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Moscow 1978

I was driven from the train station to Moscow's famous Metropol Hotel, a stone's throw from Red Square and the Kremlin, and just across the street from the Bolshoi Theater. It was too late to do much exploring so I climbed into my comfortable bed and had a good night's sleep. Next morning I made a quick tour of the Bolshoi Theater and then walked past Teatralnaya Square and made my way to Red Square hoping to get an early place in line to view the body of the great Lenin. Next, I began to just wander past the Archangel Cathedral, the Assumption Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral and around the perimeter of the square trying to figure out what everything was and how the other people were reacting to the sights.

Metropol Hotel Bolshoi Theater Bolshoi Interior Kremlin Entrance
Lenin Enshrined Assumtion Cathedral Annunciatio Cathedral St. Basil's Cathedral

While I watched the crowds gathered around the 35 inch caliber of the Tsar Cannon and the 216 ton Tsar Bell I met a young Uzbek woman who seemed also to be trying to find her way around. We kept chattering but I was unsure of whether she might have been plying an ancient trade with the male tourists. She insisted on buying an ice cream for me and offered to give me a tour of the huge GUM department store. After we had wandered through the store for a while, I risked taking some pictures but I was quickly stopped by a security person who threatened to relieve me of the camera. Irina insisted that I had just had the misfortune of being seen by an old Soviet hard liner and that most people didn't care about the picture taking issue. In their defense, I am sure that they tired of having GUM unfavorably portrayed against the glitz and glory of western stores and it was impossible for me to convey to them that I had no such intention of propagandizing the store. My new friend wanted to keep hanging out with me but when I tried to shake her to go to my dinner plans at MSU she insisted on meeting me outside the Metropol next morning so I agreed.

Tsar Cannon Tsar Bell GM Department Store GU Interior

My new professor friend had given me good directions for catching the subway to the university and the ride allowed me to experience the most elegant underground that I had ever seen. It really was a showcase for Soviet transportation and cost only pennies to ride. When I arrived at the MSU campus I could hear Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" playing loudly through what I presumed to be a dormitory window as I walked toward the building housing the School of Journalism to which I had been directed. I was early for my appointment so I explored the campus buildings and looked out across the Moscow River to where I could see the Moscow skyline with its dominating Stalinist skyscraper. The university buildings were commandingly large but landscaping and repair issues were evident as lights were rusted and tilted askew like the neglected infrastructure of low rent housing in our country.

Moscow Subway Moscow Subway Moscow Sate University Moscow from MSU

After meeting and talking to an interesting group of people over dinner that evening, I made the return trip back toward my hotel. My seatmate on the subway was a student in Moscow from Sri Lanka and was going to meet some of his friends for drinks at a club where only foreign currency could be used in purchasing food and drinks. I had learned that these were the most desired of nightspots, were frequented by the hottest of women, and offered better prepared food than most ordinary restaurants available to the masses. As a potential source of greenbacks, I was much desired as company by men and women alike because they could easily get in on my arm and could then continuously importune me to sell them American money in exchange for quantities of rubles that were thirty and even fifty times the official exchange rate. I went this one time in order to see the nature of such a place, but after that visit I felt sort of offended by them and the clientele that they attracted. I was eventually able to slip off to the men's room and then escaped to my hotel.

The next morning Irina was waiting for me at the fountain in Teatralnaya Square and she did her best to explain to me that the statue of Karl Marx was carved on the spot where it stands from a 200 ton block of granite and was unveiled in 1961. The inscription on the front translates as “Workers of the world – unite!” We then went off to visit the Novodevichy Monastery and cemetery where she pointed out the graves of Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, Aleksandr Skryabin and the famous director Sergei Eisenstein. We also saw the graves of Nikita Kruschev, Vyacheslav Molotov and Pyotr Kropotkin (an anarchist considered the father of modern terrorism).

Marx in Theater Square Novodevichy Monastery Gogol Grav Anton Chekhov
Vladimir Mayakovsky Grave Rode a Tank Nikita Kruschev Sergei Eisenstein

Next my guide took me to the All Russia Exhibition Center (VDNKH) which was founded in the 1930s as a showcase for all the great achievements of the Soviet Union. The entrance gate, with Orlov's statue “Tractor Driver and Collective Farmer” on top, is very striking as is the main pavilion enhanced by a well sculpted Lenin statue. Other attractions include the launcher that sent Yuri Gagarin's rocket into space as well as small Tupolev and Yakovlev planes. Finally we ended the day and my stay in Moscow with a long visit to the Museum of History where we spent many hours looking at its fabulous contents. In the early evening we returned to Teatralnaya Square and sat talking on a park bench. I promised to write to her of my further adventures and she took off her watch and gave it to me as a remembrance. I asked if it would be alright for me to kiss her goodbye and when I did she began crying. It had really been such amazing luck to meet her because I would never have been able to find my way around with such efficiency without her guidance. It was harder than I had wanted it to be to go back on our separate paths but we did and our later correspondence could not recapture out feelings of the moment.

All Russia Exhibition Center Tractor Driver w/Farmer Space Station in VDNKH Vostok Launch Vehicle

 

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