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Welcome to my blog where I share stories, thoughts and photos from my bicontinental life, my travels throughout Europe and my road-trips in Electric-Blue, our trusty VW van. I hope you have as much fun exploring as I do!

My One Minute with Lenin

My One Minute with Lenin

Lenin always seems to be out for repair when I’m in town. Numerous times I’ve walked through Red Square to where the queue begins for the slow parade along the Kremlin wall toward the squat red granite mausoleum housing his body, only to find a small group of guards in thick blue coats casually chatting together in front of the closed gate. No Lenin today. Really? Does it take that much work to keep the guy fresh? Apparently, it does.

Lenin died in 1924 at age 53, and despite nearly a century of controversy, his mummified body still lies under Red Square in a dark and cool room. Keeping him looking spry doesn’t come cheap and easy; costs come in at about $200,000 per year for a team of skilled workers to put him through a regime of weekly, monthly and annual upkeep. In fact, the team is so specialized they are regularly invited to embalm deceased dictators worldwide.

Upon another arrival in Moscow, I did some internet research. When Google did not shout “Lenin has left the building!”, I took my chances and trudged off to Red Square. It was cold, minus 8, and the crowd had stayed home to enjoy their central heating. I could see a small line-up across the cobbles, about 30 people waiting for their turn through the metal detector set-up on the sidewalk. A cluster of guards was chattering nearby so I approached them. English? A shake of the head "no". Iphone? Lenin? They got my meaning. Would I be permitted to carry my picture-capable iphone with me for the duration of my visit? Da. Da. Is Okay. No Picture! A finger switched back and forth in front of my face. I pocketed my phone and joined the queue.

There was a spattering of English in the waiting group, but the language of majority was Russian. Who were these people? Were they merely curious like me? Were they on a pilgrimage? Do people do this more than once?  I passed through the metal detector, which also serves as a barrier between the speaking and the silent, and took my place in the solemn procession.

Guards and hand-shaped signposts displaying pointed fingers left no doubt as to the path I was to take. I entered the dimly lit mausoleum and began to descend poorly marked black granite stairs, and I had to wonder how many pilgrims make a crash landing at the bottom. Luckily I avoided this ending, found the bottom and turned the corner. Suddenly, there he was! It was something of a shock. I think I expected a few more long dark hallways to prepare myself.

Lenin lies in a glass case dressed in a well-cut suit; part of his annual budget. His hands rest on his thighs. A raised walkway leads down his right side from top to toe, around the foot of the case and up the left side. I stopped to lean in, to take a closer look at the blackening fingertips of his left hand, when a guard stepped out of the shadows and took my elbow saying хорошо (karahsho) or “good” meaning “move along”. I stepped off the platform and turned the corner to find another set of stairs leading back up to the surface. That was it. My one minute with Lenin.

My Russian friend grew up in the communist Soviet Union; Lenin’s legacy. She raised her eyebrows at me when she heard me making plans for a visit to see him. What? I said, doing my best to shrug off her look. Isn’t this something everyone who comes to Moscow has to see, at least once? No, she said. It isn’t.

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