Sunday, 28 February 2010

10-of-the-best 8: Mayakovsky Museum

One reason I have been out visiting trendy restaurants is that a friend has been staying, meaning I have been a proper tourist for a couple of days, having a great time with him visiting various Moscow sights.

So finally got to the Mayakovsky museum, which is just around the corner from where I live, near Lubyanka. Mayakovsky was a futurist/constructivist poet and writer(1983 - 1930) and the museum is an extraordinary three-dimensional representation of his life and work, a four-storey sophisticated spiralling down (based on the designs of Tatlin's tower) of metaphorical constructions, and multi-layered images.

The work itself - just the sheer energy, confidence and creativity of the immediate post-revolutionary period - is astounding. All the usual suspects are there; Rodchenko, Malevich, Tatlin, Melnikov, just to name a few. There are letters, collages, photographs, paintings, sketches, notes and much else, set at all kinds of angles and relationships. It took my breath away twice, once for the glories on show; and then because these original and irreplaceable works are just stuck under glass (sometimes), jumbled up so some difficult to even see, and then cut or overpainted or generally mistreated. This might be seen either as an expression of Mayakovsky's anarchy and exuberance (ignoring the fact that he committed suicide), or of a terrible lack of concern for the long-term preservation of these precious artefacts. Or both.

The Maykovsky Museum website is only in Russian (there is an English link which doesn't seem to work, but there is always Google Translate). For a 3D virtual tour of the museum interior try here. And for some poetry and his manifesto A Slap in the Face for Public Taste visit a favouritely weird website, archiving the works of Marxists across the globe.

places to be seen in (more)....

And whilst I'm showing places of (fashionable) conspicuous consumption, here is the interior of Moscow's Philippe Starck-designed restaurant Bon, the third project with that name.

It is, of course, a pretty expensive place to sit down in. But they do a 'Business Lunch' (this English phrase is used in lots of eating places to mean a limited choice of soup/salad/main course at a fixed price) of 800 rubles/£16/$26. This involves ignoring the fact that such 'business lunches' usually cost about 250 rubles.

Or you can do what we did and sit for hours over a pot of tea.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

places to be seen in ....

Denis Semichev is a good example of the new Russian creative entrepreneur - an up-market, blingish, self-promoting fashion designer, shop/bar/club owner who has also developed his own furniture line and done projects with Ducati and Porsche.

His shop/bar is worth a visit (just off Petrokva Ulitsa), both because it gives you a flavour of his signature style and because it offers brilliant breakfasts.

Russian ice-cream is good

Someone has asked me about Russian ice-cream. So, I am using this as an excuse to show the grumpiest woman in the world, she who sells ice-cream - very good ice-cream - outside the gorgeous Gastronom No. 1/ гастпроном in GUM.

Dairy product of the week 2

In my on-going attempt to include more Russian diary products in my diet, I have been having the occasional tvorog/творог for breakfast. It is a kind of cross between yoghurt and cottage cheese, and I have been mixing it with raisins, nuts and raspberry jam (the latter most recommended locally to ward off colds). No idea if that is the 'right' way to do it, but definitely quite tasty.

For more folk remedies - as well as some other random issues - try

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A bit late

Over a week late mentioning Maslenitsa/Масленица, also known as Butter week, Pancake week or Cheesefare Week, a religious, folk festival which ran from 8th – 14th Feb this year. It's connected – like Pancake Tuesday in the UK – to Lent and the lead up to Easter. Because it is the last week during which milk, cheese and other dairy products are allowed for Orthodox Christians, and because Lent also does not favour distractions such as music and dancing, Maslenitsa is the last chance to have a party with dairy products.... mainly pancakes as far as I could tell.

There was also something about sunflowers and effigy burning, but I missed whatever it was that was happening, so not very helpful.

We have also just had Defenders of the Fatherland day - seen as a kind of 'Mens' Day in parallel with International Womens' Day in March (!) - which involved Red Square being closed a lot and fireworks late at night; but again, I haven't worked out what was going on. Sorry.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Cold weather, frozen veg

When the temperature stays in the -10s for weeks if not months, I guess it is a quite ordinary thing to sell solidly frozen vegetables from an open stall....

more shopping

Gorbushka Market sells electronic goods from digital cameras through to vacuum cleaners; well actually it is now meant to be called Gorbuskin dvor, since the name "Gorbushka" referred to an open-air black market for software, music, videos and electronics which was closed in 2001. However in the more recent shopping centre there is still a huge floor upstairs of cheap, pirated CDs/DVDs and as far as I can tell everyone still calls it Gorbushka.

To be honest I prefer the electronics market at Savyolovskaya/савёловская, which I have written about previously. And I have got cheaper (and better quality) DVDs from Biblo-Globus at Lubyanka.

Dairy product of the week 1

Rather than ignoring the huge and confusing range of what are (to my palette) a limited array of pallid and tasteless milk products enjoyed here, I have decided to work my way through each one, with the aim of experiencing their best qualities.

Stupidly started with condensed milk to which - with expresso added - I have already become addicted. And maybe invented a new drink? And am going to get very fat....


The proper Bolshoi Theatre has been under renovation since the summer of 2005, and was meant to be finished in March 2008. According to the Moscow News from the beginning of 2009: "In the past few months, no one was willing to risk a prediction on an official opening date, and some people even said that the work could drag on for several decades. (Russia's Minister of Culture Aleksandr) Avdeev, however, reassured the public that the Bolshoi renovation would be finished by the end of 2010."

So, at the moment, the Bolshoi company performs ballet and opera in the theatre next door. We went to see Tosca (seats 750 rubles/£15) which was a great romp with plenty of drama and volume. I do feel a bit a cultural snob about the staging though. There was a lot of very literal interpretation, much hand-wringing and - what seemed odd to me, although I know almost nothing about opera - a liberal slavering of religious iconography, including a life size crucifix and a smoke ring halo over Mario as he gets shot (sorry, given the story away). Is that in the original?

