Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Which I Visit Mr. Lenin

My friend's parents are in town, and Monday we tried to visit Lenin's Tomb without first reading in any of our many guidebooks that Lenin's Tomb is never open on Mondays.

So we went again yesterday.

I have walked by Lenin's Tomb many times, but I never really paid attention to how one visits it. I also knew that there are many dignitaries and famous people (not just Russians) buried against the Kremlin wall behind the mausoleum, but I couldn't figure out how one could get over there to see.

First, we walked up to the mausoleum, but it is surrounded by fencing, so clearly that wasn't how one gets in.

Then I saw, way down by the National Historical Museum, what looked like a security check point with metal detectors. Ah ha! This must be it.

We walked over there, but another row of barricades blocked us. A guard was stationed there, and he seemed to be letting some people through.

I asked, "Lenin?"

Nope, he said. Go around the museum.

Drat. This was what I suspected.

I pointed at the people lined up to go into a door in the Historical Museum.

"Tickets?" I asked him. I thought Lenin was free.

"No," he said. "For leaving bags."

Oh, right. I knew all cameras were strictly forbidden, and I had left mine behind so I wouldn't have to deal with this. If you want to see pictures, you have to use the Internet (although I have provided a lot of links here).

So Friend's Parents and I walked through the Resurrection Gate and Manezhnaya Ploshchad (ploshchad means square) around to the gate to the Alexandrovsky Sad (sad means garden) by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A big circle.

Down there I did see a sign saying this was where one queues to see Lenin's Tomb. And while we were standing there, we got to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. It was shady and cool there, and the line moved along as they shepherded the visitors in groups through the security check. It was a pleasant enough place to wait.

We probably waited 30 minutes to get to the metal detectors. By now it was after noon, and, as the mausoleum closes at 1:00, I was a little concerned we might get rushed.

While I was standing in line, it also occurred to me that my phone has a camera feature. I didn't want to have to deal with checking it, so I stuck it in the bottom of my purse and covered it strategically with my wallet and keys. I was not about to risk trying to take pictures with it (my phone does not take good pictures and with my current service provider, I cannot send them, so there is no way to transfer photos off the phone), so hopefully it could just stay there.

When I had to open my purse to show the security guard, no one noticed my phone.

Friend's Dad was not so lucky.

All he had on him was his wallet and his phone (turned off). But no go: he had to check it.

So off he scampered as fast as he could to the line of people at the corner of the Historical Museum. Many of them were returning to collect their checked items, so it didn't really take him very long. And the security guards let him through the metal detectors again without waiting much either.

Okay. Now we were finally in along the Kremlin wall. We walked along and looked at the plaques set into the wall, looking for names we could recognized, me trying to sound out the Cyrillic. Midway along the wall is the mausoleum, and guards posted there direct you to the building entrance and scold you if you try to sit on the low marble walls in the sunshine.

Inside it is quite dark. You go down, down, down into a dim, cool, marble-ness. After the bright sunlight of Red Square, the contrast is hard on the eyes, and there is no lighting on the many steps. I found myself groping along the walls, reaching tentatively with my toes, so as not to stumble or misjudge whether the steps continued or not.

All along the way are uniformed soldiers, but they don't offer any assistance. They are just there to keep you moving and reverential. A group of young school boys were just ahead of us, and they were shushed for being too rowdy and noisy (well, they were rowdy and noisy . . . and they were wall-sitters, too).

So finally, you enter an even darker and cooler room. And there lies Lenin, in a glass enclosed open casket, with light directed on his face and hands. You are routed along his right side, down to his feet, and up along his left side before being essentially shown the door. If you move very, very slowly, you might get to spend almost a minute there with him.

So it is very hard to say how he looks. The contrast of the light on his body against the dark room, your eyes still struggling to adjust to the darkness of the building interior, and the fact that Lenin died in 1924 . . . he seemed small and rather waxy to me. But after 85 years, who wouldn't?

Whether you are a fan of Lenin or not, the building itself, inside and out, has an elegance to it, I think. It is solid, with clean and pleasing lines. I like the design of it.

Then it is back out into the bright sunshine and along the wall to finish the tour of the Kremlin wall necropolis. I did find Yuri Gagarin's grave, but was unable to locate Jack Reed's.

If you want to visit Lenin's Tomb yourself, note that as I write this, it is open from 10:00 to 13:00 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I think. I have seen different information about which days you can visit in different sources. Best to go with a flexible schedule. And no cameras. Admission is free, but checking items costs 3 rubles.


valentina said...

Hmmmm. Reminds me of a visit in Italy to the Certosa outside Florence where you descended interminable steps down down down into the depths of the monastery beneath the church to see the tombs of who even knows whom! The most remarkable thing and why I remember the entire event was because on the way back up the steps the priest who was escorting the two of us tried to feel me up!
I was so shocked I almost collapsed but I just scurried up the steps and out of the cool dark out into the hot sunny cloister where I was surrounded by the lovely Pontormo frescos...What I had actually gone to see and had never even cared about the tombs-- I had just wanted to get out of the heat!!

So I can imagine being in a hoard of people descending down all of those steps into the deep darkness and having only a moment with Lenin.

How odd is the fetish of the tomb...

It was good of you to take your friends parents and at least the architecture was interesting and for your good fortune there were no priests around to feel you up!

HA as Seabury would have said... He loved Russia...xov

Anonymous said...

You made so intriguing. I never sow the mausoleum, or ever wanted to see it. Your comments made me feel some regret - I wish I visited it.

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