by Rach with children’s journal entry additions
Lenin’s birthday is the reason there are so many people, many with red flowers. It’s also why there’s a parade of Pioneers in their red scarves and red hats. And why there are so so many groups of school children. Or it would have been his birthday if he were not eternally ensconced in his waxy glory behind those walls of the Kremlin.
We don’t join the throng to pay our respects, opting instead to witness the changing of the guard at the eternal flame, a memorial to The Unknown Soldier.
Changing of the guard. Not quite Buckingham Palace. The soldiers swung their legs up to their waists as they marched. They stomped as noisily as an elephant on the flat, and stepped as quietly as a mouse on the stairs.
The 18-20 year old soldiers stand for an hour at a time and never move anything except their eyes…..at least, they aren’t supposed to. Three guards come marching in time, legs creating a 90 degree angle, boots coming down with a smart crack…..right up in front of the eternal flame. Facing the flame, they stand motionless and observe a minute’s silence. Then in a carefully choreographed movement, the two outside guards change places with the two, who have just done their hour. What they think about while they stand, I would be interested to find out. I know it would be hard to stand still for an hour. And to do that in –30*C, then immediately kick your legs so high? One would learn patience doing that job. Either that or be bored silly.
We also take a wander around Alexander’s Garden, admiring statues and sculptures, especially the ones from Russia’s rich literary history.
Everyone is cold. It might be 2*C (ie warmer than last night), but the wind is biting. So we head indoors to thaw out and have a bite ourselves. Baked potatoes – about as Russian as it gets.
Having skirted Red Square and temptingly glimpsed the famous onion-domed building, we were keen for a closer look at that iconic sight so often seen in newspapers, documentaries and movies. Well, the adults were – the kids reckoned they’d never heard of the place. Where *have* they been?
Jgirl14’s journal entry is honest:
I hadn’t really known what to expect, as the reading we had done that mentioned Moscow wasn’t very detailed, because the story characters were all passing through or being deported to Siberia. But what I did see I certainly didn’t expect!
Red Square is a famous place, I now know. Before today I can’t recall having ever heard about it even though I probably have. Before today I don’t think I’d even seen a picture of it. Well, today is today and as we walked past a large gateway in a castle-ish wall I caught a glimpse of something that appeared to have come straight from Walt Disney’s film, Aladdin; a Sultan’s palace? I seriously thought that these onion-shaped, brightly coloured and geometrically designed domes were the centrepiece of some theme park. The last thing I’d have guessed it to be was a cathedral. In my mind a cathedral is a grey stone church with bells and large arches and elaborate interior paintings. I guess I’ll have to change my picture!
The square is strangely empty. There is a strong police presence and strategically placed metal barriers prevent the public from entering this public space. Tatiana enquires about what is going to happen. We expect perhaps a birthday parade – but the answer is NOTHING. Ah, that’s exactly it. Welcome to Russia, where we will prevent a revolution from occurring by refusing to allow even a demonstration to begin. Do you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe too western? Our little group of eleven children and not even half a dozen adults congregates by the barrier, some of us crouching down for a better camera angle, a couple of boisterous boys bounce about a bit. Before we know it, we are being hustled away by police and the barriers are being moved further away from the square. Apologies to any tour groups in our wake – it’s our fault you couldn’t get any closer!
Not to be deterred, we detour through a seriously upmarket shopping mall, a fake world with fake trees and fake flowers and fake springtime and fake summer umbrellas where rich and beautiful people
live shop, to approach Aladdin’s Palace from the other side. Here we are reminded that nothing is going to happen today. There are police on the street, police cars lined up, police cars driving by, a bus loaded with police parked on the side of the road. And there were two policemen standing guard to tell us no-one would be admitted into St Basil’s Cathedral today. It’s Lenin’s birthday, you know.
And so we try Moscow’s largest cathedral instead. It’s a short walk away, around the Kremlin wall, away from the action (although as we walk, two police cars take chase along here, lights flashing, sirens blaring…..to the adults it also feels a bit like a movie set, but not a Disney one!)
Leaving the noise behind, male heads uncovered, female heads covered, we step through the security check and into the cathedral. Kboy11 rightly suggests it’s like walking into an art museum. Big brother takes up the description:
The ceiling of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is amazing. Well, the whole thing is, but the ceiling particularly so, painted with pictures of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There were also pictures of scenes from the Bible and pictures of different saints on the walls and candle stands with lots of candles burning. There were lots of people lighting candles, praying and kissing the pictures.
Our full day concludes with a Russian fairy tale DVD, a very cultured happy birthday.