Thursday, 2 December 2010

Mighty Moscow, 25 - 30 November 2010

I arrived in Moscow a little after 8am.  I bidded Vladimir farewell and stepped off the train and began the hunt for the metro station.  There was a sign pointing towards the metro but it made no sense as I ended up walking into a public toilet!  Perhaps it was a misreading of the Cyrillic on my part.  I ended up walking into the cold outdoors and was unfortunately surprised that the snow that was in Saint Petersburg had not yet arrived in Moscow.  I eventually found the metro station and bought myself a card.  The politeness of the people selling tickets is no different from Petersburg, you ask for one, they take a deep breath, snatch money off you and throw your change and ticket back at you.  Swiping my ticket at the barrier, I entered the metro station and was confronted with a huge mass of people trying to squeeze down two escalators.  I suppose turning up in the capital city during rush hour was not such a great idea.  I took the initiative to stand back and wait for the crowd to die down before attempting to descend into the depths of the metro.  I was joined by two middle aged Russian gentlemen who had so much gold in their mouths I couldn't believe.  They looked a little shifty and asked if I was American, to which I replied no, I am English.  One of them pointed down the escalator and drew his finger across his throat, now that can mean either; if I go down there, they will kill me or if I go down there, there are so many people I will be suffocated to death.  I hoped it was the later one.  We spent the next hour and half together, I shared chocolate and they sang Tom Jones to me.  The crowd eventually died down to a controllable amount at around 9.30 and we all made our way down to the metro.

The Moscow metro stations are the most beautiful and one of the busiest networks in the world. It opened in 1935 and interestingly the Soviet Union consulted the London Underground, the world's oldest underground network, for help prior to construction.  Each station has it's own theme and my favourite station I visited was the Ploshchad Revolyutsii which has bronze figures of Soviet soldiers wielding guns, farmers and other people. 

Having reached the bottom of the escalator it was again time to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet and find out where I needed to go to get to the hostel.  Luckily the Godzilla Hostel website had extremely good instructions how to get there, so it wasn't difficult to get there at all.  The only problem with the metro system I can find is that the temperature difference between outside and inside, going from -15 to +30 can't be that good for you.  I arrived at the hostel and checked in, my first impression of the hostel was that it seemed more like a hotel than a hostel and I was concerned that there wasn't going to be any communal atmosphere where you can meet anybody else.

After checking in I went in search for the Moscow Arts Theatre, one of the most important things for me to see whilst in Moscow, however my first attempt failed.  I found the Constantin Stanislavski Theatre, the Tchaikovsky concert hall and a Moscow theatre but not the Moscow Arts Theatre.  Having failed, I went back to the hostel all disappointed.

That evening I sat at the computer doing the Facebook thing and I could hear a recognisable voice coming from the TV room.  It was Ash, a girl that I had met briefly in Tallinn, literally her and her boyfriend had arrived as I was leaving.  Having entered the TV room, several other people were there, Eugenie (German/Russian) and Eric (French) and we all got on quite well.  We ended getting a pizza delivered from the local Pizza Hut and watched Hot Tub Time Machine, which I personally found hilarious but I'm not sure if the others found as funny.  I also enjoyed a bit of banter with Eric after he corrected me on my pronunciation of Auviour I proceeded to corrected him every time he said a word beginning with 'H' like hotel, he was saying 'otel.  After I made the effort to ridicule him for this he was saying hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhotel.  Later that week we had a hilarious conversation on how France donated 80% and Germany donated 20% to create the English language.  I love the Anglo Franco relationship!

On my second day in Moscow, I walked around with Ash and I got my first real taste of Moscow. I walked into Red Square for the first time, however it felt a little smaller than I imagined.  Perhaps it was due to the monstrosity of an ice rink they had erected in the centre of the square.  Red square is still an amazing place to be, so much history in such a small place.  Just to stand there and think about those extensive military parades to show the Soviet might.  Lenin's embalmed body remains there in his mausoleum, I never got to go and pay my respects because of the limited opening times and huge queues.  Lenin, a great man with great ideals, shame they never worked!

St Basil's Cathedral sits at the end of Red Square and is truly another amazing piece of architecture.  It's actually a cathedral made up of different churches.  This cathedrals marks the geographic centre of the city. 

Tomb of Unknown Soldier
As we walked into the Alexander Gardens we were confronted by lots of police shutting off an area around a car which had been deserted in the middle.  I have no idea how it got down there.  The police had sniffer dogs and what I presume was a bomb disposal squad.  Moscow is still in a high state of alert after the terrorist attacks on the metro system earlier this year.  Having been on the metro and witnessed how busy and packed it is, I can't imagine how frightening it must have been to all those people trying to escape.  We walked back through later that day and it was all cleared up.  The gardens also has the tomb of the unknown soldier which is guarded by soldiers all day.

On our walk round we got to Arbat Street which is supposedly the Bohemian centre and one of the oldest streets of Moscow.  As the guide wrote, it's a tourist trap, and I can confirm that.  So many souvenir shops and people trying to herd you inside.  However, there were some musician playing down the street and it had a nice atmosphere.  I suppose, like many things, the street would be better visited in summer!

On my third day in Moscow I did absolutely nothing.  Sometimes walking around sightseeing becomes to much to handle, especially in the bitterness of winter.  So Ash, Eugenie and I went to an Italian restaurant and spent the afternoon eating yet another pizza and drinking warm alcoholic drink before heading back to the hostel where we said goodbye to Ash as she headed up to Saint Petersburg.  That evening I met Brigid who is also doing the Trans-Mongolian, I was so relived that I wasn't the only crazy person to do the journey in winter!

