Thursday, 30 January 2014

Nicholas Roerich

Before coming to Russia I read a short story by H P Lovecraft called ‘The Mountains of Madness’. In it he mentioned strange paintings by a man named Roerich. One of the great things about the internet is you can look up this sort of obscure and miscellaneous reference straight away, before you have forgotten about it.

I checked out a small collection of Roerich’s paintings soon after arriving in Moscow at the Museum of Oriental Art and had thought that was all there was on display in this city – many of his works being in the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York. That is, until the other day when I was going through my guidebook looking for new places to go and realized that the Rerikh Museum in in the guidebook index was actually another transliteration of the more usual Roerich.

Nicholas Roerich
One could be forgiven for thinking Nicholas Roerich was the original New Age guy. Possessing a powerful intellect (he is said to have spoken 30 languages, whereas I can still barely manage to get a cappuccino with my Russian), he was an excellent artist; an explorer, spending much time on archaeological expeditions in the Himalayas; and something of a mystic.

Roerich was born in Saint Petersburg in 1874. Originally involved in post-Revolution arts, he rapidly grew disillusioned with the authoritarianism and repression of the Bolsheviks and emigrated to Finland. Soon after he moved to London, and then to the United States, where he lived in New York. Over several years in the 1920s and 30s he spent a considerable amount of time in Tibet, India and other parts of Asia. In 1929 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today I visited this really quite excellent museum/gallery. If you ever intend opening a New Age shop in downtown San Francisco (maybe sell a few crystals and tarot cards), parts of this place might provide some helpful d├ęcor hints.    

Roerich Museum
The museum is located not far from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in Mylinki Znamensky. Take the Metro to Crackpotskaya (OK, it’s really Kropotkinskaya, but I'm not Roerich and I need some way of remembering these awkward Russian names). Please be aware that there are signs with maps on the main road outside the station which show the museum in the wrong location (it is not on Bolshoi Znamensky).

My apologies for the image quality today –they are scanned from a book and some prints I bought in the small museum shop. My only complaint (apart from the hefty 650 rouble admission fee) is that you are not allowed to take photos in the museum. Elderly ladies diligently watch to make darned sure you don’t. I was in the museum on my own and it was quite disconcerting to be followed from the entrance of a room to its exit, only to be met at the door by the guardian of the next room, and the next, and the next...

Some examples of Roerich's art

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The other market at Izmaylovo

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the tacky (but interesting) tourist market at Izmaylovo, accessed from Partizanskaya Station. One stop along is an even more enjoyable market. It is, at any rate, more useful for an expat needing groceries rather than another couple of matryoshka dolls.

The train briefly emerges from its burrow after Patizanskaya and the next station - Izmaylovskaya - is one of the few above ground. On the southern side it adjoins Izmaylova Park. To the north are the ubiquitous towering and somewhat shabby Moscow apartment blocks. But also on this side, a couple of hundred metres east, is a shopping mall.

Unlike the glitzy mega-malls that have sprung up around Moscow, this humble place is more like an open air market moved indoors (speaking of open air markets, I am annoyed that our local weekend street market at Novoslobodskaya seems to have fallen victim to the city government's campaign to close them - it has disappeared since New Year).

The lower floor consists of grocery stalls - you name it, they've got it (though not vegemite or ovaltine - that would be asking too much) - at very reasonable prices. It also smells of spice. Nice.

Upstairs is the clothing section. When we arrived my wife bought one of those full length down-filled coats popular with women here for 8000 roubles (about $250 Aus) - about 2/3rds the price in regular Moscow shops. If you are living in Moscow and haven't seen this place, its worth taking the train and a shopping bag for an afternoon out.

A short aside - it has become quite cold the past week or so, dropping down to about minus 15 to 20. Prior to that we had something of an extended autumn. I can tell when its getting really cold as the Moscow women stop wearing down coats and dust off their furs. Anti-fur activism has made no impact whatsoever here.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Christmas 2014

Today, January 7, is Christmas in Russia. It also happens to be my birthday. Which means that my birthday has always fallen on a public holiday during my stay in Russia. Nice, as it means Wendy and I have the day off. 

Winter has been very mild so far this year. Some snow fell in mid-December, but since then the temperatures have been hovering around zero and the footpaths are generally clear of snow and ice. There is also green grass visible in some parks. 

The adults had their fun over New Year, and Christmas is about kids. I don’t typically see many children about in Moscow, but they were much in evidence when we went walking this morning. I think they head off to visit babochka (granny) and see kids shows at the theatres. Unlike Christmas in Australia, most of the shops and cafes seemed to be open. 

From what I can see, Muscovites are not unaware that Christmas in most of Europe is celebrated on 25 December, so they do tend to double dip the celebrations a bit. 

Moscow is pretty quiet this time of the year. Many people have left the city and, for a couple of weeks, it is almost always possible to get a seat on the Metro.

Whoever is in charge of such things has decided that this year many of the trees in the parks in central Moscow would be covered in blue and white fairy lights. An extraordinary amount of effort has gone in to these decorations. The park at Kitai Gorad, through which we walk to on the way to work, is lit up like a fairyland – as it is dark until about 10am at the moment, these lights are a welcome delight on what might otherwise often be a gloomy morning trudge. 

Christmas lights in Kitai Gorad park
Many more Christmas markets, somewhat similar to the Weihnachtmarkts of Germany & Austria, have also been introduced. A welcome touch, though they need to work on their Gluhwein – it’s more like soft drink.

Pushkin Square

More decorations in Pushkin Square
When too much is never enough

Christmas lights in Revolution Square, opposite the Bolshoi Theatre (centre). TSUM (with the sign on the right) is an expensive department store.

Christmas shop window display in TSUM