Wednesday, 28 September 2011

english zavtrak

Had завтрак/zavtrak (breakfast, not to be confused with завтра/zavtra/tomorrow) out at a cafe as usual; this time back at Respublika bookshop/store in Tverskaya because I was hunting for some 'designer' presents.

Couldn't resist ordering the English breakfast which - as you can see - was eggs, bacon, steak and (kidney) beans. It also came with beer as standard (which, despite being English, I turned down.). 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

getting in with the in-crowd

Feeling v. pleased with myself for managing to blag into the biennale opening. Just marched up to security and said the artist Susan Hiller had invited me. This was - in its way - a complete truth. At the end of her talk, I asked the artist if she could tell my where her work was being exhibited.  This is because there is absolutely no information on the biennale website about things like that (no programme of events either; its all a guessing game, to the extent that on opening night the whole of the ArtPlay area was full of very posh, very lost, looking people asking plaintive directions.)

To which she replied (and I quote) 'you should come to the opening, it's tonight.' So I did. And before I knew it the nice woman organiser was apologising for the lack of me having an actual ticket, and shepherding us to the front of the queue.

the 4th

The 4th Moscow Contemporary Art Biennale has crept up from behind, or rather, everything is happening very suddenly without much warning. It turns out that ArtPlay where I work, is one of the major exhibition sponsors; that really famous (and fabulous) artists are speaking in this very building one after another; and that the next door building - which was a complete wreck until yesterday - has been finished practically overnight and now houses some amazing contemporary art, both international and Russian. And will do so until 30th October 2011.

Thus, it came to pass that I found out the day before that Issac Julien, Susan Hiller and Rebecca Horn were all down to give talks right here (along with many others). An amazing treat.

Photo of Issac Julien introducing Ten Thousand Waves at BHSAD, Moscow. Susan Hiller is showing Witness (2000) and Rebecca Horn Moon Mirror Journey (2011) at the Biennale.

In the дом of the new leaf

Back in Moscow, and now this flat also smelling of apples - both the heaps that L gave me from her dacha (that time of year when everyone is desperately passing their spare fruit on) - and the single, beautifully formed version that came from the very small apple tree on the balcony of my London flat. So, spot the difference.


I realise that I have been quite grumpy since I got back to Moscow. In fact, my best friend G recently noted a longer term trend; that whilst the first volume of A Year in Moscow was positively funny, this quality has been much reduced in the second.

So I am aiming to make this the last complaining post, at least for a while. It's just that I had to fly back to London from Domodedovo (pretty much just for a day). And for the first time, our departure lounge was gate 3. I have seen other people attempting to use this gate before and have laughed a little. But now, my turn to experience the weirdness of a departure lounge in a major international airport that 1.) is tiny, 2.) has its exit gate stuffed in the corner, 3.) is already a cafe and 4.) had had all its chairs and 'normal' tables removed, so that neither cafe customers nor plane about-to-boarders can sit down. Presumably 4.) being the solution to the impossible crowding caused - when everyone arrives - by 1.), 2.) and 3.).

Okay, no more moaning....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

the look of fresh pine

The park is currently in the beginnings of a make-over with the derelict rides and attractions being stripped out and - from the look of it - 'hipsters' being invited in. Work is being funded by the City government and Roman Abramovich, with one of his lieutenants Sergey Kapkov put in charge of the renovations. So there is a new outdoor cinema (where I watched some of the park's security guards - in full uniform - calmly try and jemmy open the storage shed, which could be seen to contain much useful stuff); a beach restaurant (with an actual beach); wi-fi everywhere; new stylish seating areas and many, many new espresso bars. The overall look is planks/boxes of stripped pine, so it is no surprise that Strelka Institute have been involved - they brought this look to Moscow.

If you want to be reminded of the summer, then see Gorky Park's new 'beach' as well as other kind-of-beaches around Moscow via this RT YouTube clip 

Monday, 12 September 2011

wash out

Spent much of sunday getting very wet in Gorky Park, at Design Act - billed as a design festival and exhibition, but washed out almost completely. Making the market stalls and furniture out of cardboard was probably a bad idea (and presenting a lecture where power cables + damp meant my laptop gave off electric shocks whenever you touched it was interesting to say the least) .

feeling english (sort of)

Damp with both drizzling and torrential rain most of the weekend which, together with the Last Night of the Proms and the first autumn Radio 4 episode of the News Quiz (series 75), seemed to bring out my englishness; evidenced by an unexpectedly strong urge for boiled eggs, soldiers with marmite and a proper cup of tea.

