Rift in Russia - Part 2 - Moscow / by Felix Mortimer

 

The journey back to Moscow was just as long, this time quiet. Rain started. It continued and came down in sheets over cars in the traffic jam. We watched the lighting join the thunder in the sky. Sasha recorded the sound on a small recorder. 

Returning to Moscow. We went to a hostel for a night, seeing English people for the first time in days. In Moscow for a moment. We went to rooftop pizza place and enjoyed a fresh balmy breeze, a view of the city and the smell of wet concrete. An early night. An early morning. We walked in the heat to the air bnb, via an 'English breakfast' of spliced frankfurter, arriving at the air bnb and being shown round by a Babushka wearing grey. Ill-shapen rooms. A wooden giraffe. A piano. Trinkets. A fully-stocked bathroom. A fully-stocked store cupboard. Placards with pictures of children. The entrance smelt like smoking covered with air conditioner and dried on carpet cleaner. The babushka left us and we relaxed walking over to Gorky Park; filled with teenagers, skaters, promotional kiosks for 'Vans' and 'Lays', clay being made, other ceramics. A debate about the use of skateboarding. 

 Statue of Christopher Columbus / Peter the Great in Gorky Park. 

Statue of Christopher Columbus / Peter the Great in Gorky Park. 

Dan joined us early in the morning. He was locked out. An alarm I set for 7am jolted me up and I nudged his sleeping presence up from outside the front door. We walked with Dan through Gorky Park, stopped for a drink. Enjoying the relaxing sunshine, looked at the Garage, discussed his contract and work commitments. After three beers we offered him a job. The next day we met Sasha, he took us to a boat, Andre and Yuri were there and we are cheap Greek food meeting an actor who had performed one-man versions of successful films. Friends with Yuri. Sasha and Yura arranged for us to meet Tatyana the events manager of an imposing modernist building. We dashed through the german expressionist, austere renderings of Lenin and Stalin and emerged at a bankers summer party. 

The next day met Yuri at Stanislavski's house, emerging from the uber we saw Nina, an actor who works with Le Cirque, she took us into the suburban Moscow house, we almost had enough (200 roubles each). Assorted props everywhere and a large security guard instructed us to wear blue overshoes. Up the stairs we saw Stanislavski's parlour, where premiers of Tchaikovsky opera's were performed, a small room with a large leather chair, and a small stage dominated by columns. We visited his study, a handle that students touched for good luck, pictures of Chekhov. Yuri's friend, the choreographer, joined us, Yuri appeared kissing the walls of the house, dashing into the parlour and posing with Stanislavsky.

We started walking to another theatre which was closed. We walked through Red Square, I suggested going for coffee, Yuri told me the story of the Kremlin and him and Sasha's meeting. We dawdled outside a traditional looking restaurant complete with hanging baskets, Yuri had briefly mentioned previously that Ukrainian vodka was his favourite. He took us inside and women in traditional dress sat us outside (slightly outside the range of the wifi). We sat, conversation became stilted, best when deflected into Yuri's hands, he told us about his early years in Italy and pointed out our proximity to the Kremlin and Putin's office, and the irony of a Ukrainian restaurant within spitting distance. We struggled with the menu, he recommended 'dim sum' style dumplings, the rest of the menu looked inedible, when the waitress came he seemed to disregard our order and he spoke to her at length. Quite quickly six bottles of Vodka appeared, along with a warm drink of distilled bread, sweet and brown. Then lots of fish and bread and dumplings. We drank the vodka to a series of toasts all intertwined with bites of food. Conversation became more animated, stretched at its limits. The choreographer went to sit elsewhere (in the wifi), she was dancing that evening. The vodka not chemically but smooth and sweet. We walked for a long time after this, the sun beating down on us, we walked past a memorial of flowers for the leader of opposition to Putin who had been killed by the president of Chechnya, We talked about comparisons with Northern Island. The sun hot in the sky, the roads wide. Darting in between torn up roads, maintained by workers in bucket hats. 

We found our way to Strelka (the design and architecture foundation, who were tearing up the roads), we sat in the air conditioned lounge in a stupor, quietly on our phones drinking fizzy water. Quickly returned to the flat. Then back to Strelka where now acerbic swedish architect was conducting a talk in a lilting americanised accent. Strelka, late, to eat, we sit again downstairs in the air conditioning, awkward again. Yuri disappeared, he comes down grinning, we are sat upstairs, a beautiful view of a sunset. I speak to Elena from the GRAD gallery about Suzdal, Moscow and everything in between.

The sun set slowly in the sky, casting a purple haze over proceedings and the awkward date next to us. I have a long conversation with Alex who has joined us from London about his simple life philosophy. Caesar Salads were eaten. We talked briefly about the project, it has become six towering freight containers. Yuri makes a speech celebrating their desire to find partners from the west, to begin of something. I meet a girl from Kazakstan, she laughs as I tell her about Suzdal and tells me it is in the Russian character to do everything at the last minute.

We leave. Everyone is drunk. Sasha misses his uber. We stumble around. He had never called an uber. We have a day inside doing nothing, preparing slides for our lecture that evening. 

