USSR / Russia: Leningrad / St. Petersburg & Moscow
Detention by and fall of the USSR
On 25 December 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, resigned, declared his office extinct and handed over its powers – including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes – to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December 1991.
DJ and I were there during this time. The USSR was collapsing and was becoming the Russian Federation. Tank tracks were in the streets. The state bank collapsed. The ruble was worthless. Food was scarce. Poverty was rapidly on the rise. The ground was icy and the temperature freezing cold. The black market was thriving. Things that had been closed or banned since 1922 were quickly re-opening or becoming available.
Bribery and confusion was the order of the day.
We were in Leningrad (today Saint Petersburg) to record with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (now St. Petersburg Philharmonic) Morris Bernstein’s score that was the basis for a forthcoming musical. As part of the agreement with the Ministry of Culture, we agreed to deliver a public concert at the famous 1,500 seat Bolshoi Zal (Grand Hall) of the Leningrad Philharmonia.
The experience was fascinating, from driving around in the mayors limousine, to ‘key lady’s’ observing, logging and tracking our movements, to visiting the Tikhvin cemetery grave sites of the most iconic classical composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, to opening a synagogue for the first time since 1922 and seeing a wedding alter from it’s last inhabitants before locked down, to breaking the seal and opening room 7 at the Hermitage museum, to interviews with Soviet TV on the rooftop of a cathedral, being stuck in an elevator in the suburbs of Leningrad, to Russian overnight trains, frightfully terrifying flights, and ultimately my (brief) detention at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
At the recommendation of my mother years before, I keep daily travel diaries, noting daily interesting things. Here is an extract of this particular travel diary…