Category Archives: Experiences

The Case For Aliens (Exercises in Loneliness-XI)

If we take George Mikes’s title literally and add to it the fact that each of us is a rather solitary figure in this world, then each of us is an alien. Either an Englishman in New York, or a Russian in Manchester, we depend on ourselves and always get back to ourselves as a point of reference.

Then another George comes to mind – that’s Orwell with his “some animals more equal than other animals”. By extension, some aliens are more equal than other aliens, provided they constitute the majority – of population, religion, sexual orientation etc.

At this carrefour originates a seeming necessity to be less alien than other aliens, and this necessity sometimes can yield unexpected results.

It was probably in 2010 that I went into a Tesco Express, one of many in Manchester city centre. The girl who was working at the till belonged to the Afro-Caribbean community and was absolutely lovely – except a typically Caribbean accent. She was trying to give me change and asked for a two pence coin. I was distracted so I didn’t hear her at first. She repeated, and I genuinely couldn’t understand. Again she said it, this time I made it out and gave the coin. She laughed:

– You’re foreign, that’s why you don’t understand my accent.

– No, – I replied, – I’m British.

I didn’t mean to be nasty, and I wasn’t really offended. After all, I was foreign in Manchester once. I suppose the whole conversation was a matter of fact, at least as far as I was concerned. It was strange and funny yet that we – both actually foreign in one way or another – engaged in guessing the “degree” of alienness, one of us ultimately losing.

Now, on my recent visit to Edinburgh I went into one of many souvenir shops . An owner with a recognisable European accent was selling ladies’ kilts to a group of Italian donne interpreted by an 11-year-old girl. “I can tell you, ladies”, he was confidently telling them in a high voice, “almost all souvenir shops here are taken by the Indians, there are only 5 or 6 authentic shops”. His was evidently one of the authentic shops.

I was attended to next. I think for the best of his business I shall omit the reference to the exact country of his origin. The point, however, is that he was as much alien to Scotland as the Indians (or Pakistani). And yet – be it due to skin colour or merely parroting what he might hear in pubs and from other vendors – he considers himself superior to people who at any rate have been associated with the UK for longer than his country of origin.

The stories are quite similar, as you can see. People assume superiority over their neighbour by assuming that the neighbour is alien. Greeks did the same when they called the rest of the world barbarians. They couldn’t understand that rather imperfect language, but it was the barbarians’ fault anyway. And as if the realisation of one’s solitary existence and loneliness in this world was not enough, there comes, sooner or later, the understanding that there are aliens who are more equal.

Building Up On Humour

To add to the funny moments here is a rather blurry photograph (sorry!) taken at the Antique Salon in October 2012. When wandering through the splendid displays I caught the shelf where an antique bookend stood. To indicate the way it should be used, the owner of the stand, not thinking much, stuffed a DVD there instead of a book. Maybe he’d forgotten to bring a book, but so better for our story. So it came out that two warriors used their shields to support a DVD with a TV miniseries “Likvidatsia” (Liquidation) starring the world-known Russian actor Vladimir Mashkov. This was a serialised story of the crime fighting in the Ukraine in the post-war period, and Mashkov’s character was a chief of criminal investigations.

Just another proof of how popular this series has been since 2007 – the DVD even graced the Antique Salon.

Mashkov-Gotsman at the 33rd Antique Salon in Moscow


Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Turns 100

Google celebrates the centenary of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts with a delicate Doodle

The impressive building of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Volkhonka St., across the road from the restored Christ the Saviour Cathedral, was solemnly opened on May 31 (June 13), 1912. The video below from the Museum’s collection shows the Emperor Nicholas II visiting the museum and being greeted by Ivan Tsvetaev, the founder of the Museum and the father of the famous Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva.

The initial collection was based on the copies of antique sculptures from the Moscow State University, which are now exhibited in the halls of the Ancient Art Department. As for paintings, especially the invaluable pieces by Gaugin, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, etc, these had been transferred from St. Petersburg museums. Still more works had either been bought or donated by private collectors, which tradition continues to this day. Only recently two private collectors donated to the Pushkin Museum a painting by Dirk Hals, The Merry Company (which apparently is a version of an earlier eponymous work by his elder brother, Frank), and the only surviving work of a little-known German artist, Adam Elias Borni who painted a trompe-l’oeil artwork featuring his colleague, another German painter Dietrich. The latter work was bought in Austria, and art historians may now be able to identify other works by Borni.

I don’t remember the first ever time I visited the Pushkin Museum, although I told you how once I spent nearly 6 hours in the cold February weather to attend an exhibition by Claude Monet. The space is the biggest problem the museum will have to address in the next 6 years. There is a special 2018 Agenda that seeks to add more buildings around the original edifice. I bet many citizens and visitors would give a lot not stop queueing outside the building for hours on end.

