Wednesday, 26 January 2011

a big thank you

Can't mention the concert without also thanking my landlady and neighbours for inviting me, such a generous thing to do. They were friends of Pavel Messner (he owned the next door dacha ) and obviously miss him.

bombs and chandeliers

Found out about Domodedovo bomb pretty immediately after it happened, as some of my colleagues were departing from there (they left safely but, of course, delayed).  And then went straight to a piano concert at the Moscow Conservatory. This was in memory of Pavel Messner, one of their most famous teachers, who died five years ago. So spent the evening in slight disconnect, reverberating slightly with shock under the splendour of an electric chandelier, listening to the most exquisite piano music.

Both Messner's daughter and grandaughter were there, the latter's stage debut aged 10; she played Chopin, as beautifully and  affectingly as could be imagined (see above, isn't she just sooo sweet!). Otherwise there was Rachmaninov and Brahms and Schubert - as someone extremely unmusical  I learnt a lot about just how much drama you can get from a piano or two.

The other highlight was hearing the contemporary Russian composer Alexander Rosenblatt playing a couple of his own pieces. Concertino on 2 Russian themes for 4 hands (view here on YouTube) was completely unexpected in the way it sampled other music.  Is this common for contemporary classic music either here or elsewhere? The audience loved it, and so did I.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

I love Sundays

Had a proper English Expat Sunday (EES). Got up late, listened to BBC Radio 3 and had fried eggs and bacon with toast and a cup of tea for breakfast.  Played Words with Friends  - aka Scrabble - via my iPod. I only do this with people I know - my daughter and a few others. (Although it turns out that 'Ken Taylor' is not the one I expected, but someone who lives on the US West Coast.)

Then skyped a few mates and listened to both the News Quiz and I am Sorry I Haven't a Clue (this says far too much about me, is probably a very embarrassing fact, and will only make sense to a small cross-section of readers.) Did some desultory work, and stared out the window a lot; snowing on and off all day, with everything clean white for a moment and the sky that completely washed out grey-blue pale. Lovely.

What is strange is that the longer I am here the more I enjoy deeply stereotypical English middle-class behaviours, at least in the privacy of my own flat. Does this happen to every expat, or is it just me?

Anyway, it shows up the ridiculousness  of some British politicians' tendencies to insist that foreigners 'immerse' themselves completely into  'our' culture. I don't think eating English breakfast makes me a threat to Russia, so I can't understand why some British people are so frightened of the reverse.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

deja-vu view

Finally got to the New Decor exhibition at Garage yesterday (which is touring - with some changes - from the Hayward Gallery in London). I went to see the curator Ralph Rugoff talk about the show some time ago, with the kind of simultaneous Russian translation that reduced everything to pretty mindless sound-bites.

But then, the show itself is quite peculiar. Many contemporary artists work with found objects such as furniture and environments in various ways to subvert their everyday ordinariness; and the best pieces here do indeed resonate to some degree with the 'uncanny'.  But there is something distractingly odd about collecting them all together in one show, even in a space as big and relaxed as Garage. Some of the curation is actually sharper than at the Hayward; but still there is an overall aura of the furniture warehouse, of elderly chairs and tables scattered unceremoniously about in varying degrees of distress and without much logic.

Maybe it is to do with smallness and repetition; once you have seen one piece of furniture cut in half and its edges bandaged you have seen...etc etc. The end result was quite unsatisfying; and not only because I saw it before at the Hayward.

Garage is also running it's first photography exhibition called How Soon is it Now which as the promo says "presents fifteen of the most interesting contemporary artists working with the photographic medium."  They were selected by five curators –Tom Eccles, Liam Gillick, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Philippe Parreno and Beatrix Ruf - as a bit of a statement about what international contemporary photography is, or should, be about.

Which was also weird to see, not so much the work - although it does tend to the highly conceptual - but because (unexpectedly) I have seen this show before too. At the Arles International Photography Festival last year. Which either means I am right there culturally deep in the thick of things; or just very pretentious.

New Decor closes on Feb 6th and How Soon is it Now on Feb 8th.

Cuban artists Los Carpinteros, photo from Artguide Moscow (too many guards to take pictures)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

handy hints for travellers 15: stay away from building edges!

The mild conditions have a regular result: snow melts during the day, freezes at night and is then covered with a fine layer of snow by morning - making completely lethal surfaces. And - equally dangerously - snow melting from roofs forms icicles which freeze, then melt again and crash to the ground.

