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Thursday, November 11, 2004

moscow, roman, etc

This is a pretty delayed post, but it was an interesting trip so, here goes. Oh, and I almost forgot about the pictures.... Well, they're posted.

I left Yaroslavl' on a pretty cozy express train for Moscow on Tuesday afternoon, and got in at Yaroslavl' Glavnii Vokzal around 8:30 or 9 pm. I had the good fortune of riding with a talkative gent to my left and an empty seat to my right. My neighbor was a psychologist, who was returning from a business trip to Yaroslavl', and we talked for the full four hour ride. Despite my protests, he bought me a pepsi, chocolate, ice cream and coffee. I feel like there might have been something else too, but I don't really remember. Anyway, we had an all right conversation and he invited me out to dinner at the end of the month, when he's going to be back in Yaroslavl' for a few days. Toward the end of the trip, I asked him what I should pick up at the station to bring Roman and his mother (Mom - I gave her the last of the candles, and she loved them). I had already picked up a nice bottle of Georgian wine, and he suggested either flowers or some candy, which seemed reasonable. Then he asked me whether I had enough money to buy something, and proceeded to try to give me money for a good 5 minutes. For whatever reason, he didn't seem to believe that I had the money - I guess because some traveling Russian students probably wouldn't. Anyway, I eventually convinced him that I didn't need any money, thanked him for the company and snacks, and we agreed to have dinner sometime around the end of the month. Interesting people all over this place.

Roman was waiting for me at the station when my train came in, and we headed back to his apartment on the metro. Roman's mom, who has secured a permanent spot somewhere in my list of top 5 moms ever, had dinner waiting for us when we arrived. She had arranged to stay with her sister (I think) somewhere in Moscow and was leaving the apartment to Roman for the week, which they hadn't told me. I didn't really want to displace anyone... but roman assured me that it was all right, etc etc. Anyway, we ate and talked for a while, and went to bed early.

Wednesday morning, we set out for the Tretyakovskaya Galereya (Третьяковская Галерея), which is one of Russia's three, or so, really major art museums. Admission is free for Russian students, and since I had a Yaroslavl' student ID Roman was able to pick up both our tickets and get me in free. So, that saved me about $10, part of which I spent a nifty little book of "masterpieces of the gallery." The Tretyakovskaya has only Russian works, pre-20th century, and the most important collection of Russian icons. I have to admit that I don't really have an eye for icons, although they are fairly interesting. I don't know how many of these I’ll be able to find pictures for, but I’ll give it a go, and you can have a best of the Tretyakovskaya, Internet tour. I think probably the earliest painting that caught my eye was the apparently little-known Портрет Марии Ивановы Лопухиной by V.L. Borovikovskii (Боровиковский). It was the only early portrait that really seemed to hit a nail. And with she as the notable exception, I really don't understand how the girls running around Moscow today can be even remotely related to the mugs that were fit to paint 300 years ago. So, now you know what to say the next time someone tells you that Russia is stagnating.

Other favorites (with somewhat less rambling...): Явление Христа народу by A.A. Ivanov (this painting is 5.4 meters by 7.5 meters. Roman said that Ivanov worked on it for about 27 years. It would have taken me 10, tops, but who really has the time? See if you can find the artistic inconsistency. (Blue's clue: it has to do with colors!)

Probably my favorite painting was K.D. Flavitzkii's (Флавицкий) Княжна Тараканова, which was also huge (2.45 meters by 1.9 meters). It’s a painting of the Tsaritza Tarakanova, who was the last by-blood Russian heir to the monarchy. The nasty Germans, who had infiltrated the Russian royal bloodline, imprisoned her, and she died 5 years later. I'm not taking any responsibility for inaccuracies here, I'm just repeating what I remember of Roman's annotations, and creatively filling in the gaps.

А.К. Саврасов. Грачи прилетели - A classic Russian landscape. Also really liked one of Roman's favorites, И.И. Левитан - Над вечным покоем. That's, Levitan's "In Eternal Peace." Considering what I saw in the rest of the gallery, it's not hard to imagine why it captures a Russian’s imagination. И.Е. Репин - Иван Грозный и сын его Иван 16 ноября 1581 года. - Ivan the Terrible, just after killing his son with a giant stick. I don't know, he looks sorry, so he couldn't have been entirely грозный. It's always a bummer to kill the first son and heir to the throne.

I guess I was kind of a sucker for the historical ones...I also really liked V.I. Surikov's (Суриков) Утро стрелецкой казни, which is a picture of Peter the Great watching executions in Red Square. That's Pete, with the crazy eyes on the horse! You read about this stuff, and you visit Red Square and see where it all happened, but somehow seeing it all painted...

I also really liked what I saw of M.A. Vrubel's (Врубель) work, even though "Demon," his most famous work, was out at an exhibition somewhere.