I do, however, remember all exhibitions that I attended, which should be a good illustration to the painstaking effort of the museum and its long-term director Prof. Irina Antonova to foster partnership between the Pushkin Museum and other world art depositories. Apart from Claude Monet in 2002, I visited (in no particular order):

Pablo Picasso, A Girl on the Ball (PMFA, Moscow)

Moscow-Berlin, photographs and paintings (1996; a review in Kommersant in Russian)
Paul Cezanne (1999)
USSR and USA in photographs (~1999)
World Museums, the partners of the Pushkin Museum (1998; the exhibit included paintings by Dali and Chagall);
an exhibition of artwork, mainly sculpture, by the wonderful Italian actress and beautiful woman, Gina Lollobrigida (?)

Speaking of different items in the collection, there is a full-size copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David, and a small hall containing quite a few paintings by Picasso, mainly from his Blue and Pink periods. I secretly took a photo of A Girl on the Ball in 2001 – it was a film camera, not digital, printed on Kodak, so it’s great it actually survived to this day.

In March this year I did a small video of the Pushkin Museum in late evening, so you can see a kind of Gothic close-up of an impressive Classicist building erected after the design by R. Klein and V. Shukhov. And bearing in mind that even Google joined the celebrations by adding a special Google Doodle, we wish the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts many happy returns (and maybe another couple of Turners in the collection)!

Related posts:

William Blake exhibition at the Pushkin Museum
Russia-Italy Year: Giotto, French Impressionsts, and Andrei Rublev
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, a Qype review
Exhibition of Caravaggio Paintings Comes to Moscow
Queue Up for Art: The National Passion of Russians
L’Amour pour l’Art: Why Do We Visit the Great Artistic Shrines?

Spring Is Descending Upon Moscow

It is almost strange to say this, but spring finally seems to be coming to Moscow. The winter has been hesitant to start, and then it did not want to end. Even now the snow is still on the ground, although the temperature is rising.

As we did not change the clocks last year, the past winter has been anything but “easy” for me and many Muscovites, in fact. We left the house in darkness and before we finished work it had been dark once again. I decidedly took a positive look at things: I thought that I was – for once! – sharing the lives of medieval people whose history I used to study. They got up in darkness and finished work in the dark. The Middle Ages descended on my native city.

Gustav Klimt, Frauenbildnis

And then in mid-January the Renaissance began. As with the historic Renaissance, we first enjoy the poetry of Dante Alighieri that bridged the Middle Ages with the new epoch; and as soon as the snow is gone and the sunshine is in full rage, we enter the time of Petrarch and Boccaccio, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. And towards August we quietly move to the period of Late Renaissance and Baroque, when Nature shows us the tints of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, and Velazquez. This is an overly simplified look at the change of seasons through the prism of art epochs, of course.

I’d like to think that I have survived the medieval blues. The proverb I shared yesterday is actually very true. Last week I realised that with all the work and diverse and sundry things I had to do I did not laugh as much as I’d normally do. That meant that I was too busy, indeed. And while it’s wonderful, and I don’t complain in the slightest, it’s better when I laugh, not merely smile. I indulged in a selection of terribly funny, if silly, citations from ladies’ novels (as they are published in Russian), and on Saturday I had to satisfy an overwhelming crave for McFlurry. I had two ice-creams.

So, let’s start the Spring season with this delicate painting by Gustav Klimt, and let us enjoy all the Life’s gifts and godsends in whatever shape they come.

Vietnamese Sights: Turquoise Orchids and Dragon Fruits

Blue orchids, Vietnam

A friend of mine has recently been to Vietnam. In the Soviet times you could see quite a lot of Vietnamese in Moscow, and even in my district there lived several families. I don’t know how the perestroika affected them, if they had grown old here, or had left for their native country. But Russians continue to like the idea of visiting Vietnam, and same goes for India and Cuba. My uncle who worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent around 15 years in total living and working in India and Cuba, but as far as I know he’d never been to Vietnam.


Prenn Waterfall, Vietnam

So, a friend of mine and her husband went to the country and had the most wonderful two weeks of relaxing, visiting historic and tourist sites, swimming in the ocean, eating and sleeping. The usual stuff people do when they go on a holiday.

Yesterday she shared with us a wonderful species of fruit called Dragon Fruit. It’s actual name is Pitaya, and it comes as a wonderful fuscia-colour creation in the shape of a rugby ball, with yellow “fish fins”. It peels off easily, revealing the fresh white “flesh” with black seeds. It is similar to a kiwi fruit in taste, although without the kiwi’s tangy aftertaste. I experienced a real childhood glee, especially as I wondered how uncanny was my choice of yarn for a pullover I made years ago. It was pink and yellow, too. A Dragon Fruit pullover, you may say.

