Wednesday, 31 March 2010

more shopping advice

Been meaning to mention two really classy design shops for ages now. Both worth visiting, since this is definitely something Moscow doesn't have much of a reputation for. The customised broomsticks outside one of Buro Nahodok's shop (near Patriarchs Pond) give an indication of the kind of locally grown humour that underpins most of the stuff here.

Design Boom is much more typical of the kind of contemporary design you get right across Europe, but still nice bits and pieces, good interior and cafe (if all quite pricey).

city bingo

Been talking about the idea of 'City Bingo' where you collect photos of the most resonant - but not ubiquitous, obvious or stereotypical (since that would be too easy) - aspects of a place.

So, what would that be in Moscow? We thought of stray dogs using the underpasses and traveling on the metros; huge banked-up piles of ginger with your sushi; disabled stickers in the most unbelievable (inaccessible) spots; broken drainpipes; terrible, post-modern 'style' architecture; dogs wearing ridiculous winter outfits; the rather beautiful random and abstract paintings-out of graffiti; completely derelict cars still on the road; classical statues leering down; posters for rock concerts by ancient celebs; pictures of Medvedev and Putin on everything (no, that won't work, those really are everywhere)...

And then, we tried to do the same for London and got stuck really quickly.

Monday, 29 March 2010

stuck again!

Getting increasingly incapable at tasks that require manual dexterity, for example to do with keys and bottles and things (well, actually I have always been pretty bad...)

So, although a previous blog post posed a similar problem to do with champagne corks, I have to ask again - can anyone please tell me how to get the tops off either of these containers?

The (red caviar) jar seems jammed and the (black caviar) metal lid seems impenetrable to all my stabbings and twistings. I buy caviar as a treat as I actually like it, so this inaccessibility is driving me crazy!

in the garage

The reason I noticed the police out and about yesterday is that we did a quick 'culture' trip to catch up on the latest show at Garage. Called Futurologia/Russian Utopias and running until 23rd May 2010, the main part of the exhibition is made up of commissioned work by contemporary Russian artists, responding to the 'pioneering' directions of Kazmir Malevich in both his abstract and figurative versions.

The work is pretty varied, with some really interesting pieces as well as some real clunkers - well, at least that is what I feel about an iPod spiralled into a plastic Tatlin Tower.....

Frustratingly there is no catalogue, photographs are not allowed and the best artist's work -such as Aidan Salakhova's amazing paintings and Olga Chernysheva's series of photographic and journal entry light-boxes which delicately and straightforwardly explore experiences of Russia, travel and life - do not seem to have made it to any website yet, so I can't share them with you.

And, as usual at Garage, I am both deeply impressed with the quality and amount of work going on to promote contemporary Russian art and culture (through Daria Zhukova's non-for-profit Iris Foundation) and completely stunned by the amount of private money that must be involved; not only commissioning - as far as I can tell - 26 new works, but also in yet another interior re-build of the centre during the winter.

the metro bombs

Am getting emails and texts from around the world about the bomb attacks on the Metro here this morning, which is a weird way to find out about something on my doorstep. I live close to Lubyanka (pictured) where one of the explosions happened. It is where the KGB - now called the FSB - have their headquarters, but who knows if this is connected.

Missed everything because I am towards the end of a big writing project which means hardly leaving my building except to go to work (and I don't work on Mondays). We did wonder why there were so many police around yesterday, but again who knows if that is connected.

Hope my colleagues and friends are okay......

Monday, 22 March 2010

doing up the public!

On the estate where I live in North London we have a gardening club where, on occasions, small groups of people come together to do their public duty and plant bulbs, do weeding, and clear various piles of rubbish. Its great, but of course the same old faces turn up each time. So I am pretty impressed with the assumption here as expressed by Mayor Luzhkov that, come April, massive numbers of the local populace (93,000 expected) will do a city-wide spring clean.

He says there are to be two subbotniki, or working Saturdays - what used to be called public labour days in the Soviet period - clearing debris, cleaning monuments and planting flower beds. April 17 and 24.

Mind you, as Moscow alternates between snow and thaw, with an increasing shift to the second, the sheer amount of water, filthy melting snow and accumulated dirt and detritus indicates that such a show of public commitment is not just nice but necessary.

Friday, 19 March 2010

snowing again- just when I thought it was spring...

Dairy product of the week 3 (not); also unidentified package(6)

Decided I have not been adventurous enough recently in trying out new food items just because of failing to recognise the packet. So found this between soya yoghurts and milk yoghurts in my local supermarket yesterday and assumed it would be my next diary product of the week.

But no. It is yeast. Which I probably could have worked out if I have looked a bit harder and not been seduced by the cuteness of the label.

What am I going to do with yeast? This is a biggish problem since I am allergic to wheat flour, so not planning to bake my own bread, thank you.

on gender politics

As far as I can tell International Womens' Day here means that men give women flowers. And the Russians I have been talking to - male and female - really don't see this as a problem; the complexities of gender politics are for the rest of Europe, not here.