Also at the hostel was Karen who was an American lady who was desperately trying to find work anywhere in the world.  She had just been working on elections in Uzbekistan I believe.  She is also second cousin to Tina Dico, a highly successful Danish Singer Songwriter.  I had many a conversation with her about many subjects during my time at the hostel, I just hope she managed to get back to the US for her to get a job.

On the Sunday I visited the market with Eugenie and it was so cold we had to keep stopping for tea every 30 minutes.  The market was enourmous and full of souvenirs and second hand stalls where you could by an arsenal of weapons functioning or non functioning.  Eugenie bought a few souvenirs to take back to her family.  I would have liked to have done the same, but it's very difficult to buy things at the beginning of your trip as you have to got through the ordeal of finding a post office, trying to get the person to understand and waiting an anxious three months for your parcel to arrive back at home.

After walking around the ice cold market for a few hours we decided to leave as I wanted to go and see Stanislavski's house before it closed.  Eugenie left me on the metro and headed back to the hostel as she was recovering from a cough and cold so wanted to get back in the warm.  I arrived at Constantin Stanislavski's house as it was turning dark. It was an unremarkable house from the outside and I wasn't sure I had the right address or not.  I walked around the back of the building and attempted to pull the door open.  It did open, next I was hoping that I wasn't walking in on some families home.  I was relieved to see a photo of Stanislavski hanging on the wall in the entrance.

Stanislavski's desk, the beginning of great things
As I wrote part of my dissertation on Stanislavski and the Moscow Arts Theatre, seeing his house and his study where he wrote 'An Actor Prepares' and 'My Life in Art' was truly amazing.  These books have been the actors' bible ever since he took the time to experiment with psychological acting and create certain processes for actors to get a more naturalistic performance.  Stanislavski's 'system' was then later taken and evolved into American 'method acting' most people have heard about. It seems strange to think how much influence this one man from Russia had on the world of theatre and film.  He totally radicalised the contemporaneous acting style of Russia which was melodramtic.

His house was more like a mansion, he had is very own studio where he worked with his actors, which at the time I visited was playing host to a concert so I couldn't go in, but I peeked through the doorway.  His study also turned into an ad-hoc performance space.  During Stanislavski's final years, he moved his bedroom next to his study and would write continuously from the moment he woke up.  There was a photo of Edward Gordon Craig's set that he built for Stanislavski and Nemorich-Danchenko for their production of Hamlet, however, the part on the English translation had a line through it so I believe it had been taken away.  This was a shame, because I wrote about this very production in my dissertation and would have like to have seen the original photo. 

Having read his books, studying him for years and using some of his techniques, it was great to see the family side of his life, as we do sometimes forget that great figures also had families and we just see them for their work.  He dedicated the upper floor to his children.  The Soviet Union ordered the house to be made into a museum for Stanislavski and his work. 

On my last day in Moscow I had my last chance to visit the Moscow Arts Theatre and Museum.  I was walking around with a Scottish guy called Will and went into the theatre box office and I had a wonderful time laughing with the lady there as neither of us understood each other.  I asked in very broken Russian whether there were any tickets for that evening's performance, to which she replied Niet!  I was absolutely devastated as that would have been my only chance to have seen the inside of the theatre which Stanislavski and Nemorich-Danchenko founded.  I then asked about the Moscow Arts Theatre Museum and was pointed in the direction of the museum entrance.  We made our way to the museum but there was no one there apart from a security guard who pointed us back to the box office, we were confused but saw that the ticket office was open from 2-7pm so we thought we'd go back and try later.  Around 3pm we visited the Museum again and was politely informed by another security guard that it was closed.  I cannot tell you how disappointed I was not to be able to go into the theatre and the museum.  This was number one on my list way way above the Kremlin, St Basils etc.  I took solace in the view that Moscow isn't that far away from the UK and that I can come back in the future, preferably in the summer!

My time in Moscow saw me make my first two mistakes.  One: getting shaving foam instead of deodorant. Two: Getting 15,000 Rubles out of the cash machine instead of 1,500!  The shaving foam is fine but I'm not sure if I can actually spend 15,000 Rubles before I leave Russia!!

My last night at Godzilla's Hostel was spent with the people I had met whilst there.  We took a trip to the local shop and enjoyed a feast.  I also began learning some more Russian and can now say Salad, Cucumber, Pepper, Cabbage!  It was quite a funny story, we were in a book shop hunting for a picture translation book where you can just point to a picture to indicate what you want.  I hunted around the whole shop and found the only similar thing, which had pictures and the Russian word on the back.  I thought that's great.  I got back to the hostel and showed Eugenie what I had bought and she looked confused, I asked her why and she replied, the word doesn't reflect the picture on the front.  It turned out to be a game of some sort. One day I may learn more words but I'm quickly running out of time in Russia!

I woke up early on the day of departure so I could get packed, return my sheets and towel, chill out a bit and say goodbye to people before heading to the craziness of Russian train stations for my carriage to Yekaterinburg.  My train was leaving at 12:40 and I left at 11 to give me a good margin of error just in case anything goes wrong.  Nothing did go wrong and I took my last metro ride in Moscow and boarded train 092 heading to Yekaterinburg.

No comments:

Post a Comment