced by the opportunity to speculate on the uniquely Russian style of architecture. The national trait is to borrow and adopt to create something uniquely Russian. The styles of Renaissance, Classical, Baroque and their associated Neo-variations were combined to create this style. I did find the juxtaposition of these elements somewhat jarring. When you add the Stalinist taste for the gigantic and strange proportions, you can see the Russian personality in action. You know that you are not in Western Europe.
Our visit to the Kremlin confirmed this observation. We had been exploring Red Square and the environs of the Kremlin the last few days. Today we cleared security and headed inside the walls for the first time. The youngsters in their comical oversized pie hats were not too intimidating compared to the Scots stationed outside Edinburgh Castle. They performed their duty without responding to the irritating tourists.
We viewed the Russian Senate building and could see the windows that Lenin used while he worked to secure the revolution in 1917. Across the street, the offices for President Putin are under renovation. The building is shrouded in decorative tarps that show the completed remodel. The observed view is appropriate as it matches a similar obscuring tarp on the KGB that is simultaneously being upgraded. Not sure what the plan is but it is probably not good.
The Tsar Cannon and the 200 ton church bell symbolize Russia perfectly. They are both the largest of their species in the world and neither work. A massive gun that doesn’t shoot and a giant bell that doesn’t ring are perfect for a country that cannot produce anything for the world market except raw materials, weapons and vodka. Perhaps this desire to impress with power misses the modern idea of a consumer based economy. Certainly their own people that use iPhones and drive foreign cars and wear western clothing seem to have little interest in Russian consumer products. It seems that as long as the government can maintain an adequate food supply and reasonable certainty is OK for the Russian population.
We ventured into the Church of the Assumption where the Tsars were crowned and the Patriarch leaders of the church are buried. The sanctuary was packed with tourists and decoration. I did find the visit to St. Basil’s as more meaningful with its reduced and human scale. Ivan the Terrible rules over his own corner while the throne he used is still located in the same place. Maybe no one wants to move it for fear of Ivan’s ghost. The Tsarina throne completes the prime seating in front of the overwhelming iconostasis.
While the Assumption Church provided the crowns, the church of the Archangel Michael holds their tombs. The Romanovs are all there except for the last and Peter the Great. The church decorations feature the Archangel and his miracles that saved Moscow on a regular basis. It figures that the Russians would choose a rather militant guardian.
Ivan the Terrible managed to get excluded from church services after his third marriage of his seven tries. He built a porch to observe and listen next to another church. It is interesting that Ivan was a contemporary with Henry VIII and found similar solutions. I wonder how history would have veered had The Virgin Queen Elizabeth accepted Ivan’s offer of marriage.
The Grand Palace is certainly big enough for the current President Putin to find a few rooms to call his own. Instead of living in the Kremlin, he prefers to commute by helicopter from his spread in the suburbs. We saw his heliport within the walls and used the only public bathroom in the Kremlin. They were well used.
It was a relief to leave this gloomy place and return to the boat. We boarded, had lunch and heard an overview lecture about early Russian history. I managed to keep quiet. In the middle of the afternoon we left the dock. We were on the Moscow Canal and would reach the Volga River in the evening. The canal and lock system were constructed during the Stalin era by Gulag prisoners. These 200,000 volunteers died on an unknown scale and are memorialized with heroic statues. The Social Realist art work probably doesn’t reflect the actual appearance of the prisoners.
The Volga is huge and we will be on it for the next few days. Our meal times are still entertaining. The backgrounds and careers of our dining companions are extremely interesting. Peggy and I manage to get in a few words now and then.
That’s some gun! Just as well it’s inoperative. I remember reading about giant bells cast in pits, then raised on towers, to ring out over the steppes. Perhaps this is one such, although I actually expected them to be bigger. It’s a romantic notion, whatever the size. Are you humming “The Song of the Volga Boatmen,” as you glide along? Yo-ho heave ho!
Actually we are watching a bunch of modern day Volga boaters and campers. It could be the American River except there is plenty of water in this huge river.