20 January 2017

Novodevichy, Russia 2006

A stroll along Swan Lake in Moscow leads to the extensive Novodevichy complex. It's said that this lake inspired Tchaikowsky to create one of his best-known works. The Cossak-like army cadets here and there in the park invoke a retro nineteenth century feeling. Our local guide Vera is articulate and irrepressible.
Fourteen buildings comprise the complex including Smolensky Cathedral among other churches. The sixteenth century convent is a UNESCO World Heritage site of outstanding historical "Moscow Baroque" architecture. The convent was the destination for women of aristocratic families who preferred the cloistered life. It was also where a wealthy nobleman could stash a wife who didn't please him. Ironically it became part of the old city's defence network with twelve watch towers along its high walls.

 Burials of earlier centuries are in the old Necropolis, a desirable, prestigious resting place for the nobility and even some royals. Time constraints ― always the bugbear on a tour ― allowed us to visit only Novodevichy Cemetery outside the wall. Opened in 1898, it too features prominent citizens along with political, military, and cultural heroes.

 Here lies Krushchev because he did not die during, but after, his official service as Soviet leader; otherwise he would have joined some predecessors in the Kremlin. Many of the Soviet-era monuments are particularly stark and ugly; this one is not too extreme.

RIP Gorby's beloved wife Raisa. She was a novelty as "first lady" in the Soviet Union, very visible at charity fundraising and promoting women's participation in politics. We in the west loved her high profile and Russian fashions, but she was not popular at home. Most Russians thought she was immodest and should remain faceless like her predecessors. According to Vera, Gorbachev is not well-liked in Russia, being called "Man of the Past," but she forcefully stated the country would still be in the dark ages if not for him. His reforms were too much, too fast. Gorbachev will join Raisa here one day. His successor Boris Yeltsin was buried in Novodevichy six months after our visit.

Unfamiliar to us, but this great Russian actor-comedian, Yuri Nikulin, has perhaps the most memorable monument of all. His dog Mouftard is immortalized near his feet. The plot is always strewn with flowers.

Writer Anton Chekov was one of the first to be interred in the new cemetery. Some of the other artistes here are the writer Gogol; composers Shostakovich, Prokoviev, Scriabin; singer Chaliapin; musicians Oistrakh, Rubinstein, Rostropovich; theatre director Stanislavski.

  Guide Vera, by the stone for Stalin's sad wife. Vera only hinted at the rumour that Stalin murdered her but having recently read Sullivan's biography of their daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, I tend to agree. You can see the weather-protective covering used on some monuments.

My personal heroine in younger days, supreme ballerina Galina Ulanova, 1910-1998. Ulanova embodied, symbolized, the fabulous tradition of Russian ballet. In 2001 her apartment became a museum, a part of Moscow's dedication to theatrical history.

Unknown; he's far from being the only smoker depicted in stone holding a cigarette!

And this. Also unknown, a huge chunk of amber. An extravagant statement of lost love?

The brave journalist and political critic Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in her Moscow apartment building two weeks after our visit. The world reacted in horror. Suspects were originally acquitted at trial and rumours of the highest political involvement were never confirmed. She is not buried in Novodevichy.

What a paradox is this great sprawl of a country. Muscovites like to joke (says Vera). One of them is about the proliferation of expensive and beautifully decorated restaurants ... that they are like churches. When you enter you are dazzled and say Jeezus! Then when you get the shocking bill after dinner you say Christ! 
Some of our group are probably not into irreverent humour. 

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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