And out of all photos I particularly liked the blue orchids that apparently only grow at the premises of a Buddhist monastery, and the Prenn Waterfall in Da Lat.

Indulging in Latin on the Italian Terraferma

I recently went to the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow, and one of the exhibitions currently on display is a show of photographs made with an iPhone by a renowned Russian TV broadcaster, Svetlana Konegen. Born and bred in Saint Petersburg, Svetlana eventually moved to Moscow where she landed a spot on TV with her own programme. I gather that she must now be dividing her time between Moscow and Italy, the latter being the native country of her husband.

Franco Moroni, Antonio Geusa, Svetlana Konegen (image: RDH)

The exhibition is titled “Nome. Cose. Citta” (Names. Things. Cities) and follows several Italian towns where Svetlana travelled. She wonders as to exactly what attracts Russians to Italy, concluding that this is a kind of Paradise Regained, especially as far as the artists are concerned. Nikolai Gogol spent years in Rome, Alexander Ivanov travelled throughout Italy, Joseph Brodsky is buried in Venice. It is possible, Svetlana says, that in the process of exploring this country the object and subject constantly swap places: a Russian is constructed by Italy in the same way – and probably at the same time – as Italy is constructed by a Russian. Yet, as far as art is concerned, thanks to modern day technology it has become a truly intergral part of life, so just as David Hockney paints with his iPhone, Svetlana, a classical linguist, has used the same gadget to compose an illustrated diary of fleeting memories, images, and experiences that imbue the Epicurean, Senecan, Renaissance, and 1960s themes. The exhibition is curated by Antonio Geusa and is on display until February 26, 2012.

The photo that captivated me the most was the one to which I couldn’t possibly fail to respond. Having been trained in Medieval and Early Modern History, I first noticed the Latin words. It never registered with me before that Svetlana studied Classical Philology, so at the museum I was simply “impressed”. Later when I realised it was not particularly strange I still marvelled at the fact that there was a place for a Latin dictionary in Svetlana’s life (we obviously have to assume that it is Svetlana, not her husband or somebody else, who was reading this dictionary). What is more peculiar, however, is that this must be a 19th c. Russian edition, or its 20th c. reprint, to judge by the typeface and the Russian language style that was in use before the Revolution.

Frankly, out of all photographs this is probably the most telling and prompting to be contemplated. With a state-of-the-art iPhone in her hand, a 21st century woman is touring through Italy with a 19th c. Russian edition of Latin dictionary. It is as if she is trying to revive the journey of the 19th c. Russians to pay an hommage to the birthplace of the Western imperial culture, the Western law, and much of the art and philosophy. The photo is somehow in sync with the recent years’ fascination with the Russian 19th c., Dostoyevsky, nobility, monarchy, and so on. Whereas the English Grand Tour was mostly about visiting Italy, Russians seem to have always been slightly more attracted to Germany, primarily due to the Universities, so the Russian Grand Tour had its modifications. Yet Italy fascinated the Russians, even though not all were particularly impressed, say, Alexander Blok.

And the page with the words on it is also strangely telling, once you start thinking about it. The words are “consectatio” (pursuit), “consectatrix” (a pursuing female), “consectio” (dismembering), “consector” (to continuously pursue), “consecutio” (consequence), “consenesco” (to grow old). While both Russia and Italy age, Russians are still pursuing Italy as the epitome of Paradise on Earth. Some brave the Venetian vapours, others the Milanese rains, still others bask in the Napolitan sun or chill out in the chic environment of Sardinia, all for the chance to have the glory and luxury of the former Empire to rub off on them.

Et in consectatione eius consenescent?

How to Lose a Pancake (And Remember Marcel Proust)


In a tiny kitchen in our flat my mother and I have just lost a small pancake, or a pikelet.

My mother was turning over the pikelets in the frying pan when this little fellow slipped off a spatula and disappeared without a trace.

I doubt we shall ever find it.

I also doubt that our cats have eaten it because at the moment of its falling down they were engorging on their own food.

I share this with you because this is my most bizarre cooking experience to date. It also prompted me to think of various names to our rescuing efforts:

A Pancake Quest.

Du côté de chez crêpe (as in Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann), or A Pancake’s Way.

A Pancake Lost.

A Missing Pancake.

A Pancake Disappeared.

Disappearing Pancakes. 

Stray Pancakes. 

A la recherche des crêpes perdues, or Rememberance of Pancakes Past

To tell you the truth, I find rather inexplicable this perfect match of pancakes with the title of Marcel Proust’s seminal novel, or its parts. Of course, should we find our pikelet, A Pancake Lost would become A Pancake Regained in a homage to John Milton, though, as I said, I doubt this will be the case. 

