After a wonderful week getting to know my new school and preparing my classroom, I was dying to get out and explore this beautiful new city! My new school has really taken great care to help us settle in. After a MS happy hour to celebrate our first full week, we were shuttled to dinner at a relaxed restaurant (рестора́н) called Scandinavia. It was nice to have some downtime to talk and get to know everyone a little better. After dinner, a few of the Russian staff members offered to show some of us around town.
After a quick metro ride (a new train arrives every two minutes – they clock it in the station), we surfaced not 100 yards from the absolutely stunning Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I couldn’t get over the contrast of the beautiful white marble against the inky night sky.
An extremely historic venue, the original Cathedral dates back to the 19th Century. This was the site of the debut of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. This may cause my Boston friends to note how curious it is that every Fourth of July we celebrate the birthday of our country with a song written by a Russian composer. The Motherland, indeed.
The Cathedral was dismantled in 1931 at Stalin’s command (dynamited, actually). It was, at the time, the largest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. As the USSR adopted a policy of atheism, the church had to go. The plan for it to become a legislative site never came to be, however, and the massive foundation hole was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool under Khrushchev.
Then, in the 1990s, it was decided that an exact replica of the original church should be built on the site. In 2012 a now infamous concert was staged there by Pussy Riot.
Back to present day. The rain decided to let up and our coworkers took us over the bridge to Strelka, a roof top bar which proved an idyllic setting. Located on the island of Bolotny (also known as Balchug), the area is home to scholars and hipsters alike. As we enjoyed the views of the Cathedral just across the water to our left, a full moon rose to our right, echoing the warm light bathing the Cathedral. As an architecture lecture went on down below (in English!), we drank in the wealth of information our coworkers had to share about the city they now call home.
As I seem to have moved from one major drinking culture into the next, I knew I had a lot to learn. The ladies tell us that “let’s drink for three” is a call to arms for thirsty Russians across the land. They also took time to share the tale of how a drunken night in the 1600s led to a nationally recognized flick of the chin.
It all started with that tsar of tsars, Peter the Great. Peter and his buddies, including were out drinking one night. After they were well in the bag, one of his buddies demanded Peter stamp him with the official seal to allow the guy to drink for free wherever he might wander within the city limits. Drunk as he was, Peter missed his mark and the stamp landed on his friend’s neck, leading Russians everywhere to give their friends the high sign on a Friday (or Tuesday) afternoon with a quick flick of the index finger below the jaw and a raised brow, indicating it’s five o’clock somewhere.
I mentioned that the phrase “let’s drink for three” is a popular way to call friends together for a drink. I recently discovered where the “three” comes from. The glass tumbler, birthed in Russia, was the perfect size to handle exactly 1/3 of a 500ml bottle of vodka. Therefore, friends would get together and split the vodka three ways, minimizing spending and waste (though I can’t imagine vodka going to waste here). To read more on this phrase and the invention of the tumbler (fascinating stuff), click here.
After a quiet morning, I set off on my Saturday journey with the goal of exploring the city on foot. I had an intended destination of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, just over 3 km from my house. Along the way, I was thrilled to encounter an old favorite – Le Pain Quotidian – only a mile from my home. Unlike knockoffs in Seoul, this one is the real deal, with a number of locations around Moscow. With breakfast served all day on weekends, you know where to find me 🙂
The MMOMA is a museum that I’ve been following on Instagram over the past year to get a vibe for the art scene here in Moscow. Situated in 4 main buildings, the museum features work that clearly pushes the envelope. As this work is from current day artists, it seems the name would be better suited to include the word “contemporary”. Art teacher moment – most people don’t realize “Modern” denotes a time period in Art History (as broad as the 1860s to the 1970s), whereas “Contemporary” is art produced by a living artist. Since modern, we’ve seen the Post Modern Period and Neo Expressionism take hold. As for what artistic time period we are living through now… only time will tell.
While in the museum, minders stuck to me like glue, following me from room to room and showing me where to meander to next. Once I got over their vigilant presence, I enjoyed the visit.
As I dip my toe into the pool of Russian contemporary art, I observe it to be much more on par with art coming out of the States these days. Themes included suppression, life philosophy, and the examination of life at its simplest, and/or most perverse. Shock value, experimentation, and a multitude of mediums (markers, sculpture, found objects, lighting, installation, textiles, and digital work) made up the bulk of the works on display. Sketches my experimental drawing teacher would have loved were among the fray.
Having had my fill of contemporary art for the day, I walked home through a public greenway, set up for artists to peddle their wares under a plastic covering. Birds flew past. The red clay underfoot popped against the lush green grass, made fresh from the early morning thunderstorms.
The last memory I have of waking up to thunderstorms is in Lugano, wild in ferocity as the storms rolled through the alpine valley we called home. I can’t think of many other places I’ve lived with thunderstorms just after dawn. As I’m still spending a lot of time on my own these days, memories of my former homes seem all the more vivid. Comparing and contrasting these places helps to get me grounded here in my new city.
This whole process of getting to know a new place and meeting new people often feels like I’m taking two steps forward, one step back. I heard a good quote today – “it’s like casting seeds, you throw water on them and see which sprout”. During times like these, it’s good to pound the pavement, see what you can while the weather is good. Just like with people, you invite a new city to show itself and see what sticks. Thank you to those of you along for the ride – your notes and Skype calls are the best company I could ask for.
As for my new ‘hood – Moscow West seems to be a great little pocket of the city. I’m lucky I can walk from my home and so happy to have gotten a taste of the art scene. I can’t believe my good fortune in arriving here in Moscow. I hope some of you will make the journey and see it for yourselves. Until next time…
Update: I recently discovered where the “three” in “let’s drink for three” comes from. The glass tumbler, birthed in Russia, was the perfect size to handle exactly 1/3 of a 500ml bottle of vodka. Therefore, friends would get together and split the vodka three ways, minimizing spending and waste (though I can’t imagine vodka going to waste here). To read more on this phrase and the invention of the tumbler (fascinating stuff), click here: http://rbth.com/arts/2016/09/10/nothing-humbler-than-the-tumbler-5-facts-about-the-legendary-soviet-glass_628651