In the evening we make our way to Stelka again in a cab that goes the wrong way. We wait for a bit and then make our way upstairs. We are in a large loft, overlooking the cathedral and the Kremlin. A tall blonde woman is taking photographs with a disinterested air. A thin man with a bright white tee shirt and dyed blonde hair greets us warmly. We sit down, another woman is setting up some decks. We sit for a while and then we look at the view through the drizzle. Sasha is here. We sit until 8 O’Clock. No one has arrived. We mentally prepare ourselves. We are ushered into a back room, on the side there are bottles of whisky from a sponsor. We sit down on camping chairs in a circle and the conversation proceeds largely in English. Yuri enters with a man called Sasha, who is wearing a bright white adidas tracksuit, each of us get up and greet him with a fleeting full bodied handshake; conversation about time, space and Jungian philosophy. We drink the whisky and listen as he tells us about a performance of a Pushkin Opera which he made for a rich group of people with 3D mapping. We are then ushered back into the rooftop space and this time it is filled with people; young muscovite types who work in branding, marketing and account management for alcohol brands. 

We bumble into our presentation, with a lot of faff to broadcast it to an expectant mass online. Showing pictures of our productions and speaking in the staccato english which we have adapted for our russian audience. They look on. We abruptly sit down and take some questions. There appeared to be a genuine interest from many, even those that didn’t understand us our bizarre inflections. Yuri speaks about the piece 'Palace of Youth' that the Russians made in London. We stick around after the party as Sasha’s girlfriend Aglaya was Djing. 

People started going onto the terrace, to see the view, the rain continues. Stealing indoors through the busy kitchen back to the main space. A black woman sits on a bench waiting. People emerge out of backrooms. We decide to go, Yuri introduces me to two girls from St. Petersburg. We left. 

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We tried to call an uber; chasing it's ghost around the building without no wifi. We go to Strelka for another drink. We sat and talked over several pints. Sasha and Aglaya joined us for mackeral croquettes. We left. We wandered around this island in the middle of the large river. We stumbled into a club; a grotesque version of an american bar called 'Rolling Stone'. Filled with people. 

We left. We cued, met some people from Cyprus. Lost Dan. Found Dan. Went to a club called Gipsy. Lost Dan. Danced. Found Dan outside absorbed with some older men in suits on a terrace. We walked out. A woman fell flat on her face. We got in a taxi. It cost £18. 

We didn’t do anything the next day. 

Despite saying to Misha we would go cycling. 

We woke up. We headed to a market on the outskirts of Moscow. We ended up in what looked like an unused location for Clockwork Orange. We are stuck outside a hotel, venturing in to ask for a market. Gold. Lavish carpets. Porters with no teeth. They had no idea where the market was. We wandered towards an onion domed building. Not like the ones we had seen in Moscow, some cracked and broken, stylistically clashing with it's self. Crossing a draw bridge we entered a courtyard which felt like a forgotten theme park. One of the turrets was pumping out bass music, there was no one else in sight. We went up the stairs to be met by women who in chorus chimed ‘Good Morning’ when they heard our alien voices. We span round and went back down the steps. 

We walked further into the square, which looked like the child catchers lair, visiting a ceramics shops and learning about milk glaze. Expressing some feigned interest in a fledgling buisness, nothing else was open. Further in eight stalls unfurling, collections of ephemera including Lenin figurines, nuts, bolts, paintings, assorted Russian dolls, further in stalls started to set up. The further we ventured, across wooden gantries ending in soviet era pistols, down stone steps adorned with furry hats, through boulevards of saccharine paintings, we walked for half an hour and on each side we'd wade through silk dresses and wooden toys, fridge magnets of Putin. There seemed to be more traders than tourists. A man sat hunched over a stall arranging a group of 12 bolts. A stall with machine guns hanging from chains. Josh bought a chess set. Dan a hat. I bought a small paint-it-yourself Russian doll. We eat ribs then play chess. Then decide to dare ourselves to find the source of the still booming music. 

Out from a toilet emerged two large women, their chests covered in tattoos, the returned to a room which only contained a dj and one enthusiastic dancer, a man lying on a sofa in a suit. We retreated down the stairs, not quite as fast as before. We return to the ballardian GREAT WESTERN HOTEL and Misha bounded in on a folding bicycle. After some kerfuffle about an uber, we made for a park full of pavilions dedicated to Russian industry: agriculture, textiles, sheep, and places like Ukraine and Belarus. It also houses the science museum and many empty buildings.

We make for the cycle hire, Dan quaking in his boots, (it would later transpire that his last excursion on a bike had ended in a broken wrist and 15 years of cycle phobia.)

Dan valiantly got on the bike. He made it down a straight path, turned with his feet and back again, we all dashed into the park. Past a rocket. Past gold sculptures of workers and grain. Dilapidated buildings. We rode down the lake as it started raining. Misha passing us horseradish vodka he had made. We went to a Japanese garden, it cost 200 roubles. We walked around it and into a pagoda. The rain intensified and we raced through the park, to get to a georgian restaurant, past a cavernous glass space and the closed botanical garden. Soaked we reached a Georgian restaurant. Misha took charge of ordering and soon, we dried off and ate dough parcels of meat and soup, and bread with egg or cheese integrated into it’s structure. We dashed home. Very tired. Cancelled a drinks plan and prepared for our final day. Dan left at 1am. We have a last breakfast with the russians and are rushed to the train tation by Yuri fresh from a 72 hour rave.