One of my colleagues got hit by a falling icicle over the holidays, which broke her nose (this, she said mournfully happened immediately after her dog swallowed a toy and nearly died.) Still, she continued, at least it didn't fall on her head. Which is why random barriers appear on the street, and people tend to walk on the outside edges of pavements.


Whilst there have been extremes in climate across the globe this winter, Moscow continues to be unseasonably mild. So little snow that even the snowmen are tiny...

tales of the unexpected 4

Whilst we are on an animal theme, I should mention that these stuffed rabbits seem to have popped up in a lot of (arty) places here recently. The point? Who knows, although given that large painted cows have been appearing all over London - and for all I know other major cities - for a while, maybe it is just because they can.

goat in a coat

There are a lot of homeless and drunks in Moscow, mainly around train stations. There are also quite a lot of beggars, these usually ex-soldiers (or at least people in camouflage uniforms) with missing limbs or elderly ladies on their knees with icons. This man was the first I have seen begging with a goat.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


I am not a great fan of New Years’ resolutions but –following a long conversation with Russian colleagues about the many important sights/sites in Moscow I have NOT yet visited - have returned here determined to regain my inner tourist in 2011. 

I guess that after a while living in any country/city you get out of the habit of really looking at what’s there and just begin to live in that state of everyday distraction which constitutes normality. Which is nice in one way, but also feels like a blurring of the reasons for moving somewhere else in the first place.  As a method for reviving my initial enthusiasms I have begun making a list of things to see. This starts with the major museums (Tretyakov, Pushkin, MMOMA, all of which I can’t believe I have not yet been to); goes on to all those fabulous looking house museums and other architectural stuff (such as the Shchusev Museum of Architecture) for which Moscow ought to be more famous; and then moves towards a, as yet, rather rougher and shorter list of contemporary culture and events – restaurants, bars, shops etc, which I consider my answer to the Wallpaper City Guides. In fact, the whole project keeps threatening to segue into one of those 10 Best Things to See in Moscow if you are a Culture Vulture lists, an inclination I am trying to resist. And this is even before I get to all the potential sights near the city, let alone trips further afield.

Anyway, I decided to make my NYR public here, so that you all can keep me to these good intentions (which I always thought was the only way to keep to a New Year’s resolution). Oh, and any recommendations for good and unusual places to add to my ‘tourist’ visits are also welcome. 

There remains only one issue, and slight crisis, which is to do with photography. This will only be of interest to camera buffs, so everyone else can stop reading here. I set a rule when I first started this blog – not that I told anyone else – that each post would only have one photographic illustration and that I would only use my little ‘point and shot’ compact (a Ricoh GR since you asked). I liked the idea of a restriction, a kind of what -you-see is-what-you-get approach without the possibility of any fancy footwork. I still like this idea; the problem is that the Ricoh collapsed on me when I was in Sydney – cameras do like to pack up when you are on trip-of-a-lifetime type excursions – and is still behaving very eccentrically. I also have a Lumix GF1with a couple of lens, a relatively recent purchase after my original much-loved, elderly and very oversized Fuji S2Pro digital SLR finally died and Fuji stopped making high-end consumer cameras, damn them.

This, then, is the issue. Whether to just go over to using my Lumix (which breaks the initial rule) or to go out and buy another compact, which will take a lot of fluffing around in selection, cost, country of purchase etc. A difficult decision...

(....and sorted almost immediately by buying a the cheapest Fuji compact available at the airport, and using my Lumix just when I feel like it!)

Photo above is of a photograph I bought recently - just to show I do get out and about a bit - from the first student art fair being run at ArtPlay. Interesting to see what the next generation are doing; much still quite derivative, but lots of creativity.... this is by Alena Beljakova. For more go to

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year!

the horrors, the horrors

I know that I was extraordinarily lucky to sneak into London, and then out again (to Sydney, Australia) a few days later, without being buried in snow for days at Heathrow.  All my sympathies go to the many people I met who had horribly delayed holidays, and I won't even be smug about how much better Moscow airports deals with bad weather. But - I was reminded of that specifically English characteristic of complaining; of always being ready to be offended at the the slightest alteration to the assumed smoothness of things; of an excess of sensitivity that someone else might be jumping the queue, getting a better deal. What is this English habit of for ever being ready to be cross about something?

Unlike the Russians I know who always expect the worst to happen.