С Днём Победы! Happy Victory Day (with pictures)
May 12, 2010
С Днём Победы, Товарищи (Happy Victory Day, Comrades),
Celebrating the allied victory over the Nazis is an enormous undertaking in Russia. Absolutely everywhere you look in the city, beginning a month in advance, you can see banners that say “Happy Victory Day,” banners with veterans on them, or simply bearing the word “Спасибо” (thank you). As I mentioned in my last post, 20th century Russian history isn’t exactly overflowing with points of pride, which makes Victory Day a much-revered occurrence. The celebration is also huge because of the incredible loss of life that devastated Russia during the period. The Russian body count stands somewhere around 22 to 24 million, which means that nearly every single Russian lost at least one family member for the cause.
Every year there is an enormous parade replete with tanks and artillery, soldiers and police of all kinds, as well as international guests, which this year included a group of American soldiers.
Trevor and I watched the parade on television, because it is pretty near impossible to get near the center, and we wanted to actually be able to see some of the parade. We also witnessed the dry run about a week earlier, so it didn’t feel like we were missing out by watching the Russian broadcast of it. We had intended to head to Park Pobedy after and see all the veterans, but instead we were distracted by the option of taking a little cruise down the Moscow River.
Despite the fact that Moscow is a huge place, it’s still not much of a tourist destination because it is so inaccessible to outsiders. If you can’t speak Russian at at least the level we speak it, you absolutely need to have a translator, or you will be completely lost and frustrated (and no one will help you because they don’t speak English).
The water taxi service that operates as part of the Moscow Rapid Transit System has no information on the outside of the ticket office except for the numbers of two boats (In our case, Москва-99 and Москва-29) and the times of departure, which was every hour. It would be one thing if it said “ship numbers,” or “boats your ticket gets you onto,” but the side of the building just cryptically said “Москва-99 and Москва-29” and the times (12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, etc., Russians use military time for the most part) with absolutely no designation or explanation.
Using some grade-A Russian, I conversed with the guy in front of us in line and we figured out what the price was and where we were going. After waiting for a little over an hour, we finally got aboard the ship and started down the Moscow River.
The Cathedral of Jesus Christ the Savior was actually destroyed by Stalin in 1931 and was to be the location of a sort of shrine to Soviet leadership called the “Palace of Soviets.” It was to be a huge building with a staircase flanked by Soviet leaders, leading up to an enormous statue of Lenin. The project was delayed due to funding issues, flooding from the river and poor soil on site, and the outbreak of WWII. Under Khrushchev the site became the world’s largest open air swimming pool, and eventually the Cathedral was rebuilt during the 90s and reopened in 2000.
After spending about two hours leisurely floating down the Moscow River, we met up with Adam and his host sister Ira (pronounced like EAR-uh, once again, it’s short for Irina) and continued to celebrate Victory Day. We also had a chance to meet with some of Ira’s friends, who all turned out to be really cool people.
After hanging out in the park for a little while, some wicked clouds started gathering and we decided to get to a metro station to keep dry. We were also going to be heading closer to the city center to watch the fireworks display, which in Russia is just called “Salute” (Салют).
In Russia, there are no distance requirements on fireworks displays, so this definitely the closest I’ve been to such powerful fireworks. Afterwards, we actually saw a police officer retrieving a half-exploded one that had landed somewhere on the street.
Immediately following the salute, there was a mad dash to the metro station, and a crowd began to gather outside. At first it was just a couple of guys and a few girls in Soviet pilot outfits singing songs from the war period, but it quickly grew to about a hundred people, all of whom knew the words.
I think in the end, it was more about getting together with people whose families went through the same loss and suffering as yours, and less about reveling in memories of Stalin’s time.
We drank a little more on the street, and then called it a night not long after.
May 9th is kind of a bizarre day to be an American in Russia, but it’s well worth seeing. We got to spend it with our new friends, and I’m sure it’s a day that we will well remember from this trip years down the road.
Stay tuned for more updates, the next one won’t be so epically long, I promise.