Friday, April 4, 2008

In Which I Finally Get Some Kul-Chah! (in spite of my best efforts)

Temperature: 13/14C (55F?) All this week the skies have been a gorgeous blue. Today is overcast, but it is warmer. The girls have started wearing something other than their winter coats to school. But I’m told that in Moscow Spring = RAIN! and that rain boots are the order of the day. Perhaps at Detsky Mir . . .

I confess: I’ve been a bit . . . reclusive. Okay, a LOT reclusive. For all my big talk about how “Oh, I love big cities, the energy, the life . . .” Moscow is exhausting sometimes. And Moscow in the winter can be just too much work. Especially when you live like a New Yorker (without a car). Not that I want a car here . . . but still. Sometimes going out is more than I can cope with.

And in the winter, when the days were dark and short, it was comforting to nest at home, curled up with a book, the crossword puzzle, a bowl of potato soup, a glass of wine.

Now, suddenly, however, spring is upon us. The days begin early and last, already, almost until 9:00 p.m. The sky has been blue. The air breezy.

I start to consider that I might want to see something of Moscow.

For I tell you: I have seen none of it. I’ve been here since December, and I haven’t even set foot inside the Kremlin walls. Horrors! It’s true. I walk by it from time to time (and it IS impressive and beautiful and very, very exotic and cool). But I haven’t gotten my ass up off the couch and down to the ticket booth.

I know. For shame!

For some reason, VNW persists in trying to lure me out. Last week she asked if I wanted to go to a little lecture/demo on blinis.

Yes, actually. This is something I would like to do.

Except that I was, for once, already booked.

Baboo’s class had an outing to the Tretyakov Gallery (“the national treasury of Russian fine art and one of the greatest museums in the world,” says its website), and they needed some mothers to help shepherd the children through the Metro. So I signed up figuring this would get me into this much-talked-about art museum.

The point of the class trip, as best I could tell, was to see paintings illustrating events they had learned about in Russian History class. In fact, the Russian History teacher was the one responsible for the trip. She’s Russian, but speaks French, and, since this IS the French School, the presentation was in French. Between her soft voice, rapid-fire French, and the acoustics in the museum, I got virtually nothing of what she said.

Oh, I got that some rich guy named Tretyakov started the museum with his private collection of art. But that was about it. I tuned out. Well, from time to time, I picked up the big laminated cards in the galleries and tried to read about the work I was supposed to be appreciating. But it was sort of lost on me.

I did like the building façade and a portrait of a glowering Ivan the Terrible. But History Teacher didn’t even point out Ivan to the kids.

In conclusion: YAWN. I was under whelmed.

Fast forward to yesterday.

One of the women I classify as Girlfriend Material is J, one of the French moms. She’s smart and funny and interacts with her kids much the way I do. Recently she's made some friendly overtures (inviting me over for coffee, etc), and I was tickled.

I learned that she has been having some dental work done at a French medical center across the street from us. (There’s a whole other blog entry in this, probably, involving how I, after weeks of procrastinating, finally stopped in one day after school. Armed with my Children As French Interpretters, I learned that the receptionist, like much of the staff there, speaks lovely English. Hurray! We now have appointments for dental check ups! But I digress.) So I told her to stop by after her appointment, if she felt up to it, for some coffee and a chat.

This she did, although the anesthesia limited her ability to talk much and left her wary of eating or drinking anything. So imagine my horror, after a few minutes in my living room, when she proposes, “What shall we do? Shall we go out?”

What? Go OUT? Are you crazy? I don’t go out. That's work.

Sigh. Okay.

Months ago, I had read, in one of the local English-language newspapers, about some funky house near us that had belonged to an eccentric artist-type. VNW had even sent me something later about a rare opportunity to tour the place (or maybe it was take a tour in ENGLISH). Anyhow, I propose this as a destination. Maybe we can get in, maybe we can’t. But it was someplace to walk, not that far from here, on a pretty spring day.

So we set off. We find the house with no trouble. It is a charming wooden house that was designed by an artist (painter, sculptor, theater designer, architect) named Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926). The city of Moscow has grown and modernized all around it, so there, in the midst of grim high-rise apartment buildings, is this adorable timber house with green roofs.

We venture in, passing crowds of Russian school children. We find the cranky babushka type manning the ticket desk.

“TOUR-RRRISTS?” she barks.

“Nyet!” I tell her.

The prices for tourists are higher, and, yes, still reasonable. But I want her to know that I know that I don’t have to pay that higher price.

“Give me your visa!” I tell J. And we whip out our passports and demonstrate that we are residents, not tourists.

Hrumph. She sells us two tickets.

The security guard, a rather stern-looking young woman in a military-style uniform, turns out to be a real softie. She shows us the coatroom and toilets, as well as the rather obscure entrance to the artist’s living quarters.


Adorable. Delightful. Charming. This place is a little jewel. His art is rather fantastic, I suppose, with lots of material drawn from fairy tales. Flying carpets. Snow queens. Baba Yaga. Russian knights on horseback surveying the steppes or the Urals or something. A sort of Pre-Raphaelite Russian Fairy Tale style.

Upstairs is a large room that must have been his studio. And this is filled with huge canvases. Front and center is my favorite: Sleeping Beauty (although, alas, I could not find a decent reproduction on the internet). It’s the scene in the fairy tale where she, and everyone in the kingdom, falls fast asleep, including the bear, the rabbit, the fox, the peacock. It’s wonderful.

On the stairs, is a print of Ivan the Terrible.

Waaaaait a minute. I’ve seen an oil painting of this very Ivan the Terrible. In the Tretyakov Gallery.

I go home and google Vasnetsov.

Turns out not only did he paint the version of Ivan the Terrible I had seen the week before, but also many of the other paintings I had seen the week before. Upon seeing them again on-line, I remember that I rather liked those paintings, too.

Oh, and he designed the façade of the Tretyakov Gallery. Remember the photo of it in my last entry?

So now I am feeling as though the Universe has been really trying, for two weeks now, to get my attention about old Viktor Vasnetsov.

Sometimes I really have to be hit over the head before I get the message.


worthy said...

WOW! What a jewel box you stumbled onto! I hope you'll take the girls there to see all of that lovely stuff. Maybe BH and the twins would like to go? I am so glad you have made friends with J who will help to draw you out of the lair. I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT IT BEING HARD WORK.
You are very brave and clever! I am impressed that you know the trick about the tourist vs. resident fees! HA! I think for an old art history major like you that maybe the Kremlin will draw you back again sometime don't you think?
I think it is always thrilling to be in the studio of some artist and think about the hours they spent there pushing paint around on canvas and pausing and thinking and laying down more paint. As a painter I feel I am in a sort of holy shrine when I am in the studio of another. AS if somehow I could become imbued with some of their gifts by being there. This I know is absurd but it is how I feel anyway. As if their spirit still lingers, standing in front of the windows and seeing the same or similar views they saw and absorbing the same light. It is a joyful experience and fulfilling to come away from. So I am glad you got to go to that little fairy tale house! AND you can go back whenever you need a Fix!! How lucky! Some day I hope I'll be able to go with you!
xo V

Luna said...

You busy little blogger. Love the artist's house. Will need to wend my way there--one of these days...

I found my new favorite Russian artist when we took our day trip to New Jerusalem: Knostantin Gorbatov

Anonymous said...

Just you be careful. THEY know the trick as well. At some places they have now started asking NOT whether you are a tourist or a resident, but if you are a Russian citizen..... VNW or whatever you're calling me

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