The snow continues to fall. It’s the same lucid dream I’ve been having all week. Then the train comes to a halt and I’m jolted awake.
It’s dark but the snow outside still reflects some light into the cabin. I look over the railing in both fear and anticipation. I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know why the train has stopped. I look out the window and all I see is a small rail yard. No buildings, no platforms, just a few lights and tracks. It’s fight or flight mode, and I remain still. The train jolts again and slowly starts to move. I convince myself to close my eyes and fall back asleep but I’m running on adventure mode. Clenching my passport and my pillow I slowly drift off and imagine loud footsteps. I’m being torn from the bed by Russian soldiers as the train jolts again. I look out the window. It’s just pine trees. The train does this a few more times and I slowly take my mind off the spy novel genre and lay back and watch the trees turn to houses and the night turn to day.
The everyone’s alarms all go off and now I know it is 6:00am. As we get ready we are served breakfast and chai. There is a knock on the door and we know we’ll be pulling into Moscow momentarily. All the cabin doors open and the rest of the group crowds into the tiny hall ready to take on the capital.
Its off the train and strait to the bus. We’re all a bit foggy from the journey. As we swing around the city it starts to look more and more like the bus is a Delorean and we’ve just hit 88 miles per hour.
I swear I’m in 1930’s Soviet Union.
The Soviet star is still present on most of the buildings, and the hammer and sickle is no stranger. I always imagined anything resembling the old regime would have been destroyed in much the same was as the Berlin Wall was. As we turn towards the center of the city a familiar site comes into view. Saint Basil’s! The Kremlin! Red Square!
If there was one point I would have liked to have been fluent in Russian, it would have been to see Lenin’s Tomb. The walls of the Kremlin lined with burial plaques and red coronations. I don’t know who they were, or why they were there. As you descend into the pyramid there is a guard at either side of every step. The walls are black. Slowly, the black becomes pierced with red daggers ascending from the ground. At center of the tomb in a large glass casket is the man himself, Vladimir Lenin. The room is silent and with each step your gaze is locked onto mummified body. Perfectly preserved in a simple black suit and no different that those images in your high school text books. Silence follows as you exit. Outside busts of what I assumed to be Bolsheviks or Communist Party leaders stand looking on. Again, the language barrier fails me as I can only pick out who I assumed to be Trotsky and Stalin. More burial plaques follow as you exit into Red Square across from St. Basil’s.
I’ve drawn St. Basil’s Cathedral before. I’ve seen countless photos. How on earth did it never occur to me to wonder what it was like on the inside? The moment we gather inside I’m at a loss. This place has taken my coordination and turned it on its own head. I’m the last to enter and the old wooden door slams behind me. I trip on the floor as it turns from metal tile to brick to wood to concrete. It’s a maze. I’m trying to photograph it all the best I can and I can’t even focus on how to create the image. I keep loosing the tour group as the guide weaves them through the labyrinth. When you picture a church you picture a large room where the masses can gather… yet the rooms are oddly shaped and darted about. The church takes hold of my coordination again as I attempt to climb the stairs. Spiraling around an enclosed pillar the stairs are all different highs, materials, uneven, and there is a crowd of visitors all trying to get past you. I’ve lost the group again, and with them any explanation as to the history of the building. I’m still trying to capture an image that could sum up the grand confusion that St. Basil’s has presented me.
Moscow has a way of presenting me with a setting and twisting the concept of it on it’s head. It was St. Basil’s at first. This time it’s the hotel. Welcome to Kornston. You’re greeted by a Las Vegas style facade that flashes a neon roller coaster of a billboard situated on a usual style building. You enter into a modern Alice in Wonderland drug trip complete with Victorian style furniture, vibrant coloured lights, cheery techno house music, enough mirrors to get lost in, and walls adorned with neon Van Gogh’s. Then the hotel takes your mind for another spin just as you’ve gotten used to being in this crazy rave setting you open the door to your room and find a very conservative presidential looking suite. I drop my backpack on the floor. I’m feeling like Marty McFly again