Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hello Winter 12/2/08

Hello Winter 

This is a series of postings about our Visa Renewal trip to Madrid. This was written in the Madrid MTC and will have pictures added in a few days so come back and see them.

Tuesday, December 2, Elder and Sister Bowden, a Humanitarian Missionary couple from Tomsk, and Sister Cindy and I, left the Novosibirsk airport for Moscow and finally Madrid, for our visa renewal trip. The sign above a local building along the way to the airport read "Temp -28 C". I can tell you from personal experience, THAT´S COLD. It even hurt to breath. President Gushin a native Siberian, even had to admit that it was pretty cold that morning.

The trip to Moscow was pretty uneventful and we slept a lot of the way. I noticed a family a couple of rows ahead of us with an infant and a teenage girl. The mother seemed particularly attentive to the infant, I guessed about a year old, and the teenager was also willing to hold and talk to it.

As it turned out, we met them again while waiting for our luggage and discovered that they were returning home to Indiana from Novosibirsk with an infant that they had just adopted from an orphanage that Sister Cindy (and company) had visited just a couple of weeks before. In fact, Elder Bowden thought he had a picture of that very infant having lunch in the orphanage. They said that the agency was very supportive and helpful, but the government workers and courts made it very difficult. We have heard this a lot over the years with adoptions abroad and we wished them well.

For those who either didn´t know or don´t remember, we have to leave Russia every 90 days to renew our visas. We were sent to Prague last time and this trip was to Madrid, but everything has to go through Moscow. We knew that we had a 12 hour layover so we contacted a friend, our "kresha" (roof, or protector) in Novo and asked if he knew anyone in Moscow who would get us to and from the airport and shepherd us around Red Square and any other sights during that time. We eventually got connected with Igor Pavlov, an LDS university student, who did just that.

Igor was a delightful young man of 19, studying to be a translator. He attends a university in Moscow, but he had the day off because it was ROTC day and he has a military exemption and could skip it.

He met us at Sheremetyevo 1 airport where many of the domestic flights land and got us on the usual bus to Moscow Sheremetyevo 2 Airport (SVO), the international airport, to stow our luggage in a locker room. The attendant must have been an immigrant because he was friendly and jovial. When we paid and left he said, ¨Bye-Bye¨ and smiled broadly. We said dasvedonya and he said bye-bye again so it wasn´t a fluke; immigrant for sure.

Igor got us all on an express bus to the Metro and then on to Red Square where we toured the Armory and walked the Square. We had to jog a little to get to the Armory ticket booth before our noon entry time elapsed, but we made it OK. Several busloads of soldiers in dress uniforms and flags were forming up for a parade of some kind and we saw them on our return trip. We also saw parts of a band that was heading up the group. The tomb of the Unknowns was near and that may have been their destination.

As is usually the case, the ticket booth was at the opposite end of the Kremlin wall from the Metro exit and the Armory entry was even farther around the Kremlin to the south gate where we passed through the metal detectors and into the interior (right).

For those who are unfamiliar with the history of the Kremlin, it was begun as a fort for protection against the marauding Mongol ¨hordes¨ who regularly raided Muscovite cities for supplies while they were burning and ravaging the country-side. Pillage and rape are exhausting work and require calories in this difficult climate. Since the pillagers had little time to till the soil, they depended on the local villages to provide for their needs.

From the web site, ¨History World¨ I took the following excerpt entitled, ¨The Golden Horde: AD 1237-1395¨. ¨Zolotaya Orda, or the Golden Horde, is the name given by Russians to the invading Mongols who sweep through the country starting in 1237 and who subsequently dominated the region for nearly two centuries from their encampments on the lower reaches of the Volga. The name is traditionally said to derive from a golden tent used by the horde's leader, Batu Khan. Most of the Russian cities of any note were ravaged by the Mongols in the two years between their sacking of Moscow (1238) and of Kiev (1240). But the horde then moved south.¨

And from the IUSB History Department, ¨The Mongols ruled Russia for 240 years during the 13th to 15th centuries. One of the greatest effects of Mongol rule in Russia was the rise of Moscow as not only the preeminent city in Russia but also the central power of a large and expanding empire.¨

The first version of the Kremlin, just like the rest of Moscow, was wood and was burned numerous times while fighting the Mongols over 2 centuries. The later expanded stone version was more resistant to invaders and was made of white limestone. The current version, faced with red brick, has stood for centuries.

