Near such iconic sites as St. Basil's Cathedral, with its brilliant, multicolored onion domes, and Manege Square outside the red brick walls of the Kremlin, there is an underground shopping mall with a trendy Internet café. The Metro, renowned for its magnificent mosaics and sculptures (and escalators that rank among the fastest in the world), is immaculate,not a gum wrapper in sight. And the enormous Cathedral of Christ the Savior (the original blown up in 1931 per Stalin's order, an outdoor swimming pool later appearing on site) was completely reconstructed in the '90s and opened for daily services in 2000.
Okay, I do see packs of stray dogs roaming the city, and we are continually warned about pocket-picking Gypsies (a prophesy that proves true for one Bates couple in St. Petersburg). Still, Moscow appears to be moving forward while reclaiming and retaining the best of its cultural past.
Maddie Littman and Jim Foritano '65 check out the Cathedral of the Dormition inside Moscow's Kremlin.
On our way toward Red Square to view Vladimir Lenin in his tomb, a small group of us briskly follows Julia, another Moscow tour guide. We turn a corner and suddenly there is the hammer and sickle flag, being waved proudly on the steps outside the State History Museum. Pro-Communist songs blare from a bullhorn while a group of 20 or so Communist supporters, both young and old, stand stoically in quiet political protest.
We stop to stare, take photos, wonder about this vestige of Communism, while Julia marches on, seemingly oblivious. I'm torn between seeing this demonstration as the remnant of a misguided, backward ideology or as true political freedom in action. Either way I feel naïve for not having expected it. Lenin and Stalin may be dead inside Red Square, but apparently for some their ideals are not.
"There are lots of mixed feelings about Stalin," says McCarthy later over lunch. "He brought them through the war, kept things together." For some it is nostalgic, she explains, the way some Americans might idealize the "good old days," when they were children and Mom was waiting at home with milk and cookies. But in reality, as our onboard Russian lecturer makes clear, the time was marked by mass executions and a police terror state,and millions of lives lost, including tens of thousands to the construction of the Moscow Canal, the very waterway that begins our cruise north.