From Russia With Love …. Part 3: Two Lenins
Sunday and the first thing to note is that we actually manage to get up and out at a vaguely decent hour. Dressed more warmly, sods law dictates that the weather itself is warmer. We take the metro from Mayakovskaya which is noted as one of the most beautiful on the network. To be fair, it is impossible to grade these stations …. rather akin to saying that a Turner is better than a Constable … it’s a personal thing in the end. I think. We ride two stops and step out behind where we are going. We walk arm in arm chatting in the sunshine and into a traffic free street full of pop up shops (a common thing here) and lined with cafes. I can see a red painted spire ahead of me but nothing, nothing prepares me for the sheer emotion of setting foot, at the bottom of the street in Red Square itself.
It too is a personal thing – my father had a life-long interest in Russia … the culture, the history, the language, the soul and he never visited. I’m here with him in my heart and I literally boil over – tears streaming down my face. I am for once lost for words as Two Brains gently holds me in this iconic place. We (he because I am incoherent) decide to eat and make our way back up the street to a diner. We choose rocket and tomato salad and a pie which is off-the-scale delicious … slightly sweetened yeasty pastry encasing spinach and tomato and fresh mint tea (they give us black tea bags to dunk which is a bonus, not because I want the tea to ruin the mint but rather because I can smuggle them into the hotel where we are only given one teabag a day – a frustrating curiosity). The bill is 523 Rubles. We only have large notes. We can do 1,000 – she can give us 300 but not 4. Rapid fire Russian (they) much gesticulating (we) and eventually a sneaky fellow worker, face etched with amusement, with a pocket full of cash enters the fray. We end up with the exact change and each time we walk past the cafe they wave and shout Zdrasdvuytye (hello). A smile works in any language I find.
We stroll back to the Square and act like any other tourist taking pictures, noting the scaffolding and the banners going up for May 9th – thats Victory Day here (the days of May Day being the big march are history) when the Russians remember their losses in the 2nd world war (20 million service and civilian lost from a total population of 110 million. Lest we forget). We walk round Lenins tomb, of course though we can’t get in today. It’s a monolith for sure. I goggle at St Basils – Walt Disney surely never dreamed of anything quite as fantastical as Ivan the Terribles church which dates from 1555. Today it is a museum. No longer a church.
Outside the back side of the Kremlin (ocrerie yellow inside the red walls) is a garden with a shallow moat of water, the floor a beautiful mosaic and littered with statues. The Alexander Garden. We stroll and take in the sunshine with the multitude of Russian families. A friend of mine remembers being in Moscow as a small child when her father, a diplomat was posted there in the late fifties, walking in Red Square and its surrounds, it is clear that some things have not changed. Young lovers arm in arm, elderly people walking slowly, families ….. just another shade of normal which is lovely.
Later, we go to register Two Brains and attend the first night reception for the Symposium he is attending here. The simple map is too simple for our combined brain-power (!) and we find ourselves wandering round and round and round vainly and increasingly desparately seeking the Institute of Economics. Several kind but singularly unhelpful passers-by later we ask a group of 3 if they can help. The boy (I’m getting old – he is probably 28) not only helps us but chases us down the street when he realises he has sent us the wrong way (there are two streets with the same name – one translates as Little and the other Big Gnezdnikovskiy … he thought we needed Big but in fact its Little). Much smiling, much laughter, many thanks and I ask him his name. Lenin. But of course.
PS: Dinner followed the reception …. round the corner at the Chelsea GastroPub – it had to be done, let’s face facts! Decorated like the most up-market michelin starred restaurant and with leathered armchairs so deep that we looked like a pair of Alices after she has drunk from the bottle that shrinks her we had more lovely service, this time from a fellow who could easily play Ivan the Terrible in a TV mini-series whose English is tenuous but whose smile is infectuous. When asked if the haddock risotto had cheese he paused, we held our breaths (Two Brains doesn’t do cooked cheese) and the word exploded from his mouth ‘MILK!’. We ordered it. We had not expected the raspberry sauce on the haddock but after the initial surprise it was surprisingly good. ‘VERY GOOD?’ he bellowed when he came like lightening to clear my plate as soon as I laid my fork down. ‘Very’ I replied. Sometimes a little light exageration is entirely excusable and indeed the right thing.