And then I watched the (brilliant) 1979 Mosfilm Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears on YouTube, and something - perhaps completely wrong - fell into place. Put simplistically, everyday commonsense in 1950s to 70s America and the UK ideally located middle-class white women as the angels of the house in opposition to male power in the public realm of work. Across the same period in the Soviet Union, men and women were equally envisaged as workers so gender relationships were located differently. Don't want to give the plot away, but MDNBIT centres on how important it is, ultimately, for women to allow male authority in the home.

What I don't know is how much things have changed here since the 1970s. What I do know is that it does not mirrors the path of western feminism.

You can find Moscow does not Believe in Tears in several parts - start here:

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Handy hints for travelers 9: Don't drink the water!

A visitor asked me recently if it was okay to drink the tap water here. Illustrated is the bowl in which I - being typically English - put water on my radiators to try and cool/humidify the dry, hot interior air created by Moscow's unturnable-off district heating system. Look and learn. Do not drink the water!

back and forth

This time I have definitely felt a bit unsettled coming back to Moscow. I have a feeling that as the newness wears off, my enthusiastic awareness of, and reveling in, the differences between cities is also waning. This is becoming just one place where I work, just as London is another.

Is this how most immigrants, emigres and expats experience things, once they have been traveling back and forth for a while? It doesn't mean I want to be in one place, only that I need to find a way of being in both, beyond being a naive tourist here.

In the meantime I went out and bought a tin of baked beans (which I hardly never eat in England!), and a sure sign I am a bit homesick...

city cross-section

Traveling back from Domodedovo airport on the aeroexpress train offers a good cross-sectional cut through Moscow (so good to do this journey in daylight if you can.) Coming towards Moscow, there is first a few small satellite towns and villages, each with their banal ring of Khrushchev era high-rise apartments; these are interspersed with pine plantations and scatterings of birch, together with older dachas, small traditional villas for people escaping the city at weekends and in the summer.

As you get nearer, more recent dachas pop up - many more of them, much more tightly packed and in wide variations from almost sheds to huge, overbuilt and over-styled mansions. Then, the next band of dull high-rises, this time on the outer ring of Moscow itself and now overlapping randomly with industrial buildings, miscellaneous yards and rows and rows of garages and 'car-cans'. Finally the city proper - still showing its comfortably worn out pre-revolutionary buildings knotted together with housing, offices and factories from every period.

And then into Paveletskaya, not a pretty station....

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Snow going, dogs appearing

As the snow thaws, the stray dogs are beginning to re-appear. I was getting to know the pack near where I live (and the one on the way to work) last year - only by sight I mean; they are neither friendly or unfriendly, but would certainly attack if threatened.

These strays produce a variety of responses. Some people, particularly old ladies, leave them food. Others put collars on them, so that they won't be removed and killed. But others find them unsettling, both as potential dangerous and as yet another symbol of what is wrong with Moscow, its inability to be a 'civilised' city on par with London or New York.

the sins of the few

I am aware that several stereotypical aspects of Russian behaviour have been trying to ‘bite me’ recently. Some of these have just been some pretty boorish manners (of the speaking on mobile phones at the opera variety). Others are more irritating, including the on-going difficulties with my landlord’s agent who – on being caught in a minor act of cheating over an electricity bill – now throws tantrums and bullying fits like a child in the playground over everything and nothing. And, of course, there is exposure to more ‘complicated’ issues, such as the seemingly intractable problem of bribes needing to change hands for certain language proficiency certificates.

But, what I notice most is the embarrassment, frustration and anger of many of my Russian colleagues. Embarrassment when a few Russians behave badly; frustration and anger when a lack of moral principles is shown; and all of these emotions shown at the ongoing endemic problems with bribery and other illegalities here - which are offensive to most ordinary people; as individuals just trying to behave well themselves, because of the image of Russia it perpetuates to the rest of Europe, and because there is nothing they can do about endemic corruption...

I have illustrated this with a image of two cars representing the extremes of wealth and poverty in Moscow. but of course, both cars are parked high on the pavement at an angle which prevents any pedestrian passing....

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

and now the sad (snow) reality


And - to get in as many snow pictures as possible before it all goes - witness the brilliant opportunity to go ice-skating around the park paths in Gorky Park (although the queues for tickets were inordinately long and the paths themselves as crowded as Oxford Circus tube station). And its hard to see just how much fine it looks from this picture.


Which gives me a chance to show one of the great ice sculptures they have every year next to the Space Museum and VdnKH ( December, sorry didn't get around to it at the time..)


They do have some snow sculptures there (well, they did, I haven't mentioned the major thaw we are having.....)


Whilst I'm doing tourist spots, I should mention we went to the Park of Lost Monuments, next to the Tretyakov Gallery at Krymskiy Val (which houses modern - i.e. socialist realist - and contemporary art. ) This is the second time I have been there because my guide book says it's a brilliant collection of ex-Soviet monuments. Well it isn't really. Unlike Berlin and East Germany, most of the statues of Lenin and Stalin and the others have been left where they stood; still just an everyday part of the landscape. So, this is a small and miscellaneous collection, just about worth the visit if you are also going to the gallery (which is pretty good.)