Inside the Kremlin we find the residence of all the Czars up to Nicholas and the current seat of the Russian Executive. As we walk to the Armory entry, many large black limousines and suburban-like cars whiz by with sirens their blue lights flashing, often in caravans of 3 to 8 vehicles and driving like there was no one else on the streets.

The Armory houses the national treasures of Russia including crowns, weaponry, dresses,
carriages, art, china, silver service, etc. all associated with the ruling class of historic Russia. We visited the Armory in 1990 with our children in tow and it is still very much the same.

As we emerged from the Kremlin, we saw the soldiers returning to their buses. I think that they had some kind of event at the tomb of the Unknown that is located at the north-east corner of the Kremlin wall with its eternal flame and monument. Our way along the path paralleling the wall was blocked by police and we never saw what was actually happening.

As we passed from south-west to north-east we passed an area of fountains, emptied for the winter, but they still made a dramatic appearance. Igor said that people often waded and swam in the fountains during the summer. As we looked from the fountains to the left we passed one of the several temples to western capitalism; McDonalds. Twenty or more people were lined up at the take-out window to get a Big Mac or box of McNuggets because the outside entry was locked, forcing you to enter through the shopping mall associated with this store.

It was getting cold during the late afternoon as we walked to St Basil´s , to GUM´s (formerly the showpiece of soviet luxury) and to a snack at one of their cafes. GUM is an acronym of three Russian words that I don't know, but they stood for the highest quality and most luxury to be found in Soviet Russia. Currently, it is just Sax-5th Avenue on Red Square. It seems that now their luxury comes from the Western World.

As we passed Lenin's tomb, it was interesting to note that NO ONE was in line to see the mummified patriarch of communism. During our first trip in 1990, you had to stand in line for hours to pass by his glass-encased body in an open coffin. Now, the only person at the shrine was a very casual and disinterested soldier who I presumed was a guard, without even so much as a night-stick to guard the tomb. How far the great are fallen. "Who did you say was buried in Lenin's Tomb?

Where the terrible weapons of the "Cold War" once paraded, now stands an ice-skating rink complete with the "Skater's Waltz" playing in the background. It is slightly surreal to imagine those missiles and their surely crews parading in front of Lenin's tomb to the delight of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the like. Now, a little Jewish fellow from New York charges the locals 100 roubles an hour to skate up and down that same thoroughfare that used to make the West quake. (I don't know if the owner is Jewish or where he/she is from. It just heightened the irony)

Finally we walked again the few blocks to the Metro, rode to the end of the line, hopped an express bus and to the airport. Again, the little immigrant man at the luggage lockers bid us a "bye-bye" and we headed to the ticket counter while Igor headed for the bus home.

We enjoyed the scenery and the experience, but I most enjoyed Igor. I spent much of the time talking to him about his schooling, family, and future plans and forgot to take very many pictures. We all encouraged him to plan for a mission and tried to impress upon him the importance of serving the Lord in these difficult times for American Missionaries. He would be a great asset to any mission.

What a country.


Trisha said...

I love it. What memories came flooding back to me. The taxi ride of us all piled in. I remember GUM's. It was the thrill. A shopping mall of sorts. What a wonderful trip. What a life you have.

Scott said...

did they tru to sell you a military watch?

Shannon Simmons said...

I thought of you today. (well, i do everyday) but, today was the first pres christmas devotional. The Choir was fantastic and the closing prayer asked a special blessing for the missionaries. What a lovely time to serve! I love you!