Derek relented and gave us a tour that ranged from fairly highbrow (modern houses by modern Russian architects that I have never heard of because my knowledge of architecture is limited to begin with and tends to fade about by around 1800 or so) to — well, this is not a guy who ever slums intellectually, so the lowest brow we got was the huge statue of Peter the Great near the river which I think was intended to be a statue of Columbus but then got repurposed. We also saw a large concrete apartment building where as I understand it a lot of KGB guys were murdered over the years.
And then we went and saw Lenin’s tomb. We managed to get in at a time where there was no line at all. The story is that Russian schoolchildren are often taken to see Lenin and emerge a little freaked out. I can understand this. He’s housed in a severe-looking marble mausoleum, all red and gray and black. It’s very quiet and quite dark. You go down some stairs into a very dim hallway, along a little corridor, and into a room lit in red where — well, there he is, in his little glass box. According to Derek, they will bury him when all the older guys, who are in their 70s and 80s now and some of whom are feeling nostalgic for communism, die off. One is not encourage to linger and stare as far as Lenin goes: just down, around the box, and out again. There was something very strange about the whole thing. Not creepy, or morbid (well, maybe a little morbid – he’s embalmed and lying there in a box!) but just – strange. One of those things where I have this feeling of having missed something, or that there’s something I don’t quite get.
This is a feeling I have had quite a lot since I have been here. Moscow is not terrifically easy for Western travelers. I have experienced illiteracy abroad before, most memorably in Japan, but in Tokyo, for example, all the names of the subway stops are in both Japanese and roman characters on all the signs. In Moscow it’s all cyrillic. so you either learn the alphabet quickly or get good at matching patterns. (The subway is otherwise pretty idiot-proof, though. The lack of advertising on the interior walls of the train cars is startling for someone from the US.)
The place I have felt most comfortable since being here was at the opera. There are little differences even there – at Lady Macbeth there was a lot of whispering and talking, particularly during orchestral interludes, and people disregarded the ‘no photos’ rule (my general impression here is that rules are not always applied at all times) but otherwise it was the most familiar-feeling thing I’ve done so far.