The Three Monuments
~Yaroslavl, capital of the Golden Ring of Russia and the oldest of the Volga towns, was founded in 1010 by Yaroslav the Wise, a prince of Kievan Rus. Legend has it that Yaroslav went North and found a friendly spot by the Volga on which he would built a city. A bear came out of the woods and charged at him. Yaroslav killed the bear with an ax. Almost a decade later, he became the Grand Duke of Kiev. He ruled wisely and well, despite his one known act of cruelty to bears. He built the famous Cathedral of St. Sophia (which houses his tomb and the incredible fresco portraits of his family) and the Golden Gate of Kiev (cue Musorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”), and established the first Russian law code, Russian Justice. Still, the town on the Volga is his greatest achievement. Memory eternal!
In Yaroslavl, time did not quite stand still, in terms of keeping up with internet and other modern conveniences, such as resplendently stocked grocery store shelves. However, the general character and look of the town did not change. One very comforting feature is the profound lack of attention to the destruction of the relics of the past—whether the long past, or *our* past. Just as the name of the town never changed during the Communist era, but continued to evoke the long ago Grand Duke of Kiev who famously conquered a bear with his ax, so did the Lenin and October Prospects remain thusly named in the Yaroslavl of the Russian Federation. And just as the 17th century churches were not detonated during the three quarters of the 20th century that comprised the entire history of the now defunct country of my birth, but merely consigned to store potatoes, so do the imposing monuments of that country remain as the scattered guideposts of the city today. There are two Lenins; there always were the two Lenins. One is standing on the Red Square (many Russian towns have a Red Square) and with his upraised arm shows the way to our bright future. Meet you *by the arm*.
The other one is sitting and writing in his notebook upon a crossed knee, facing his namesake Prospect, with his back to Mother Volga, with the Soviet Street crossing in front of him. I remember laying flowers at the base of this sculpture, as it was conveniently located near my school. Kids were sworn into the Young Pioneers next to this Lenin every year on his birthday on April 22. Meet you *by the leg*.
And then there is Karl Marx, my favorite monument ever. I am emotionally attached to it because I remember when it was unveiled. The year was 1972, if memory serves, and we were going to spend the summer “za Volgoi”, literally “beyond the Volga”, or simply, on the other bank of the Volga. On the other bank is the countryside, and when I was really small, my grandmother rented a room in a hut in a village called Yakovlevskoye (Jacob’s). Actually, we had two landladies, one after another, but this is so long ago that I barely remember the first one, Olga something or other. To be fair, I was 2 or 3 years old. I remember only a very high bed with lace pillowcases, and trying to drown Vanechka, a doll to which I have taken a dislike, in my potty. My grandmother seemed to have persisted that the doll’s demise was meant to be an accident, but I, in turn, persisted in trying to destroy it. I do not recall who finally won, but, experience would suggest—not I.
The second landlady was Anna Loginovna, and I can still see her low ceilinged house with the traditional wood burning stove, and our room with pictures of ladies from the fashion magazines tacked to the walls. Anna Loginovna’s daughter died tragically during one of the summers we were living with her, when a drunk truck driver plowed through a window of a store in which she was shopping. I remember seeing photos of her in a coffin, stitches on her face, and her orphaned children, a girl and a boy older than me, maybe a teenager and a preteen, sitting forlornly at their grandma’s rough wooden table. I do not recall, if I ever knew, if Anna Loginovna had other children, or what happened to the two kids, who ultimately took responsibility for them. But I remember sitting at that table, in that house, almost half a century ago. But I digress…
We were traveling to beyond the Volga in a bus, the #50. I was looking out the window, and saw a dreadful and fearsome sight of a block of gray marble with a burlap sack at the top at the intersection of Lenin and October Prospects. I did not know it then, and had no basis for comparison, but if I extract this memory now, I would compare it to a prisoner about to be beheaded. The sight so alarmed me that I never forgot it. Someone (logically, the responsibility would have fallen to my grandmother) explained to me that it is a new monument which will be shortly unveiled. The ceremony happened during our summer sojourn on the other bank of the Volga. I was immensely relieved to see that the bag was off his head and it was now an imposing gray torso with a familiar bearded head on what became (or maybe already was) Karl Marx Square. The clemency shown to the prisoner made me feel proprietary and affectionate toward him. Meet you *by the beard*.