24 June marked the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. He entered Russia with half a million soldiers and left after defeat with only a few thousand stragglers. Russians literally chased him out, killing his troops as what was left of his Grand Armee retreated.
A family friend has a dacha in the small village where several Russian generals were buried from that time period. One of the graves is a stone coffin set off to the side on the floor of the village church. It is unmarked inside although signs outside the church identify the burials inside. One year we were there for the weekend and during the Sunday liturgy our eldest daughter was tired of standing and thought it a good idea to go sit and rest for a moment on the unmarked concrete / stone “box” on the floor in a corner.
Well you can imagine our chagrin when locals immediately rushed over and lifted her off the grave of Lieutenant-General Illarion Matveevich Kutuzov, father of the victorious General Mikhail Kutuzov from the war of 1812. The elder Kutuzov had served under Peter the Great and there was our gal resting quietly on top of his tomb.
The Triumphal Arch records the victory over the French as it stands on Victory Square, not far from the Poklonnaya Gora (Hill of Greeting), forming a united historical-memorial complex with the panorama museum “Battle of Borodino”, the “Kutuzovskaya Izba” (Kutuzov’s Hut) and the other monuments nearby.
Moscow’s Victory Park is dedicated to a dual purpose: remembering the victory of 1812 and to stand forever as a memorial over the 1941-1945 Western European aggression from fascist Germany.
This is the hill where Napoleon sent messengers in to demand the key to the city. The Russians responded that if the key was that important, he should come and get it himself–and bring his best soldiers along because they weren’t giving up the city without a fight. Their response so embarrassed the proud and proper Western European Napoleon that it fueled his desire to dynamite and burn Moscow later when he was forced to retreat.
Perhaps no language has impacted the Russian language as much as French. Many cognates are from the French language. One that comes to mind is “bistro” (быстро) the word for “quick/fast” in Russian. Legend has it that French soldiers during the occupation would sit in Russian cafes and yell “bistro” as in back home in France a fast/quick meal could be served at a Bistro versus a slower restaurant. Supposedly this is the origin for the meaning of “bistro” making it a “false cognate” because it doesn’t mean cafe/bistro in Russian.