Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 18 - 27th July 2009 Monday

Churchill said it well when he described Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. I always expected to see the country behind the curtain as a sad and grey world of long queues for food and a sense of desperation borne out of long years of hardship. Perhaps that is still prevalent in the outlying areas well away from Moscow. After all, it took me the best part of a week to barely scratch the surface of a country that covers two continents. The biggest single country in the world. Big statistics, big place, big impressions. It definitely made a big impression on me. Average monthly wages range from €150 in the far reaches from the empirical heart of the capital, and rise exponentially as you approach the political centre to somewhere in the region of €800 or more per month. As I sat there in Red Square on a beautiful sunny day fanned gently by a light cooling summer breeze I watched hordes of tourists descend on these images so well known from postcards, television and movies over the years.Pokrovsky cathedral was an architectural wonder to behold and being set at the end of Red Square acted either as the opening act or finale to what must be one of the great spectacles of the modern world, depending on which way you enter the square. Buildings so grand in style and so large as not to be able to take everything in at one or even two glances. Perhaps Russia, and more particularly Moscow, was essentially at one time a closed world to the west but as I listened to the languages and accents around me, I could see it had opened up into a cosmopolitan and welcoming space. How tolerant that would be were you to exercise your democratic rights as you would expect them to be upheld in other western countries I don’t know. I certainly didn’t intend to find out either. The day was Monday and, like Mao, Lenin was out visiting his relatives that day, so I left a note to say I hoped to get a chance to call in and say hello the following day.The numerous buildings around seemed to be brocaded in gold. I wondered how they stopped it all from tarnishing? The colours transfixed the gaze, all helped of course by the bright sunshine.Perhaps it wasn’t quite so breathtaking in the depths of winter. That night we had tickets for the last night of the season’s Bolshoi Ballet. At €125 a ticket it was expensive, but surely one of the must-sees of Moscow? We rushed back to get showered, get much wrinkled clothes as unwrinkled as possible, and headed out on the town.The Bolshoi was everything I expected it to be and being the last night, there was a full house. The old ladies in the balconies used their theatre glasses to look, not at the dancers, but at the audience. To see and be seen was as important at this cultural gathering as the dancing. No late night at the after show party for me, as the following day I had an important appointment to keep with Lenin.

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