Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lenin lives


When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, his wife made a special request that no memorials be created for him. It is probably an understatement to say that her wishes were ignored. As you wander around Moscow you see any number of statues, monuments and paintings of Lenin. The memorials to Stalin are gone, but Lenin somehow lives on. You can even get your photo with him, if you know where to look. Eighty years on he has made a home next to a lamp post just outside Red Square. One day he caught my eye and smiled - I think he suspected I was trying to get a photo of him without paying. And he would have been right, but it was only because he was sitting next to his friend, Karl Marx.

Looking decidedly less lifelike is the real Lenin, who has been interred in a Mausoleum on Red Square since 1930. It suited the political interests of Stalin and others to drum up a cult of personality, so Lenin's corpse was embalmed, dressed up in a dark suit and laid out on a slab for public viewing. During Soviet times people would queue for several hours to get a glimpse. When Stalin died he, too, was displayed in the Mausoleum, but upon being denounced by Khruschev he was buried out in the garden by the Kremlin walls. (An interesting aside is that Lenin's brain was placed in a specially-founded Institute of Lenin's Brain, where scientists subjected it to deep analysis in an attempt to discover the secret of his genius.)

I queued for about an hour to pay my respects to the real Lenin. After cloaking my bags, camera and checking for any disrespectful items ('Eat at McLenin's' tshirts are apparently barred), I was ushered into a small, dimly lit room. Glowing under a glass case was the preserved Lenin, arms by his side with right hand clenched in a fist. His skin did not look entirely healthy, giving off the kind of orange luminescence you might get if you placed a light bulb inside a child's doll. Someone behind me sniggered, and a guard gave out a firm librarian's 'shush'. Lenin's face is so distinctive and interesting that I would have liked to stay for longer, but I was moved along by another guard and hurried back into Red Square.

Outside, a small group of elderly socialists was staging a demonstration, but it was a tame affair and most people seemed to take no notice. Besides, I was hungry, and just across the Square was GUM (pronounced 'Goom'), a gigantic department store with any number of food options. And of course McDonald's was also a possibility, being just a short walk from Red Square and boasting internet access and listening stations alongside its burgers and fries. If there weren't so many tourists gawking at him all the time, I'd imagine Lenin might be turning in his grave.

Photos of St Petersburg, Moscow and first leg of Trans-Siberian

3 Comments:

At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Libby said...

These aren't the comments I was hoping for! I'm so jealous - strangely, the jealousy is most of all inspired by the picture of you in the train cabin, Harrison (wink wink - am I doing the right thing by not identifying you...or am I just a dork?).

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Ed said...

Hmmm. Just wanted to point out that Harrison doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story...

'After cloaking my bags, camera...' The truth is, after queuing for an hour, we reached the top of the queue to be told that we had to cloak our bags and camera. We had already queued the day before and had the queue cut off ahead of us half an hour before close - we were a bit worried about not making it in to pay our respects. So, Harrison dumped me with the bags and camera to join yet another queue while he speeded ahead, assured a glimpse of Lenin.

As it turned out, I made it in - I was the third last person to see Lenin for the day! The upside of this was that I was not rushed through by the guides and spent time hanging out with Lenin in the company of about 5 guards but no other tourists!

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Harrison said...

Libby, I wish I could say otherwise but train travel in Russia is as good as it looks! The gentle rocking and regular rhythms of the train send you into a dreamy state. Ed - if you like I'm quite happy to provide more details of our day to day experiences, including what breakfast cereal we eat and the cost of bread in Russian supermarkets... but somehow I fear my already small readership may vote with their mouses. But yes, you did get the raw end of the deal at Lenin's bag check. H (wink-wink)

 

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