Behind the Iron Curtain in Leningrad & Moscow

April 1986

Witnessing a world
Behind an Iron Curtain
Shutters shut. Blinds down

Entrance permitted
But with movements restricted
Suspicion abounds

Cold, grey, colourless
Monochrome. Sepiatone
Spectrum hand-me-down


A first impression of Russia – Welcome to Leningrad

Late night arrival
Black sky, glist’ning snow – floodlights
A chill in the air

Airport reception
Machine guns cocked and ready
Soldiers unsmiling

Stationary line
Of frustrated travellers
At Passport Control

Eyes penetrating
Passport details scrutinised

Stationary line
Of frustrated travellers
At Customs Control

Eyes penetrating
Jew’ll’ry, books, pers’nal effects
Assessed, judged, counted

Bemused collection
Of frustrated travellers
At Baggage Control

Facing ‘Bag Mountain’
An ‘Everest’ of luggage
– No conveyor belt

Reprieved from Death Row
A rustbucket miracle
Is disguised as a bus

Smoking and rattling
A journey-worn veteran
Days numbered for years

First journey. First sights
Of Communist East foreground
From my West background

Comparisons galore
No neon ads, no traffic!
A city asleep

A tongue that’s unknown
A Cyrillic alphabet
What will daylight bring?

Destination reached
Hotel Mokba, Nevsky Prospekt
Our home for 3 days

Huge classic landmark
5 star decaying elegance
– That will do nicely


Pockmarked and wartorn
Damp and cold, black, white and grey
Still shows its scars

It’s ‘lived in’ and ‘worn’
History everywhere
Embedded in stone


Don Quixote

Energy. Poise. Grace
Stunning new experience
Ballet at Kirov


While waiting in queues
On escalators, buses
People reading books


Travelling underground
Deep within the permafrost
L O N G escalator!!!


Leningrad contrasts
City of Revolution
And of culture too

Peter, Catherine
Decembrists and Bolsheviks
Revolt, Purge and Siege

Kirov’s Nijinsky
Nureyev and Pavlova
Hermitage treasures
Neva’s Aurora
Island Fortress, Palace, Square
Smolny, Finland Station

Lenin, Shostakovich
Intellectual achievement
Politics/Art entwined

Surviving Revolution,
Turmoil, War and Fear

-but no sink plugs anywhere!


Join one queue for food
Then another one to pay
One more to collect


An overnight train
From Leningrad to Moscow
Now that should be fun!

A landscape passing
Seen through open train window
I’ll only see once

A shared compartment
With two snoring baritones
– They both slept soundly


Palatial platforms
With crystal chandeliers
A décor unique

Underground surprise
Sheer charm, splendour and beauty
Of Moscow Metro



Big disappointment
Restricted view. Heard not seen
At Bolshoi Ballet


Turning back the clock
Time frozen in the twenties
Or earlier still

And this is Moscow!
A shopping experience
At GUM by Red Square


Not exactly Red
Nor is it exactly Square
But Red Square it is

A very long line
Of quiet shuffling people
Queueing for Lenin


A symbol of hope
Bravery and achievement
– Cosmos monument


Romeo & Juliet

Musical mastery
Expressive choreography
Sheer brilliance


Moscow’s beating heart
Walled city in walled city
This is the Kremlin


Hammer and sickle
A statue of unity
Worker and farmer

A true life doctrine?
All for one, and one for all?
Or propaganda?