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Gor'ko Gor'ko Gor'ko!

April 25, 2009 at 8:44 am
By Travis Raines, Shane Auerbach, Ben Tyler

This week, one of our independent excursions was to the All Russian Exhibition Center. While the three of us didn’t go as a group, we did visit the complex separately. The All Russian Exhibition Center is now not so much a place for exhibitions, but rather a strange tribute to capitalism stuffed inside of some rather impressive Stalinist buildings. The center was previously called the Exhibition of Achievements of People’s Economics. It was built under Stalin and intended for a big fair. The fair was such a success that it continued running and the exhibits stayed open. Of course, with the fall of communism, the center went under a transition of sorts. It was set out on its own by the government and suffered several years of difficult financial times before finding profitability. To find profitability, they gutted the buildings of any museum-like exhibits and hired out the interior to stores. Now, these most impressive Stalinist buildings, which once showed off the achievement of the People’s Economics, now are crammed with Chinese televisions, electronics in general, and anything else that you would never really look for.  Outside of the buildings, there’s still a fairground atmosphere, even when it was bitterly cold and snowing, when one of us visited. They sell cotton candy, rent bicycles and rollerblades and have little attractions, like throwing darts at balloons, to win teddy bears. There’s even a little tourist train to ride around the place (it’s a long walk). In front of the old Lenin statue, there are American cartoon characters posing for photos.

VVTs 1

While most of the products were fairly mundane, there were some products that we’ve never come across.  One advertisement presented a portable “Russian Banya”. It looked like one of those giant Sumo Wrestler costumes – essentially, it was a big rubber bag that enclosed the person and pumped in steam. Two women tried on the suits in the ad and showed their approval with a thumbs-up to the people walking by.

This Saturday, our group had a guided tour of the public areas of the Kremlin. The historical center of Russia for the better part of a millennium, this heart of government was described to us as “a town in miniature,” with churches, office buildings, roads, squares and parks. Indeed, the speed at which official cars (black cars with dark tinted windows crowned by the blue light signifying special status) headed into the administrative areas seemed more suited to a highway than a governmental or historical area. Given the immense number of historical landmarks in this ancient fortress (the meaning of the word “kremlin”), a few highlights are all I can feasibly provide.

As stereotypical as it may be, no tourist can enter the Kremlin without making note of the two objects located near the bell tower of Ivan the Great – the Tsar Cannon and the Tsar Bell, both exercises in imperial gigantism that compose the largest-ever examples of their respective crafts. Many commentators sought symbolic irony in the facts that the Tsar Cannon has never been fired in combat, and the Tsar Bell never sounded. The Tsar Cannon was fired precisely once - when the first False Dimitry was dethroned, his cremated ashes were fired from Tsar Pushka back towards Poland, his homeland. The Tsar Bell lost an eleven-ton chunk (of the total 200) in a great fire, when someone poured cold water on the still hot metal. The Russian craftsmen responsible for the Tsar Bell spent two years preparing for a one-hour casting process.

Tsar Pushka (Cannon):

Moscow (Kremlin, VVTs, Honor Guard) 

Tsar Kolokol' (Bell):

Moscow (Kremlin, VVTs, Honor Guard) 

Presidential Honor Guard

Moscow (Kremlin, VVTs, Honor Guard)

Today was the day of the monthly performance of the Presidential Honor Guard in the Red Square, showcasing infantry and cavalry drill regiments and two marching bands. The center of the square was cordoned off and surrounded on all sides by a six-deep crowd eagerly pressing in for a closer look. The performance went by mostly without any hitches, but was briefly disrupted by a stray pink balloon, which happily bounced across the square in the middle of the parade, until it eventually flew into the face of one of the soldiers before leaving the parade.

Moscow (Kremlin, VVTs, Honor Guard) 

After our visit to the Kremlin, and before the appearance of the Honor Guard on Red Square, we were quite impressed by the number of weddings taking place around the Kremlin. It was a warm Saturday and the Kremlin’s surroundings are a pretty area, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising, but it still seemed that an abnormal amount of brides were strolling around.

Moscow (Kremlin, VVTs, Honor Guard) 

One wedding featured a rather young groom with a significantly older bride. She was smoking a cigarette and shouting at the person charged with carrying the tail of her dress.  Around the corner, on Red Square itself, there were two separate newlywed couples who were kissing as their wedding party counted upwards, chanting "Gor'ko Gor'ko Gor'ko! (Bitter, Bitter, Bitter! - a request to 'make it sweet'). They only got to 12 or so, whereas the World Record, as reported by Guinness World Records, is apparently over 24 hours. Still a good effort.