The Soviet Union, 1961

This was the time of the cold war, Gagarin andthe race for space and the blunt speaking Nikita Khrushchev. The history of the shoe as a potent symbol has remained a folk memory much as its later use as a sign of contempt when was hurled at former US President George W Bush. Khruschev was thought to have used his to thump the table when at the UN to show his displeasure with the debate. (A photograph of him shoe in hand is said to be a fake!) Stalin was still evident with statues abounding throughout the eastern bloc, though not for much longer. The Moscow mausoleum still contained his preserved remain next to Vladimere Illych (Lenin). Julia joined us as our guide. A staunch member of the Communist Party she fed us with unending statistics of 5 year plans.
Birch woods and remote villages broke the monotony of the landscape. We stopped to take photographs of one settlement of wooden dwellings. A truck drew up and the official riding on the back jumped off to enquire what we were doing. Julia was nowhere to be seen as we were left to explain ourselves. The militia man demanded our cameras and that we open them up to expose the films we had taken. Julia was to be found sweating and trembling at the back of the coach. Clearly her failure to stop our activities would have consequences.
We stayed in Minsk overnight. My recollections were of wide boulevards along which early morning cleaning took place with lorries spaying fountains of water to lay the dust. Anyone near, or with window left open, would have had a soaking too!
Moving on to Smolensk we were taken to the Orthodox Cathedral with the ornate screen covered in gold leaf.
So onto Moscow. A huge hotel and we go down into the communal showers. It seems as if the whole of the diverse peoples of the USSR are represented. It is steamy and friendly. One of them who appears to be far the far east of the USSR wants Mike to scrub his back.
Meal times are not that appetising although the borsch (beetroot soup) is fine. Small apples are on the tables. One day we visit the Exhibition of Economic Achievements where there is a whole range of items displayed, including on space exploration. Big rosy apples (are they real?) are on display. Later at the dinner table Tony has a fine specimen of an apple in front of him on the table! I dreaded to think what it had been treated with….

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