In the evening, we gathered with Hunter, Bren and Tanya at Tanya's grandparents’ apartment, drank a few bottles of wine, swore about the election, ordered pizza and watched Буммер. Although none of it really made us feel much better, it was about as good as a night could have been under the circumstances.

I spent a good part of Thursday reading about the election and the homophobes who managed to protect marriage in another 10 states. Then Roman drove me around a bit to see the inside of Новодевичьий Монастырь and we went to see Коломенское, which unfortunately was barely visible because of restoration work.

In the evening, Roman and Tanya took me out bowling with some of their friends, and I came back from a dismal 60-something the first game to roll 100 (!!!) in the second. So help me, I will learn how to bowl. We stayed at the bowling club for about an hour, and headed out to walk around a bit. 'Strolling,' I guess it would be. Actually before we went bowling, Roman took me to this audio/video type mall, where it's now legal to sell unlicensed software/movies/music etc. I found Lebowski in Russian (with Happy Gilmore on the other side of the DVD), and left with a smile on my face. It was one of those kind of bittersweet smiles though, because of happy gilmore.

As it turns out, Lebowski is an important part of the story because after bowling, Roman and I went back to his apartment and watched it. Needless to say, a lot of the subtleties were lost in translation, but overall it was remarkably well done. The translation was very good, the dubbing was excellent (if you've seen American movies in Russia, you know this is already a small miracle), and it has both the original English audio, the Russian audio, and optional English or Russian subtitles. So it's almost like a real DVD, and it says that it's multi-region, so who knows. Maybe it'll play in the players back home. They even did a good job finding actors whose voices sounded like the originals'. The Stranger's opening dialogue was especially well done. So yeah. If you want to watch it with me sometime, you won't have to ask twice.

Friday morning we went to the Kremlin and stood in line for two hours to try to get in. We ended up getting tickets for the Armory, but we couldn’t get into the Алмазный Фонд or the Kremlin territory. The Armory has a lot of the Tsars’ thrones, jewels, costumes, coaches, Faberge eggs, and you guessed it - guns. Armor. The weapons. I took a lot of pictures, but nothing really turned out that well because most everything was behind glass. Anyway, it turned out that we would have had to stand in a different line to get into the actual Kremlin to wander around, which is what we originally wanted to do. By the time we found that out, it was too late to get the tickets we needed, so we ended up just checking out the armory and watching the FSB cars and government limos drive in and out. The vast majority of the FSB cars have plates with the letters ЕКХ, which roman told me is an abbreviation for Еду куда хочу, "I drive where I want." It seemed plausible, and less vulgar than the other possible alternatives. So next time you think that creepy black Benz is following you around Moscow, you won't be paranoid. You’ll be right!

That night, we went with Tanya and Hunter to tiny basement rock club, Китайский Летчик, where the club's owner and his band were playing a show. I don't remember what the group was called, but they were good and the atmosphere was great. The show ended a little before one, so everyone could clear out and get on the subway before it closed. Hmm.

Saturday afternoon we drove to the outskirts of Moscow and found a big open field. The time had finally come for roman to test launch his model airplane, after four months of painstaking model airplane making. We tried four launches, none of which was successful, and on the fourth (my failed attempt) the plane got somewhat higher (it flew straight up), only to come swooping down and nearly break all over the place! Fortunately, nothing too serious happened, and by evening roman had more or less repaired the damage. Roman's mom returned in the evening and cooked us dinner, and we ended up spending the evening with a bunch of roman's friends from high school. It was a good time.

For whatever reason, we set out again Sunday, which just happened to be November 7, to try and get into the Kremlin. I only remembered that it was Revolution Day (or now, the day or reconciliation, I think it's called), and the Communists had already reserved downtown Moscow for the festivities. Roman thought we should head on over there anyway, and maybe try to get into the Kremlin. Naturally, we didn't infiltrate the Kremlin, or even get out of the metro station. The whole center of town was locked down with troops and police, and since the parading was at least a few hours off, we called it a good walk and headed home.

And so, that's about it. I had a relatively uneventful train ride home, although unfortunately it was a good hour longer than it should have been. Plus the police on the train decided to try to get some money out of me by hassling me about my documents. Anyway, as usual, everything was in order and they were trying to convince me that I needed a signed and stamped itinerary of my travel, blah blah, which hasn't been necessary in about 7 years. They invited me to the front of the train for a seat in their little police cabin, and the chief fellow looked over my papers while the two cops kept telling me about all the huge $150 ("roughly, if we calculated it into dollars”) fines for traveling without a damn itinerary. Anyway, their captain turned out to be an all right guy, and he let me go, despite their protestations (but he's an American!) So, thanks Middlebury. It's the second time adequate Russian has saved me from getting robbed by cops!