In Russia, they threw a Victory in Europe celebration, and barred the public from attending
From time to time, all the shops full of the latest European fashions and giant blazing neon signs trick me into forgetting that Moscow and Russia have some serious and profound differences. And then along comes something like Wednesday, and I find myself utterly puzzled, back at Square One, trying to figure out the rationale behind what I've seen.
Here's the deal. For the last two weeks, the streets and buildings in Moscow have been growing giant red-orange banners and signs and decorations in preparation for the big May 9 Victory Day festivities. At stoplights all over Moscow, the government hired street people to hand out gaily-color ribbons to motorists and commuters, to be tied around car aerials, pinned to jackets or tied around children's arms. I shot pictures of these giant Stalin-era 50-story apartment blocks, each with a letter spelling out 9 MAY. The papers were full of stories about whether or not there were going to be tanks and missiles launchers in the streets (how cool is THAT) along with rank after rank of grim-faced goose-stepping Red Army soldiers, and limping, medal-festooned veterans of the march to Berlin and the siege of Leningrad...
The day arrived and the streets were utterly deserted. I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. Richard the IT Wizard, Olga and I set off to find the best place to see all the neat stuff go by. We walked to Tverskaya Street, which is a broad avenue, best described as "The Rodeo Drive of Moscow" that leads downhill to Ground Zero and the main gate into Red Square. As we approached the street, we noticed a big crowd crammed into the alley mouth.
It turned out that the Red Army was keeping the public off the sidewalks.
Usually when you have a parade, you want the people all lined up on each side of the street, cheering, holding the little kids up to see, waving flags, tossing flowers, etc. I mean, the concept of a victory parade is one that has been around pretty much since Ceasar rode his chariot down the Appian Way and through the throngs of screeching Roman citizens with a slave next to him whispering "Remember, you are still mortal" in his ear...
I must have missed something. The Red Army soldiers were adamant. Nobody was allowed out on the street. The view we got from the alley mouth was approximately the same as you would get trying to watch TV from under the old athletic equipment crammed into the hall closet.
So we set off walking, hoping that we'd find some better vantage point. At every turn, we encountered the same thing. Streets blocked off, tense Red Army security saying "Nyet."
We got a great tour of the back alleys of all the old, neo-classical buildings north of the Kremlin. Some of them are quite spectacular. Some of them have curious steel and glass pyramids built in their courtyards.
We finally wound up on a slight hill, under the massive bronze statue of Dostoevsky, with a pretty good view (albeit from about 1/2 mile away) of the parade route. I figured this was as good a place as any to hang out. Then the wind kicked up and it started to rain. From far off, we heard thousands of men shouting - apparently the WWII veterans, when they entered Red Square. And of course, at this point, yet another Red Army officer appeared and gave us the bumrush.
I refused to give up. Richard's feet were sore from an hour and 1/2's walking, but I was on a mission. So we walked up to Pushkin Park, and over to Tverskaya again. There were all kinds of big colorful balloons bobbing in the chill breeze, but once again, the barricades were up and the guards were only letting people out, not in. A rather surly mob was starting to collect around the barricades, and people were passing bottles back and forth. I could see where this one was going, so I beat feet back to the hotel, but not before a squadron on MiG-29s and Su-27s flew over at about 300 ft. elevation and 600 mph. Man, that is LOUD. And impressive. Those are some big planes.
Anyway, it turns out that the only place to see the parade is to either be invited to Red Square (i.e. to be a veteran, a dignitary, or a current Army officer), or to watch it on TV. Which was a shame, because the soldiers were flawless in their close-order drill and they had all manner of cool equipment. Of course, in St. Petersburg, things were a little more relaxed, and they had video of all the old veterans allowing regular citizens to shoot their old machine guns and throw grenades.
The one saving grace is what you can see in the photos here (I will post more that I shot with the big Canon later) of the fireworks display that I got to watch from out my 7th floor window. They really did it up - from horizon to horizon, there were fireworks for at least 1/2 an hour over the Kremlin and the city center. Most of the shots that I got were somewhat blurry, but I managed to get the mini-tripod in place so that I got a couple of time exposures showing some of the lights over the domes and peaked roofs.