Monday, September 03, 2007

Diamonds, Brides, and GUM

I’m back. It took me longer than just lunch, but who’s counting?

At 2:00 on the dot, Kathie and I ambled over to the Diamond Fund entrance. The tall young man in uniform was stern looking and didn’t speak a whole lot of English, so we stood in the unmoving line trying to figure out how to get in. We noticed he let some young ladies in and wondered if they were buds of his. Finally, we plucked up the courage to ask him if we could enter. He motioned us in, leaving us to speculate about what those other folks outside were waiting for. We still don’t know.

Inside, we bought our tickets and went through the security station before going downstairs to the Almaznii Fond (that’s Diamond Fund for you non-Russki speakers). The two rooms were dark and smaller than I expected. The walls of the first one were lined with glassed-in exhibits of just about every kind of precious and semi-precious gem you can imagine – some mounted in crowns and pieces of jewelry. This was a very cool room, but just an appetizer compared to the room that lay beyond.

Now the Diamond District on New York’s 42nd Avenue is pretty awesome, and the Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian is more than lovely, but the last time I saw such a display of opulence as the stuff in this room was thirty seven years ago at the Tower of London. This was a much smaller and more intimate setting, but quite impressive nonetheless. I had to wonder how Catherine could hold her head up when she was wearing her imperial crown – it was encrusted with 5000 gems, mostly diamonds. For that coordinated look, she’d had the palm-sized diamond given to her by her lover, Count Orlov, mounted in the top of her scepter. Dude.

I was busy oohing and ahing, trying to see the gems from every possible angle when Kathie said, “No wonder they started a revolution.” The thirty-something behind us responded in perfect English that his great-grandfather had been one of the tsar’s guys. Kathie recovered well and we chatted with the man (who I thought looked a little Trotsky-ish himself) and his companions for a few minutes before the guard told us to move along.

Back outside, Kathie and I decided to go over to GUM to see if there was a food court where we could get lunch. (All malls have food courts, right?) On the way, we passed a bride and groom walking along in the crowd, seemingly unnoticed by the other passersby.

They had been here to leave her flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which lies alongside the brick wall of the Kremlin. The eternal flame burns for the twenty million Russians who perished in World War II.

Crossing Red Square to enter GUM, Kathie snapped this shot of Savior Tower, once the Kremlin’s main entrance but now closed to the public. The clock chimes supposedly play the Russian national anthem. We never heard it. We were too busy looking for the entrance to GUM.

Now some people think that GUM is a department store. It’s actually a three-story mall, built in the late 19th century, that originally housed a thousand shops. Count 'em - 1,000. The name GUM is an acronym for Government Universal Store (or “Magazin”, if you must know). The shops these days include Benetton, Gap, Christian Dior, and Estee Lauder – just to name a few, and it looks like this.

Kathie and I found a little blini/sandwich place where we had lunch and did some more peoplewatching. The young waitress was slow and unfriendly, but the food was pretty good.

We exited GUM, found the Metro station, and rode home. Walking through the park to the pier, we got lost again. In Moscow, did we ever find our way back to the ship that we didn’t get lost, Kath?

Next time – the Pushkin and Varvarka Street.


Katharine said...

Hey, you're on a roll now with these Russia blogs. It's deja vu all over again.

And, yes, I think there was once we made it back without getting lost, but weren't those lost times an adventure.

Kappa no He said...

Wow! I had never heard of GUM before. It was gorgeous. I'm afraid I would have people watched all day and not moved. No, with one thousand shops I would have moved.

Pat said...

Yeah, Kappa, if Kathie and I had visited all of those shops, we would've been there a month!