Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Moscow (To The End of the Line)
When it comes to cities in Russia, Saint Petersburg is my first love. Seven years ago it was my first glimpse into Russia, and the rumor is that you will always love the city you visit first in Russia the most. I can't even think of Russia without my mind first slipping on to Nevsky Prospect, the main thoroughfare of St. Petersburg.
So here's today's confession: I love Moscow too. I'm suppose to dislike it. Its bigness, its indulgences, its contrast between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, but my goodness, I do love Moscow.
This is my third time in Moscow. I was here in 2003 for a few days, then for 7 weeks in 2008, and now another few days this trip. I'm at the point that I can wander around without the aid of a map, and I have done all of the BIG TOURIST THINGS that one is suppose to do in Moscow. There's no need to conquer Moscow at a breakneck speed to see everything because for the most part I've done that already. There's no need to head to the Tretekov Gallery because I've done that. I've already seen Lenin, and trust me, one glimpse at waxy ghoulie Lenin is more than one needs in a lifetime. Instead I can wander around, and check out things that first timers to the city might not notice-photography exhibits, little cafes, short term exhibitions. It means I get to see my favorite things again too.
I've been meandering around the city, and seeing where my feet will take me. Yesterday, apparently, they did feel like getting into tourist mode for a while as I found myself heading towards Tverskaya Street, a main street that feeds into Red Square. Tverskaya was where the bus dropped us off in 2003, so walking down there feels familiar. It's a street of wealth--home of the Ritz Carlton & expensive restaurants.
It's also where I stopped for my first treat of the day. Another confession-my first treat was not Russian food. It was gelato from my favorite gelato stand in the Oxotni Ryad shopping center. I love this little gelato stand, and make a point to go there several times each time I'm in Moscow. I armed myself with some summer berry gelato, and headed towards Red Square, because even though I've seen it so many times, it's something I never get tired of seeing.
This view is what feels magical to me:
That's it. That first glimpse of Saint Basil's Cathedral. Walking up the cobblestones of Red Square, and just seeing that hint of the onion shape domes in the distance-not even the whole thing, makes me break out into a smile every time. Whenever it comes into view, I get that feeling of, "Holy shit, I'm actually here. I'm in Russia!" Honestly, it's surreal.
So I continued to wander. I headed down to the Arbat, a street once famous for housing many of Russia's finest writers from Pushkin (buddy was everywhere), Lermontov, Gogol and Tvestaeva, but has now become the haven of Starbucks and souvenir seekers.
Here you can get temporary tattoos and caricatures on the street, sushi galore (Russia's love affair with sushi and mojitos is still going strong), or your staggering $10 cup of Starbucks coffee.
I managed to find myself an inexpensive cafe and spent a few hours relaxing and reading over beer. It was divine.
One of the sights I passed on the way to Patriarch's Pond. Statue of Mayakovsky.
Today, because I am a creature of habit, I went to two of my favorite places in Moscow--Bulgakov's apartment and Patriarch's Pond. If you know me, this isn't a surprise. In fact, it's probably making a few people roll their eyes and say, "Of course."
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote my favorite book, The Master & Margarita*. I pretty much adore this book, so I almost always stop by the apartment museum dedicated to Bulgakov. The book is a Russia classic, and well loved so the museum is filled with sketches from various scenes in the book, as well as a mailbox where you can leave letters for the Master & Margarita.
The first scene of The Master & Margarita takes place at Patriarch's Pond, which is just a few blocks away from Bulgakov's apartment. I wandered over there, and spent some time reading & avoiding the heat of the day. Alas, there were no gigantic vodka loving cats or men offering invisible body creme in sight.
The area is also home to one of my favorite apartment buildings in Moscow. From far away it looks like it has Tatlin's tower & a gigantic clam shell chilling on the roof. Up close it has amazing balconies. Every time I walk by, I'm convinced I'm going to live there someday.**
After that I decided it was time for a little lunch. There's a great little (air conditioned!) Japanese place not far from my hostel, so I decided to get out of the heat, and have some lunch. It was awesome.
On my way to the lunch place I discovered that the Contemporary Russian History Museum was having a special exhibit on Chekhov. Since I've been on a big Chekhov kick lately, I decided to go check it out. If you don't know who Chekhov is--well he's one of Russia's most famous writer. He's typically considered one of the world's best playwrights with famous works such as The Seagull, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya. Plus heaps of short stories.
I'd been to the Contemporary Russian History Museum two years ago, and while I remembered liking it, it didn't really stand out as a place I had to go back to. Well, that was before they renovated it. Now, it is incredible. There are tons of interactive exhibits including a hall that seems to be dedicated to just Putin and Medvedev--including a video library of Putin speeches on a touch screen.***
The museum is laid out in a way that combines the history and beauty of the original building with some really amazing exhibits--a giant soviet star made out of black pipes and red scarves, the entire office of a top soviet official set up so that you are viewing it from behind his desk. I was really impressed with what they've done with the place.
The Chekhov exhibit itself was so unique. Chekhov lived in a variety of cities throughout Russia, and now each city has its own Chekhov museum. This exhibit combined all of their resources, and made one massive exhibit using black & white cardboard to recreate each house--turning it into one continuous structure.
Chekhov's desk. This entire structure is made of photographs printed on cardboard.
Plus there was a photo timeline lining the entry of the exhibit. Young Chekhov was kind of a hottie, wasn't he? In a Heath Ledger/Joseph Gordon Levitt kind of way.
This is the list of various Chekhov museums & exhibits in Russia that contributed to the exhibit:
Hard to read, but it's kind of impressive that:
a. There are so many museums & exhibits in Russia dedicated to this one man
b. They all came together & pulled off such an amazing display.
I'm at a loss at how to end this post, so since I miss my host mom already, here's a picture of Zinaida fanning the cat. Good night!
*Notice there is no The in front of Margarita. It's not about a guy and his frosty tex-mex beverage. Margarita is a woman.
**More likely, I will be hit by a car as I stand there gawking up at the building like a fool.
***I snuck this picture just for you, Arin.