This reminded me of an exercise Paul McKenna recommends doing to solve the issues people have with handling money without any negative or excessive feelings. You jot down everything you’ve ever heard or thought about money (or love, or anything else), then you substitute it with the word ‘shovel’ and see, if  statements still ring true. Or, in our exercise we shall substitute the words “money” and “love” for “pancake”.

Let’s try? 

The love of pancakes is the root of all evil. 

Pancakes don’t grow on trees. 

You have to work hard to have pancakes. 

I feel guilty because I have more pancakes than my parents ever did. 

Money causes pancakes. 

Money is pancakes. 

If I were really rich, I would be a pancake. 

I don’t believe in pancakes. 

Pancakes never last. 

Pancakes always cause you pain. 

Pancake is a bitch. 

I could never do a pancake again. 

I’m not worth a pancake.

The Discobolus on Yekaterinburg Underground


An ordinary metro station…
…and the guy by the wall

Back in 2007 I told a tearful story of how I was trying to take a picture of Myron’s Discobolus at the British Museum in London. To refresh or to find out, read The Story of Discobolus. 

But no, they didn’t move. They were totally oblivious to the fact that the British Museum is one of London’s principal attractions and is visited by thousands of people each day who may fancy taking a picture of Discobolus. I put it down to the special feelings they shared. Me, I was alone, and my despair was beyond imagination.

Now wait! The citizens of Yekaterinburg don’t even have to go to the British Museum to see (and photograph) the famous guy. They simply have to go to Dynamo metro station. How cool is that?

There stands the famous Discobolus, on a high pedestal, available to snap from any imaginable angle. As there were no vases or staircases around (unlike the British Museum), I opted for a photosession presenting the athlete at his physical best. And I make no apology for actually indulging in the process.

I believe this was my revanche for the 2007 fiasco.


Citius, Altius, Fortius! (Faster, Higher, Stronger!)

Queue Up For Art: The National Passion of Russians

It is widely believed that queueing is the British national passion. On numerous occasions we have been told that the British love making an orderly queue at the every opportunity. But there is one field where the Russians can easily compete with the Brits, and that’s standing in a museum queue.
Back in February 2002 the exhibition of Claude Monet was about to close at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. On the very last day I and my late husband went there. It was very cold, and the queue was extending for some 600 metres. We did actually queue up, and eventually we got in. I do remember the Rouen Cathedral series, but frankly I was more astonished by the fact that I managed the queue and got into the museum than by the invaluable canvasses.

Every time there is a must-see exhibition at the Pushkin Museum there is a massive queue of people standing outside, waiting to get in. No weather conditions seem to influence the choice: when it comes to art, we Russians can withstand frost and wind, heat and rain.

This time it is the final days of the exhibition dedicated to Christian Dior and his work (in Russian). And below is the photo of the endless queue of people who ditch the precautions and get tanned in the direct sunlight, while waiting to see the miracle of haute couture of the 20th c.
If you ask me, I would gladly see one of my main museums introducing a scheme similar to the one that was used at the National Gallery in 2004. The museum couldn’t cope with the influx of visitors who wanted to see Raphael. So people were issued with tickets obliging them to visit the exhibition at a specific time, neither earlier nor later. And, in my opinion, it would be a grand solution for the Pushkin Museum, too. But for now the Muscovites are being as British as they can and queue up.

The French Art of Living (And My Favourite Beds)

Just to carry on for a bit more en Français, these are the photo I took during the Moscow Design Week in October 2010. While I’m not sure I’d love to sleep on the silk bedsheets every single night, to find myself in such bedroom one day will be wonderful.

Generally, I love four-poster beds and always wanted to sleep in one. In 2009 I had my dream fulfilled rather accidentally during a two-day retreat to Wales with my friend. We were staying at the hotel that is owned by a couple one part of which is a transgender person. To the same part of Wales a couple of gay Irish ladies eloped in the 18th century. Here they settled and even created a vibrant literary salon. I wonder to this day if at the hotel they also assumed something about us because eventually we paid a discount rate for the room. While in the car on the way there, a friend asked me in a worried voice:

Bodidris Hall - Four-Poster Bed– Oh, they only had one room free, so we’ll be sleeping in the same bed, it’s a four-poster bed, are you okay with it?

– Of course, I am OKAY with a four-poster bed, I’ve always wanted to sleep in one!!!

You can tell I probably wouldn’t care exactly who’d be sleeping in that bed, as long as I could be in it. The funny thing, though, was that above the bed a huge candelabra hung. My friend and I joked that sleeping, let alone doing something in that bed, wasn’t altogether safe after all.