Lenin's Body, Space Dogs, and Saint Petersburg

By Lowell Poisson (MFA 2016)

Urban exploring is always a freeing experience, a new place with mystery and questions and excitement. The abandoned escalator was what the group needed, a break from museums and cathedrals and large throngs of zombified tourists. Climbing over broken concrete and fractured steel is always a rush, maneuvering through piles of broken glass and getting some good views. The structure, being weathered by human neglect and nature, always brings up moments of calm amongst a situation of chaos.

But unlike the crumbling neglected escalator once used by many and guarded. Lenin's body is an odd sight to see. Not that it is amazing or anything special, it is just a comically dark sight to lay ones eyes upon. Matt suggested that we go and check this out. I did not know what too expect out of this experience, but little did I know...After waiting in a somewhat long line for about 30 minutes or so passing through metal detectors and a backpack screening and stern faces of the guards, it started to seem more like a very grim Disneyland ride. We entered a marble crypt environmentally controlled, bringing to mind something like a giant vegetable crisper to keep him, Lenin, as fresh as possible lest decay really take hold of the nearly century-old corpse. As we entered I turned to Magaly to ask...and was immediately quieted by the guard watching over his body and asked to take my hands out of my pockets. As I looked at his surprisingly pink corpse somewhat flattened with time adorned in a lavish casket one hand in a fist the other laying flat and calm; I started to ask myself: Did he really want this done to himself? Who is the poor sap that has to clean him? Is that actually his body? Why is he so pink? What does this accomplish for anyone?

Later on we took a visit to the Russian space museum. Seeing what the space race began with was interesting insight to where we are today. As I stood Gazing upon the original Sputnik 1 that launched in 1957 and thinking about and the storm that immediately followed creating the American Sputnik crisis. I realized that this right here is one of the turning points in human history. Where we are today was literally launched with this metal sphere. A hunk of flying metal intricately engineered by the knowledge of man created a fear of fellow human beings. This term was coined the Sputnik crisis, and with this our government created NASA, ICBMs, chicken that comes in tubes, astronauts, and tin foil hats.  And a fear arose of who would be the world super power, an arms race began, and the Cuban Missile Crisis sent a fear through humanity that global catastrophe could happen. And there is still residual fear of this, as we have stock-piled enough ICBMs to create our own mass extinction twenty times over. It is quite a curious thing how we humans can take such amazing and mind-opening endeavors and then churn them in to a loaf of fear to consume and get always, perpetuating the idea that we are always up to some sort of evil. Why must the glass be half empty?

Laika and Strelka the Soviet space dogs, stuffed and on permanent display.
Onward our group traveled, seeing onion dome cathedrals and icons, beautiful Russian art through a haze of Moscow cigarette smoke. I love this place!

We met up with our awesome professor, Chea, and soon after we where boarding a tiny cramped train bound for Saint Petersburg that smelled of B.O. and black tea. Cold beers were a must on this journey. We were taking the night train, chasing the sunrise that starts at 2am because of the higher latitudes that we were traveling towards. I lay in my bunk watching the trees pass, bathed in the light blue glow of the never-setting sun, listening to the murmur of the train and the occasional snores of my fellow travelers, and suddenly I awoke in Saint Petersburg. Sharing some super tight quarters with fellow travelers and Ruskies was great!

Later I greeted Saint Petersburg with a proper sunrise! Climbing up on some rooftop at 3am with guide Nikita and a fellow explorer, we looked over the canal. I sat there till 5am; coming back down from being on top of a beautiful city was a difficult, but that day we were going to The Hermitage Museum, so more fun was waiting down in the city that I was just admiring from above.


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