Sunday, July 26, 2009

secret 26 - me and lenin

ok, i admit it. the first time i went to russia, one of the things i wanted to see was lenin's tomb on red square in moscow. it's a masterpiece of constructivist-modernist architecture and i found the notion of actually seeing lenin (or whatever was left of him) deliciously creepy. and it lived up to every expectation i had and then some.

photo found here.

i queued outside with a bunch of ancient, bent little old russian ladies in dark coats, colorful scarves and fur hats. it was a cold day, with wisps of snow whirling around and a bitterly cold wind blowing across red square. it was 1994 and they weren't sure at that point if they were going to keep it open, but i lucked out and found it was open that particular day.

it was a somber thing to proceed through. you walk in on the left and get the chance to walk slowly all the way around him (or at least you did then). there were guards to keep you moving--a bit like with the british crown jewels, you're not allowed to stop and as i recall, no photos were allowed (if i took some, they are, like so many of my secrets, home in my parents' basement). there was a hush and it felt very solemn and reverent. many of the elderly ladies who shuffled through ahead of me (thank goodness for them, because they walked slowly and enabled me to walk slowly) became very emotional, dabbing tears and choking back sobs.

leaving politics aside completely, it felt like something special, although lenin himself is so preserved and maintained over the years that he looked quite waxy and unreal, and it did cross my mind that there wasn't much of the real him left. but i think that what made it a special experience was sharing it with these elderly women who may have been small children way back when, women who had seen the entirety of the soviet union (and survived). and the architecture of the tomb creates a special experience as well, it's dark and imposing and cavernous and somber. and well, totally fitting as a mausoleum. they really got the architecture right. and seeing it the dim, wintry daylight of a mid-winter day added to the atmosphere.

it made such an impact on me, that when i returned to russia in the summer of 1997, i went back. the line was shorter then and it was summer, so the mood was lighter, but there were still many ancient little ladies coming to pay their respect. i don't think it had the same impact the second time, but i do recall exiting and going right back in line again, to have a second look. i wasn't sure i'd ever get the chance again. and i haven't, so perhaps i was right.

but there is something really special about lenin's tomb.


Unknown said...

That's really cool! I have yet to get to travel outside the US, but I still hope to. Thanks for sharing the story!

Char said...

how weirdly cool..

will said...

What a minute! I thought only commies (the pinko kind) were allowed to tour past Lenin?
I once stood in line to see the robotic Abe Lincoln at Disneyland - because I'm a Red White and Blue Patriotic American. Disney never did a robotic Lenin either because Walt was a True Blue American too.

Those Ruskis need a Disneyland, I mean it would cheer them up seeing robotic animals and birds and good old American Abe Lincoln.

Looking at stiffs is so 1950s.

spudballoo said...

Indeed, it was the same when I went in 2001...long lines of shuffly old ladies, and soldiers hurrying you round the room. It was worth the wait though, it's a memory that will stay with me I'm sure. said...

I hope to one day see the eerily creepy Lenin. My son is fascinated by that era of Russian/Soviet history. Hence his alias, Vladimir, in my blog.

Liz Fulcher, The Fragrant Muse said...

Why is his right hand closed and his left one open? What is he holding?