Friday, August 30, 2013

Красное Плошадь

No wi-fi and no Skype make me a dull blogger.

I’ve completed training and met my fellow teachers. The Good: they all seem very nice. The Bad: they are very honest. Apparently we will pretty much live at the school this year. Oh well. Last night we went bowling, which was a lot of fun, and some teachers from another school joined us. One was a girl from Ottawa (whom I had met in training), so we got to discuss all the things we missed. Like poutine. No, not Vladimir Poutine, as he is known in French (yeah, still can’t get over that), but the greasy fries-and-gravy treat straight from Quebec. We also practiced our French, which interested several of the other teachers who want to learn it. Actually, there are a lot of Canadians hanging around Moscow these days. I definitely saw a few NHL jerseys in Red Square today – even a Leafs fan, God bless him – and the Canadian teachers vastly outnumber the other incoming “native” teachers, of which there are few in the first place. Yes, we even outnumber the Americans, don’t ask me how that happened. I just hope we don’t beat Team Russia in Sochi, if we do I’ll have to go into hiding for a couple of weeks.

I do enjoy that we have so many Russian teachers at the school, however, because it would be boring to fall into the expat rut. What on earth would be the point of coming to Russia if I never interacted with actual Russians?

Also, I still keep getting lost. All the time. I wandered into the wrong building today, Irony of Fate style. It’s not my fault they all look the same. If I wind up meeting a cute guitar-playing Russian man in the process, well then so be it.


So today I decided to get out of the house and head to Red Square. Well, okay, I was originally supposed to meet up with other people and go to Red Square, but our wires got crossed and we never found each other. So I hung out there myself and had fun anyway. And boy, can you tell that this is a tourist attraction. When you get off the Metro, you are thrust into a side street filled with pricy, pricy shops and restaurants. (If you stand in the right spot, you might even pick up some wi fi, hem hem.) A quick walk through ГУМ department store (built in 1893, when Alexander III was tsar) gives the image of a country on the up-and-up, with Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers and Burberry displayed in a way that would make Don Draper faint with envy (not to mention a very historic toilet). But lo and behold – there is Red Square just metres away!

You have to go through security to get through, but it’s pretty perfunctory. The guy barely glanced at my bag, and suddenly I was at Resurrection Gate. There were tourists from all over, but mostly from Europe and Asia – especially China, which I think is a pretty clear glimpse into how the world is going. There was some kind of children’s festival on, with musicians and clowns all over the place. I could see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s, and the long long line to see Lenin. For a few minutes I hung around watching some sort of military event in front of the Kremlin (and smiling at the sight of all the security guards taking breaks at MacDonald’s). Eventually I decided to get in line for the Lenin mausoleum, standing behind a group of young Swedes. I tried to understand what they were saying, based purely on what I’ve gleaned from film subtitles, and managed to figure some of it out. Something about Lenin. The line was long, but when they let people in, twenty to thirty people are allowed at once, so it’s surprisingly efficient.

Admission to the mausoleum is free, but you must check all bags and cameras, which is about 50R depending on what you’re checking. There’s a little kiosk alongside the Central Museum. Go through a quick security gate and you’re good to go. Once you get in, you walk alongside the Kremlin past the burial grounds for many Soviet leaders, including the general secretaries, including Stalin. For historical buffs, you can also take a look at Brezhnev, Sverdlov, John Reed, Andropov and Zhdanov. But look fast, the line moves quickly. You turn a corner, descend some steps, and there he is, on a red velvet lining with a scary resemblance to Snow White. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Lenin or think that the USSR was the way to go – but this was an extraordinary experience. The man is incredibly well-preserved. One gets the impression that he could sit up at any moment and ask what the heck is going on. Like him or not, you will be swept up by the history before you. Everyone walking into the room immediately fell silent, no matter what their nationality, gazing at this man who had such a profound effect on modern history. I’m glad they don’t allow cameras or charge admission. This is an incredibly solemn spot, and to keep the “touristy” stuff to a minimum is exactly the way to go. In some manner, it still feels like a funeral procession. One can imagine this man, like in all the images we’ve seen of him, speaking from a platform with his fist in the air, leading his people down a radically different path. It is not hard to see the charismatic leader, even if he has been lying there nearly ninety years. As kitschy as going to see an embalmed man might sound, it really is more than it seems.

Aaaand as I was blogging this I put on a Simpsons episode which partially takes place in Red Square and involves Lenin rising from his tomb, totally by coincidence. Hmmm...

Once I left the tomb, I really didn’t feel like sightseeing anymore, so I left Red Square and headed home. There’s time to spread this stuff out – take it slow – see Moscow over the coming year, with maybe a mad dash to St. Petersburg or two. Next, I think there will be a couple of literary locations on my agenda. Maybe after I get paid, a day trip to Yasnaya Polyana is in order? Sure, you can go on about Pushkin all you like, but Tolstoy is tops in my book.

Maybe next time I write, there will be wi fi in the apartment. However, since it’s my first week of teaching on Monday, it might be a good idea not to have the distraction for now. My school has been extraordinarily nice and accommodating, and I think I’ll get along well with my colleagues. Bit by bit, I’m beginning to understand the system. I’m going to keep this blog light on the school updates, for the sake of their privacy, but I’ll let you know in general terms how it goes. Until then, I’ll just try to sit back and enjoy being here. In fact, my boss advised me to do just that, and I think she knows better than anyone. До свиданя!

PS: In one of the biggest cities on earth, why is it practically impossible to buy postcards?

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