Saturday, August 6, 2011

Some Art, a Cathedral, a Cemetary, and Lenin Himself

This morning, I resigned myself to the probability that I would get lost, stand in pointless queues, pay too much for extremely ordinary food, and generally wander around like a lost sheep with sore feet. All of these things happened, and yet as I reflect on the day I don't feel particularly peeved. Mostly, I just feel poor.

Notable Event #1 was Lenin's Mausoleum. This involved standing in the longest line I've ever stood in, apart from the time when I queued for Mumford & Sons. It was hot, but it was free, so I bore it well. You get about two minutes in the tomb, and Lenin might as well be a wax figure for all we know, but it was one of those few times I've had in my life as a tourist where I tick a box in my head. Not thrilling, precisely, but obligatory. Lots of military standing about to ensure that you don't speak, take photos, or smile. (I might have made the last one up, but only just).

Incidentally, if you try to jump a queue in Australia, a guard might escort you back with a stern word, but probably a grin as well. He's certainly not armed. If you try to jump a queue in Moscow, a guard mght reach menacingly for his gun, or at the very least freeze you in a stare as steely as his grasp.

Following the requisite visit to Lenin, I hopped on the metro to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, which had an astonishingly good collection of antiquities, some very fine Rembrandts, and a whole building full of Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Kandinsky, Rodin, etc. Honestly, it rivals many more famous collections. The Egyptian Room alone took my breath away. I'm learning, however, to avoid Orthodox iconography and Russian religious art in general, because while there are some beautiful examples of the genre, the overwhelming effect is a bit ghastly.

Over the road is the relatively modern Cathedral, Christ the Saviour: if you're a woman, you can't enter with bare arms or head or legs, so quite a few are turned away since it's very much summer here. Fortunately, I had a scarf with me (which I wore to match my new bohemian haircut) so I got in, though something in me baulked at having to cover my head, low-churchwoman that I undoubtedly am. Though new, it's a very traditional stately cathedral; no boundary-breaking art or particularly creative architecture. But there are lots of very formal and rather beautiful icons, with many people praying all around. The overall effect is majestic - lovely colours, not too much gold, lots of marble and candles and frescoes. It reminded me of a Rubens painting. I'm not sure I liked it - for the same reason that I'm not always sure I like Rubens - but it's very striking.

Finally, after a hideously overpriced and horrible lunch at the Soviet-style canteen in the basement of the gallery, I hopped a train to Novodevichy Cemetary, where such notables as Krushchev,Gogol (all I could think was, poor dead soul!), Rachmaninov and Chekhov are buried. The place was swarming with Asian tourists in large packs and matching shirts, conscientiously aiming cameras at everything and nothing. I found the tombs I wanted to find, however, except for Rubinstein's, which has evaporated in the most peculiar way. The overall effect of the cemetary - which houses all the political and cultural figures who the authorities judged unsuitable to be buried in the walls of the Kremlin - was one of Soviet heroes striding out of granite blocks, chests imperious, faces impassive, gazing at a glorious future whilst clad in immaculate suits. (Soviet heroines are generally pigeon-breasted and middle-aged, occasionally in pearls but more often in sensible brogue). A lot of older folk still pay homage and leave flowers at the graves of notable Communist figures. I rested my feet a good deal and gazed on stony visages; all those Soviet figures became a little more real as I did so.

As you see, the day has been full and I feel quite justified in heading home for a bit, before I amble around in search of dinner. Tomorrow is my last full day in Moscow. I catch a train to St Petersburg at 11:45 PM. In the morning, I'm going to visit an Anglican church that is reputed to exist somewhere near me; I love expatriate congregations! They're full of interesting people doing wonderful things.

No comments:

Post a Comment