Lions and Tigers and Bears
Text Linda Lippner
With several more weeks of cold and slushy weather left during this winter’s miserable drawdown to a possibly slushy and cold early spring, a case of cabin fever has pushed me out onto the streets of Moscow. But as soon as I am out and about I am looking for shelter from the cold and slushy streets. What to do? I have been to all the major museums and I have spent a lot of money on evenings out and my New Year’s resolution was to put a stop to spending so much money, so I usually walk in the parks of Moscow for free entertainment but certainly not during this in-between season of cold and slush, so what to do on a Saturday afternoon?
The other day I happened to be walking along Nikitskaya ul. and I came across a recently-renovated museum in a beautiful old building on the east side of the street. I knew it was recently renovated because it had been shrouded a few years back in the usual ‘under renovation’ wraps that tend to flap in the wind and block your view of the street. I remember skipping across the street to avoid all of that for months, so now the wrappings are off I wanted to see what goes on inside this building, which is the Zoological Museum. It could be that the building is renovated but I was surprised to see that the inside “look” of the place is rather turn of the century, and I don’t mean the last turn. It was warm inside which was good for the moment while I thawed out, knowing that soon I would be thawed and starting to bake since the heating systems in the old buildings in Moscow can go great guns. There was a hushed feeling to the place which surprised me as I had seen children running in ahead of me with their hustling parents. Perhaps the overwhelmingness of the place hushed them into silence.
Before I knew it I was in the midst of a veritable jungle or should I say, zoo of animals… or I might even say a Noah’s Ark of animals, although hopefully, the other half of each pair remained in the jungle or prairie where these stuffed specimens of the species were bagged. I like zoos, which I know is not PC, so I knew I was going to like this place after I creaked open the giant doors to the first floor exhibit hall on the right side of the lobby and saw: lions and tigers and bears!
Poor things: they were in sad shape. Their giant glass cages were housing not only the outer remnants of once proud animals but little piles of moth balls placed inside to prevent their poststuffed selves from having an attack of moths. Lice and fleas in life and moths after death. It was obvious that the moths had found the specimens before the museum staff had found the moths as patches of bare “skin” peeked through the tufts of fur.
But I still liked the place; I kept imagining that at night perhaps the spirits of these animals under glass become animated like that great movie from last year “Night at the Museum” where a magic spell liberates all the animals of a museum who cavort and enjoy some freedom, if only for a few hours. During my hour at the museum, the animals were quiet as they could be, but I almost imagined that I saw a stuffed she-lion wink at a little boy who was transfixed in front of her at the glass cage. Perhaps, only a fun museum for some of us, but a welcome chance to come in from the cold when it is too cold to visit the Moscow zoo.