Stalin’s Seven Sisters are intimidating wedding cakes.
Stalin’s Seven Sisters are not tall, fat ladies with moustaches that can crack a watermelon in their armpit. They are buildings. Tall, intimidating buildings that look like wedding cakes, scattered all around Moscow. I stand at the foot of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a tall building. Dark inspite of the white walls. I feel a fear rise in me. My stomach tightens. I have nothing to hide, yet I’m nervous. I feel like a spy caught red-handed. They know, that I know something.
It’s all Mr McNab’s fault. My history teacher in high school, Mr McNab, used to tell us gruesome stories about the USSR. Trotsky’s murder, Stalin’s intrigues, the KGB’s torture techniques. His British accent made the stories sound even creepier. I couldn’t help thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 when strolling through Moscow.
The notorious Kremlin was not what I expected. It is a conglomerate of churches and palaces surrounded by a red brick wall, dating back to the 14th to 16th centuries, back when the Ivans I through IV ruled Russia. Just outside the Kremlin lies the Red Square. It is the home of Lenin’s tomb, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Historical Museum. I didn’t dare visit Lenin. I have enough nightmares as it is. The poor man. Not only is his body trapped in wax and exposed to the public, but he also resides across the Square from a capitalist temple (the GUM shopping mall) and around the corner of a McDonald’s and an ad for the Transformers movie. I’m surprised he’s not constantly turning over in his glass grave.
At least he has a nice view of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I get an appetite for ice cream whenever I look at it. I have to mention at this point that I am what you might call a “gourmand”. Its colorful onion-domes look like they are made out of candy. The inside is not like a typical cathedral. It is not spacious, with high ceilings, but rather a series of cramped passages and stairs. Like a cave with Orthodox murals and golden icons.
The greatest paradox can be found in Moscow’s subway stations. They are fancy, decorated with marble and gold, depicting happy Soviet children and workers, with dozens of Lenin shrines and communist glorifications. Again, I felt intimidated by the fierce-looking Bolshevik soldiers and the oppressive brainwash. It is such a paradox that the communist symbols are so richly portrayed. I always thought communism was like the Buddhism of politics, humble and social. More about sharing than showing.
I had the best dumplings in a Siberian restaurant in Moscow. A group of friendly, drunk Russians at the table next to ours noticed us deciphering the Cyrillic menu with a phrase book. They recommended a dumpling mix, beer and vodka and translated our order to the waitress. Traditionally, vodka tastes best with pickled tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes. The dumplings came in a rack of jars accompanied by a sour cream. Delicious! They were richer in spices and herbs than the Chinese equivalent, but maybe it was just the vodka clouding my taste buds.
I found what I was looking for in Moscow, but I was also surprised. I was expecting to see more traces of communism and Stalinism. Instead, I was surprised by the excess of luxury and capitalist temples. It is definitely one of the most interesting places I’ve visited.