The Moskva River


I wake up with the domes of St Basil’s Cathedral on my mind and decide I’d better go back and see the inside.  Outside the day is warm and sunny, so I decide that the best way to get there is on a boat.  I start walking to the nearby river where my guide says I can catch one, but I’m not ready for the impact the russian foreign ministry building has on me.  It is one of seven Stalinist gothic wedding cake buildings here in sunny Moscow.  They are apparently known as the seven sisters and must have been built during one of Stalin’s lowest moments of self esteem, since they are intense, massive, imposing and entirely unforgettable.  They are all similar, but this one did something to me every time I came close to it.  I have a vague memory it was used as the building front in the film ‘Brazil’, the really imposing horror story public service building.  Seriously, it looks like it should be hanging around in a dark alley sporting a golden tooth and twirling a club.  A feeling of menace exudes from it, the building sinks your spirits just walking past it.  It’s like hope went there to be tortured to death by fear and paranoia.  Even the ex-KGB headquarters doesn’t have this kind of feeling about it.  Which isn’t to say that the ex-HQ on Lubyanka square doesn’t have its own horror.  It has a terrible calm about it, like a black hole you disappear into without a trace and no scream could ever emerge.  It’s just that the foreign ministry building would knock at your door in the middle of the night and shoot you in the stomach for fun.

The ferry jetty is easy to find and for a fee I can spend an hour and a half on a cruiser drifting along the Moskva River through the middle of Moscow.  What I don’t appreciate at first is that I can also buy a beer onboard and just kick back to let the city drift past me.  After all the walking in my first two days, this is perfection.  I’m amused to find they don’t actually stock any Russian beers on the boat, so I end up enjoying some fine products of the Czech Republic instead.  As I relax on the upper deck I watch industrial buildings give way to beautiful parkland and one beer give way to the next.  I pass Gorky Park without a care in the world, or any real desire to actually visit it; I am happy to enjoy a relaxing afternoon letting Moscow flow gently by.  Sparrow Hills arrives all too quickly and I decide to leave the ferry and climb the hill.  Victoria had mentioned how beautiful the the view is on a sunny day.  I pass by the ski ramp that’s setup next to the jetty.  Apparently in winter this is a huge attraction, but in summer it looks as out of place as fur hats on an Australian beach.  On the way up the hill I walk through the very beautiful ecological gardens.  The pathways lead you through verdant forest replete with lush undergrowth and flower patches.  The bright, warm sunlight trickles through the forest canopy to cover the ground with gently moving speckled patches of golden warmth.  I feel like I’m in some kind of European fairy tale and would not have been surprised to see a little girl wearing a red hood skipping down the pathway with a basket of goodies for her grandmother.  I wonder what kind of wolves would await her in a Russian forest and start picturing the foreign ministry building wearing a fur coat.

I see the gothic wedding cake building of the Moscow State University building perched atop the hill in all its monolithic glory.  I begin to wonder if some modern architect would design a building that looked like this, but with huge statues of a man in a tuxedo and a woman in her wedding gown on top of it and a giant slice cut out of it.  Now that’d be real art-chitecture.  Naturally there’s a nest of pavement shops around the Sparrow Hills lookout and there’s even a bride and groom having their pictures taken with the view of Moscow in the background.  It really is a spectacular view of the city itself, with the river in the foreground, the stadium across the water and the rest of the city stretching into the distance.  I quietly thank Victoria for inspiring me to be up here on such a great day. 

I eventually descend the hill again and get back on the ferry, which I have to pay for again.  Apparently you can ride it all the way to the end of it’s path or get off at one of the many stops along the way, but the ticket works only once.  I enjoy floating past the scenery and notice a tall building that looks like a flying saucer has landed on its roof.  We pass by it and I take photos of it with the building in front of it that has a giant treble clef mounted on its domed roof.  This must just be the area for cool roof ornaments; every building should have one.  I then spend the rest of the ferry trip taking more pictures of Moscow in this wonderful afternoon light.  There’s enough cloud cover to stop it from being overwhelming, but it has such a crisp, clear quality that everything seems somehow more sharply real.  The golden spires of the Christ the Redeemer cathedral positively glow golden and white in a city of brown and smudged.  I can’t say I’m in any way prepared for the most shockingly overdone statue of Peter the Great I think could ever have been conceived.  I suppose Moscow just wants a piece of the Peter story and history as well, but….I mean….having a rostral column with the boat prows sticking out of it would have been enough…they have two of them in St Petersburg being lighthouses….but then they stick an enormous boat on top of it…with an even more enormous statue of Pete himself the size of the frickin mast…and there’s a city at his feet…on the boat…..okay, they’re trying to summarize the magnificent career of this crazy epileptic that shaped modern Russia more than any other individual…but the effect of it is almost comical …So anyway, after I take a few hundred pictures of it, we move on down the river and finally float past the Kremlin.  I see a glimpse of St Basil’s from the river side before jumping off the boat to find my way inside..

The cathedral is a glorious building with many beautiful frescoes and the central room is especially hard to leave.  A male voice choir is in attendance and they are singing seriously beautiful Russian hymns.  Hearing their voices in this room gives me a musicgasm as I become absorbed into the resonant richness that at once calms and lifts you on its gentle persistence.  Each time they finish a song nobody moves or makes a noise until one of the singers breaks the spell first The music leaves me feeling serene and blissful; calm as a hindu cow.  I make a visit to the souvenir shops carefully placed at every possible corner inside the building and completely fail to find some souvenirs of the single towers turned into ice-creams, back scratchers, massagers and ummm….delicate massagers.  As I wander back into Red Square I feel that the view of the onion domes from the outside is truly matched by the art and music on the inside; it really is damn good even though everybody says it is.


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