At the same time, I made compote and took a first stab at pickling my own cucumbers. So clearly developing a hybrid personal culture based, in embarrassing fashion, on simplistic and stereotypical food habits. And all the while feeling a bit hemmed in by ex-pat life (what do you do when your connection other other people is only because you speak the same language?)

Friday, 9 September 2011


Managed to bash into something sharp sticking out of the wall, swerving to avoid a drunken woman asleep on my flat stairs, minor injury but oww! As my friends know I am pretty clumsy anyway so have bumped and grazed myself across many of the world's greatest cities.  But Moscow is definitely hazardous - I have also torn my skirt twice, on a broken metal gutter and a  badly finished window sill.

Which has got me back to a subject we have talked about a lot  recently;  that nobody here thinks it is the job of governments or other organisations - public or private - to make life easier for people.  Unlike that linking of welfare and state (at least historically) in England, the state here is only about keeping order, not often a particularly caring business. So whether in the design of processes, objects, or places, little or no thought is applied to enabling the comfort or ease of ordinary people.

And I have been wondering if this explains something about the (to me)  passive attitude towards those who act without consideration in public - for example, pushing in front of an elderly person on the metro, or driving their cars dangerously fast. Nobody seems to get angry. It is as if, just as with the state, there is no expectation that people should behave considerately to others ( although of course lots of people behave very well, with generosity and kindness of spirit).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

september sunday

And then Sunday. I remember early September weekends from last year - very quiet, surprisingly little traffic on the Sadovaya (Garden) Ring, which is usually jammed packed. Everyone who can is out of the city and at their dacha or abroad, escaping before the school holidays are over. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

ugly, ugly, ugly

V also deliberately took me on different routes to and from his dacha. On the way there we saw endless new high-rise apartment building (both on Moscow's outskirts and around the nearby 'satellite' city) being constructed and piled together in almost exactly Soviet-era industrial building fashion - save for some trivial gimmickry on the facades.  On the way back (thankfully after dark) we passed dozens of enclaves for the new Russians; estates of disneyland housing surrounded by tall ugly walls like you would have around a prison, enlivened - which is certainly not the right word - only by the occasional pastiche old-style gatehouse with its big fat gates and guard huts. Ugh.

strawberries and bullets

V took me to visit his dacha nearby, and again I was honoured to be embraced into the huge welcome, warmth and sociality of his family and friends, as we did what is clearly the usual dacha thing of sitting around the kitchen table for hours, talking, eating and drinking. Lovely.

This particular dacha plot is quite overgrown, in amongst beautiful tall conifers. V's childhood memories are of having strawberry rows to cultivate, and finding - only a small level below the surface - endless bullet casings and even a hand grenade and other fragments of that terrifying and central world war two battle. Ideal treasure for a small boy.

memorials and weddings

I feel like I am letting V down, because of course I spent most of my time photographing not the serious monuments and churches he was showing me, but the people all around. The memorial park was just stuffed with wedding parties parking huge white limousines next to battered tanks, tottering around in high heels and shiny suits with bottles of champagne and lining up on turn to have their pictures taken.

This of course, relates to a strong and important tradition of remembering - and honouring - past sacrifices. But to me, now, it just looked like a simple excuse for a party in a weird location.


On the way we stopped at one of the war memorial parks that mark the line where the German army was stopped in their march on Moscow during the Second World War.  Which makes you aware just how close they got to the city, before the Russians - with a huge cost of life - fought them back.  

a little history

As part of his very generous, ongoing project to educate me, I have made another day trip with V, this time to New Jerusalem, a monastery near Istra on the Moscow outskirts. destroyed by the German army on their retreat from Moscow in the Second World War,  it is still in the process of restoration.

Yet even under scaffolding it is an extraordinary place. Modelled in plan pretty accurately on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in (old) Jerusalem  - by Patriach Nikon from the 1650s - in three dimensions it starts to do all sorts of weird things, like putting a multitude of huge sash windows in the major dome, oh, and also having two major domes rather than just the standard one. There are some baroque additions that add to this wayward flavour, but the original design was part of Nikon's deliberate intention to make Russia the third Rome and the centre of global Christian belief, leading to religious reforms and the ensuing schism from what we now call the Old Believers.  

Friday, 2 September 2011

back again

Arrived back late last night to a summer storm, with rolling thunder and sheet lightening bright enough to make you wince. Very pleased to be back, but also already painfully missing my London life. So very confusing; I obviously want the impossible, to be in two places at once (well three actually, since my daughter is in Sydney).