A walk in the woods

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What I initially believed to be the early signs of winter have luckily turned into a prolonged autumn. Fine by me, as fall is my favorite time of year. Last week, before the rains came, I had a chance to trek through Pokrovskoye Forest that adjoins our school grounds.

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Pokrovskoye Forest

One thing I’ve come to enjoy is the Russian appreciation of a good story. While Russians are stereotypically tagged as tight-lipped, once you properly meet acquaintances, many have the gift of gab, as the Irish would say.

Our tour guide on the walk was no exception. A very knowledgeable Russian historian, he regaled us with tales of Tolstoy’s time in those woods in a rented dacha while plotting War & Peace. In fact, the inspiration for the character of Natasha, the main female lead, was based on his neighbor’s teenage daughter.

My walk in the woods proved the perfect starting point for our first long weekend of the school year. After deciding to stay in the city, a visit to the Pushkin Art Museum seemed in order.

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The entrance line to the Pushkin always stretches around the block.

Considered one of the premier museums in Moscow, the Pushkin is a sight to behold. The grand marble staircase evokes that in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A show on Raphael’s portraits was a trip down Art History lane but as the wall text was in only Italian or Russian, it didn’t prove as fruitful as I would have liked. Surprisingly, we came to discover that the premier art museum in Moscow does not feature works by Russian artists! For that I’ll have to visit the Tretyakov State Gallery. Instead, Ancient Greek and Roman statues made up the bulk of the Pushkin’s collection, along with Egyptian artifacts.

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Puttis at play.

Later in the weekend, a group of us had brunch at Cook’kareku, a cozy spot open 24/7 which boasts the unique concept of serving brunch from countries all over the world. Depending on the time zone of the meal you are enjoying, you get a 30% discount. Cook’kareku offered really delicious coffee and great portion size – rare for a breakfast place but one we’ll surely return to again.

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Is there a better timepiece in the world than a brunch clock?

After brunch, we journeyed to the Multimedia Art Museum of Moscow, also downtown. The museum had a number of current exhibitions, including a truly terrible one of photography by Antonio Banderas. Aside from that – which was just downright amusing – the other shows were wonderful. I learned about Alexander Rodchenko, a Futurism devotee who is today considered to be a father of Russian constructivist design.

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Also fascinating was the work of Otto Piene, co-founder of Group ZERO out of Dusseldorf in the 1960s.

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Lithographs by Piene.

One thing I love about getting out of the western art bubble is learning about artists such as Rodchenko who pushed the boundaries of design before the art form even had a name. Design is getting much more respect in the States these days, but it’s basis really lies in Europe and Asia. The Scandinavian countries, for instance, have often been the source of design trends the world over. From Marimekko prints to monochromatic simplicity (think grey walls with copper finishings), everyone from the UK to Japan looks to Sweden, Finland, and Denmark for design inspiration. At the end of the month I’ll be traveling to Stockholm to see friends and I cannot wait to see the design aesthetic firsthand.

Up next, in the ever-inspiring cultural mecca that is Moscow… the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet will be performing at my school next week! These incredible dancers will be workshopping with our dance and music departments followed by a full ballet performance Monday afterschool. The school is buzzing with excitement and I cannot wait to experience this incredible production. Stay tuned!