Sunday, 29 November 2009

Tried out the opera for the first time, where, at the Novaya Opera anyway, tickets are extraordinarily cheap at 200 roubles (about 4 pounds/7 dollars/4.50 euros). Went to see the Magic Flute. Don't know much about opera, so not sure how much the weirdness was inherent in Mozart's original - the story is pretty all over the place and meant to have a bit of a pantomine quality -and how much was a particularly Russian interpretation. Suffice to say that the sorcerer character was Stalin (Bad guy? Good guy?) and his surrounding chorus henchmen wore trilbys, black suits and hammers.  The heroine, meanwhile, had a red cardboard sickle velcroed to her hair for much of it, and there were many very literal moments (a large 'magic flute' - with wings - hanging centre stage) and  quite a lot of random events. Why oh why did the henchmen throw red stuffed animals at the hero at one stage, or did the wicked queen suddenly 'grow' an extra-large leg? And pity the two baritones who were wrapped up in silver foil, together with their cardboard box plinths, as 'Stalin' statues - so could only hobble very slowly and oddly across the stage and had to do a kind of sideways flop in order to be carried off. All in all, given that the singing was very good, a great if slightly surprising night out.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Unidentified packages 4

Saturday brunch at CafeMania - the one on the corner of Rozhdestvenka and Pushechnaya near Kutznetsky Most metro - so treated myself to this cake, called a Fifth Element (no, I don't know why either). Not really unidentified as the menu said it combined chocolate with gorgonzola cheese(!), berries and cinnamon. The reality was such a chocolate attack that I know I wont be able to eat another one of these for at least a year!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Alexey Kozlov

Went to hear a Russian jazz legend last week, saxophonist Alexey Kozlov, with his band the New Arsenal. Whilst jazz wasn't banned in the Soviet period, non-'regular' musicians (the cultural underground) did get constantly hounded by the KGB. Some of Kozlov's tunes are about this very thing, which cannot have endeared him then, and the experience of which clearly remains central to how he still sees himself today. 

He is a fantastic player, not just living off a previous reputation, although the band takes a bit of time to get fully into their stride. It says on the website that he was born in 1935, so he is in good form (if a bit haggard) - although I guess many jazz musicians seem to last a very long time. 
You can listen so some music here: or go and see them play Thursdays, starting 8.30 at the Forte Club on Bolshaya Bronnaya str.,29 (in Russian Бол. Бронная ул.)

Moscow hats time- and what a choice!

Handy hints for travelers 7: don't bother with sweaters!

It feels counterintuitive - at least for the Brits - but there is one layer of clothing that you really don't need to pack for a Moscow winter, and that is a thick sweater/jumper/cardigan. When you go out you will want to throw on a jacket, thick coat, gloves, hat, scarf and warm boots. But inside, with central heating everywhere at full blast, you will find yourself in shirtsleeves. 

So, my advice is  - forego the sweaters and make room for something else (whatever that is!).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Missed it....

Cant believe it - missed the snow whilst I was back in London for a week; and now it is mild and wet again. But something else has happened. The light is different, muted, and a low level cloud mist mainly hangs over the skyscrapers.

So suddenly, Moscow feels more like a Soviet city. The big, small, old, new cars are beginning to look alike under a even muddy grime, part of a city shifting into brown monchrome. In a local railway station, everyone is black-hatted and black-coated, and the place cloudy with coal smoke.

Meanwhile the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, is planning cloud seeding, to prevent snow in the city. I was so looking forward to some new whiteness....

If you want to read about Russians following China into geo-engineering - illustrated by a great picture of snow in Red Square - see this article in the Moscow Times.