Monday, 18 July 2011

Moscow by Night

Saturday 16th July 2011

A little after 9.30 p.m. we set off by coach for the optional ‘Moscow by Night’ tour. It was just starting to get dark and still very warm – I took a jacket with me but never used it.

Our first stop was at ‘Victory Park’. This is one of a number of large public parks in the city. ‘Victory Park’ is dominated by a tall obelisk in the form of a bayonet commemorating the second world war. Two classical figures, one winged with a wreath, the other playing a pipe emerge mysteriously near the top of the bayonet. At the base another classical figure represents Saint George on horseback. Nearby, there’s a large, low building arranged in an arc. For a modern concrete building I found the effect quite pleasant. But Russians don’t seem to do minimalism so there are two more Saint George on horseback figures on the roof and also a dome structure behind, with a slender spire. There were still plenty of people around the park, including a number of young people on in-line skates. As we waited for our coach, there was another wedding party, in obvious high spirits, just arriving by car.

By now, it was dark but still warm. We stopped at the New Maiden’s Convent for photographs. The convent looks more like a castle than a convent, surrounded by a high, crenellated wall but painted white and floodlighted and with a reflecting pool in front, it made a pretty subject. In the last few years, it has become a working convent once again with, I understand, ten nuns and ten novices.

Another trip by coach and we were dropped off at the usual spot for Red Square. There were plenty of people about, all good natured. This time, we were allowed to explore on our own so I made my way through Red Square, past St. Basil’s Cathedral and had time to discover that the ‘bungee jumping car’ was a ‘Top Gear Live’ stunt.

It gave me a strange feeling, walking through Red Square just before midnight. I’m old enough to remember television coverage of the huge military parades in Red Square demonstrating the strength of the Soviet Union. Back then, nuclear conflict seemed inevitable and the fear of perishing “All suffused in an incandescent glow” (as Tom Lehrer’s lyric has it) was very real. I remember the politicians standing on top of Lenin’s Tomb and the ranks of lower level functionaries on the marble seating flanking the tomb. The Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb and St. Basil’s Cathedral are all floodlit and the effect is quite powerful. A little while ago, ‘GUM’ was outlined in lights for a special event but the effect (almost like a talented child’s drawing, it seemed to me) was so popular that it has been retained permanently. In Red Square at night, it’s easy to see why the place is so symbolic to the whole world. Earlier, one of our guides had pointed out a distinction in perception – whereas foreign television journalists always seek to have the distinctive outline of St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background, Russian journalists use the adjacent Kremlin tower with its huge striking clock as the symbol of ‘Mother Russia’.

My tour party met up at the equestrian statue of Marshal Zukov at ten to midnight, as arranged and, tired but happy, we clambered back on our coach. I noticed that the digital clock in the coach read ’00:00’ - ‘Midnight in Moscow’.

Pictures of my 'Midnight in Moscow'.