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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Text Linda Lippner

Celebrating Halloween isn’t widespread in Moscow yet. So expats who want to get ghoulish for the holiday usually have their own parties at home or visit a few watering holes that promote Halloween partying in the city.

Where I come from, Halloween is celebrated in a big way and there are even special Halloween tours and parties in cemeteries. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is observed in cemeteries, where the lives of departed family members and ancestors are celebrated. In Los Angeles, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery conducts weird but wonderful Hollywood Halloween celebrations with nighttime walks along candlelit pathways in the “Cemetery to the Stars.” This is where the likes of Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, and Douglas Fairbanks are permanently enshrined, making the destination a must-see for tourists.

And Moscow for cemetery visits? A goldmine!

There’s the grand Donskoi Monastery, where pre-revolutionary celebrities share the earth with giant, ancient trees, winding paths, and several large and stylish mausoleums or chapels scattered about the territory. My favorite graves are from the earliest part of the 18th century, when grinning skulls and crossbones were fashionable tombstone decoration. The strange animal feet holding the stone sarcophagi off the moldy ground give a finishing touch of splendor.

But if you have only one cemetery to visit, then Novodevichy Monastery and its adjacent Cemetery of Soviet Celebrities is the place. (Not that they call it that, but oft entimes there are vendors at the entrance selling maps with all the celebrities’ resting places neatly noted.) You can tell the place has seen better days, but recently there have been some improvements in the cemetery’s upkeep, and any Moscow tour guide will gladly show you around the famous graves within.

It reeks of Soviet tombstone extravagance. Sculptures of giant heads on pedestals, statues of men and women looking heroic. A lucite cube enclosing a giant rose. A rocket scientist gets a rocket on a launch pad for his gravesite; a bullet inventor has a piece of metal with bullet holes in it sitting atop his final resting place. Khrushchev is buried here, as is the great Soviet ballerina Galina Ulanova, her grave marked by a statue of her. And now there is Yeltsin with a large undulating stone-and-tile flag of the Russian Federation that literally flows onto the pathway.

My personal favorite is in the old section of the cemetery. There sits a smallish stained glass-and-lead structure that looks like a large phone booth with a tombstone placed inside, slightly off - center. A perfect little “house of the dead,” glassed in to create a cozy refuge in the (frequent) event of inclement weather in Moscow.

These are glorious places to visit — or spend eternity.

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