A Very Merry Red Square

I wanted to experience Moscow in all of its history and intrigue. Then my daughter spotted the carousel

By / December 2015

Today I’m finally going to see Red Square and, to put it mildly, I’m thrilled. Ever since moving to Russia I have wanted to see the flame-shapes spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral, to walk in the footsteps of tsars to the Lobnoye Mesto, to get up close to the red brick fortress that is the Kremlin.

My six-year-old daughter doesn’t share my enthusiasm. “It will be fun!” I keep telling her. She won’t be convinced. Together we exit the metro and elbow our way onto the platform at Teatralnaya station. I marvel at the fluted marble columns and the domed, bas-relief ceiling. My daughter, eyes in the other direction, half-heartedly hopscotches the station tiles.

After an escalator ride through a far less magnificent tunnel, we exit into the square. There before us is the Bolshoi Theater, where Tchaikovsky’s Swan lake premiered in 1877. My heart quickens. We walk a little farther and I spot the Vladimir Lenin Museum, which houses over 75,000 relics, paintings, and pictures dedicated to Soviet history. Beyond the Iberian Gate, I catch a glance of St. Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s tomb.

“What’s that music?” my daughter says. I tune my ears and hear, of all things, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” I smell popcorn, chestnuts, turkey legs. At the center of the square, twenty or so small red and white cottages, connected by white lights, have been covered with pine branches, ornaments, and snow. Loudspeakers on poles broadcast holiday standbys. After the Crosby comes “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Are we really in Moscow? None of these sights and sounds strikes me as particularly Russian. Even so, I can tell that my daughter’s countenance has changed. She takes my hand and pulls me through a market of stockings and mittens, ceramic figurines, tinkling bells, and trinkets. Then she lets out an excited gasp. I follow her line of sight to a carousel.

At the entrance to the ride, I ask the attendant how much it costs. “Bez platny,” she says. “Free?” I say. Nothing is free in Russia, not even plastic bags at the grocery. Beside me a man with peppered hair in a black leather cap and matching coat hoists his grandson aboard. “Bez platny,” the woman says again.

My daughter mounts a carousel horse and as she begins to go around, I feel my attention dividing. All around me, hovering over me, looms the stately, ominous, and infinitely interesting architecture of Russian history. It’s Red Square in all of its intrigue and glory that I have come to experience.

But as the ride slows to a halt a few minutes later and my daughter dismounts, her face now a paroxysm of delight, it’s hard to feel too robbed. “A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world,” the American novelist Mat Johnson wrote. The sentiment holds true in Moscow as well.

Though, to be sure, here at the epicenter of Russian nationalism, I could do without the sound of Sinatra singing “Silent Night.”

 

Bobby Rahe is a contributing writer for EthnoTraveler.

 

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