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Many of you know of the problems of my cheese addiction in Moscow, where cheese tends to the pale and bland. So deeply over-excited about finding this place - Cheese Hole, which specialises in Swiss cheeses. It does fondues, taster plates, cheese pies (witness Elek about to dig in) and best of all, cheese soup (bowl on the right).

There is a sister restaurant which features French cheeses, but that must wait for another day. I am hoping someone might win me a discount voucher by playing the game of the Cheese Hole website - which I have repeatedly (and embarassingly) failed to do. As the site says: "To receive a discount coupon, you need to play the game Feed the Mouse. The rules are very simple: to feed the mouse 10 slices of cheese for 30 seconds. Mouse is moving arrows left - right".

At the doctors

That cold and cough has been pretty persistent, so finally found myself at a medical clinic for what seemed like several hours with a doctor who has to be called - at minimum - 'a character'. The diagnosis? "A viral infection in my nozzle". And his recommendations? An enjoyable mixture of medical and folk remedies: a nose x-ray, hot red wine with nuts, honey and cinnamon, a steroid-based nasal spray, keeping out of draughts, cough tablets and salt water rinsing (the actions required to do this demonstrated at some length by a minion ear, nose and throat expert especially brought in to show me.)

Interspersed throughout with digressions on, for example: why nobody understands women, why women eat more than men and live longer (followed by a pause, and the comment that there were other things he would say but not in front of an Englishwoman); the differences in types of tea drinking by nationality, his attitude to instant coffee; how the deep, bright snow at his dacha led to snow-blindness; and problems with space at the clinic, that meant they don't have room for a separate resuscitation unit (they don't have a separate unit?!)

We were talking afterwards about his behaviour and trying to pin down the type - is it particularly Russian? - of a man who, with the confidence of his authority and age, acts like a cross between a circus ringmaster and a clown (as long as you don't laugh at him) thereby managing to be both friendly and intimidating. And of course, we (two women, one russian, one english) thought he was hilarious!

Monday, 8 February 2010

The last one!

This is really the last time I am going to mention the weather, at least for a while; but I have been trying to get a bit of thing going about finding the biggest icicle (and it doesn't have to be in Moscow.) The critters are surprisingly hard to photograph well. And, actually, maybe we should be searching out not the biggest but the most gorgeous .....


I also really like the evening light when the weather is like this - from about 4.30pm to when it gets properly dark at about 6.00 it takes on a increasingly rose-tinted, almost Mediterranean hue. This everyday skyline captures a lot of Moscow components - trees, overhead cables, some non-specific vaguely industrial wall, cars (parked on the pavement of course) and silhouettes of both a Stalinist skyscraper and a left over social realist monument.

And -for me- most typically, the reddening glow of thick white smoke from one of the many heating plants spread around the Moscow near-horizon that keep us so warm (and probably the city so polluted).

More on a beautiful city

We have had several days here of beautiful bright weather, clear skies, and crisp cold air. So, I will take the opportunity to wax lyrical again about what a lovely city this is, and use it as an excuse to show another picture illustrating the rich range of colours it offers - ochres, oranges, salmon pinks, mint greens and strong pale blues.

Of course, this is partly because I have been stuck indoors with a cough and have spent those days gazing out of the window and sighing (which means I haven't actually been out so see just how freezing it is!)

Vladimir likes to say that the weather represents the problems of Russia; then you can never have everything - it is either very bright but too cold, or warmer but overcast. I think that means I must be an optimist. On days like today, I just fall in love with the place all over again.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Don't mention the snow...

Trying very hard not to mention snow too much. But continue to be bemused by, on the one hand, how industrially efficient Moscovites are at getting rid of the snow; and, on the other, the inconsistencies of what gets cleared and what not. I may have mentioned that my street seems to be particularly a venue for snow trucks, bulldozers and shovelling etc., with the pavements and road often scraped clean to within an inch of its life (and often in the middle of the night). Meanwhile, in the next street over, business men in their fur hats and black coats sweat as they desperately attempt to dig their cars out the morning after a new snowfall.

I have mentioned this to some of my Russian colleagues, suggesting possible explanations - some functional, some more to do with palms being greased - but they just smile and do that 'stuff happens, who knows why' shrug with their shoulders.

A little tiff

Woke up today to an explosion of notes stuck to various surfaces in the communal hallway. Luckily I have a friend staying who could translate the problem(s); all to do with what is clearly considered a public affront, namely grimy footprints dragged in from the snow outside and not wiped up promptly enough. Some blame seemed to be aimed at a mysterious 'man in red coat with dog', although I have a feeling some of it was also to do with me. This is because my winter boots do seem to leak a lot of black wet slush. Of course it may be that I am a bit paranoid. It is just me that has cleaners wiping away behind with a mop and bucket as I walk cross any public tiled surface?

Haven't even dared to re-visit the nailbar where I was the only customer and was made to walk from one end of a white shiny pristine floor to the other, with just such a cleaning operation following at my heels; followed by a long, long wait with a mop and bucket just nearby as my nails slowly dried and an increasingly large pool of dirty water formed around my feet.

Well, social embarrassment works as well on me as the next person, so we cleaned the floor and the notices have been taken down. Except this one, just to remind us all of the importance of taking off our outer footwear, before entry.

Unidentified packages 5

This fluorescent green drink - Tarkhun/тархун - is non-alcoholic and tarragon flavoured, and very yummy. Saw it mentioned in my guide book when I first arrived (along with other 'flavoured lemonades') but have somehow missed it sitting quite obviously on the supermarket drinks shelves. Surprising really considering how very green it is.