Meeting people around Moscow: a day in Peredelkino

17 Aug

I remember a poem, I think it was by Bertolt Brecht, although I wasn’t able to find it again that ended with the sentence “und manchmal trifft man auch auf Menschen”  and sometimes we also or still encounter people. What makes “people” be so worth mentioning that apart from our day-to-day interactions we choose to register their presence as especially humane?

There are people you meet once and their memory remains in your mind, having its own texture and depth, the memory of their character remains embeded in your mind, like a stone and yet, at the same time a vulnerable presence. I for one, even remember their hurt or their agitation, or their rare moments of doubt or timidity.

When I meet them, even if the memory fades when confronted with the actual presence and spend a few hours with such a person, or with them and their spouses (come to think of it all these people I know are happilly married- althoug not always in their first marriage- and at least in most cases somewhat older than I am, at least in their thirties), I feel an urge to cry. But please don’t imagine pathetic lamenting tears (which one should try to keep away from) it’s more like my soul getting a clean up and needing to evacuate the dirt.

I try to keep close to such people and not dissapoint them all too much. Due to my lack of self-confidence I might do small errors that are open to their judgement, but I think the only way to lose such a person is betrayal. It’s a very tough word that except in cheap movies is not really being used today. And it’s too bad it’s not: we are saying good-bye to calling humane things what they are and this makes it harder to accept their consequences in our lives. It also makes it harder to build our character accordingly since we do not know what to avoid. What I have learned to understand is that betrayal is never done by one person to another person this is just the visilble component of the process and the one that hurts the other. In fact the first act of betrayal is against yourself, when you decide to betray what you hold to be true for that what you think you should hold to be true. After that betraying those who you were fortunate enough to be able to love (because the ability to love, as we have learned for Erich Fromm, is not a given fact) is only a matter of time. Since your own subjective, yet very serious perception of truth and therefore of love and everything that derives from it, is no longer your referance point for your actions. You do not betray a person, you betray the truth and if the person stays with the truth you betray the person as well. Regardeless of your history, since your history is no longer of relevance in your disballance. This is all a very painful and confusing process that should be avoided.

On my third day in Moscow I went to Peredelkino, a writers’ village about 20 km away from the Kreml built in the thirties on the initiative of Maxim Gorki. I went there because I always wanted to see what a writers’ village looks like: wouldn’t you?

My guidebook said it is a “weit-laufiges Dorf”, meaning you have to walk a lot to find the houses. I already expected it not to be a village at all and after spending a day there, I still think it’s not really one. The whole village is made up of small houses, called datchas ( datcha seems to be the Russian word for home). The distances between them would allow to go for long periods of time without seeing your neighbours, but if you would go for a walk or intend a visit this was always possible. Today, additionally to the new houses one finds the houses of the newly rich, as well as not very tall apartment buildings.

The train station is quite far away and if you ask passer-byes for Peredelkino they will send you to Novo Peredelkino, where you can find country town life of little literary interest. So, if you want to get there you have to be more specific: I asked for Boris Pastarnak’s house. Everybody knew where it was.


It also gives a good picture of what the houses must have looked like in the times of the Soviet Union. Nazim Hikmet who seems to have been on my mind the first days of my stay in Moscow, also chose to spend the first years of his exile in the Soviet Union here (as far as my modest internet research could unearth).

After visiting Pasternak’s house walking around Peredilkino I realized I need a destination for my excursion not end up being just a walk in the forest. So I followed a series of signs.  Image

I had never heard neither a song nor a poem by Bulat Okutschawa and I did not know who he was. My intuition and the positive connotation of the word “museum” in my mind made me follow these signs for more than half an hour to find out where they’ll lead me.

You could hear guitar music from far away and when I entered the garden all the signs pointed to, I encoutered two women talking and obviously avoiding to sit and listen to the concert. They asked me if I’m here for the museum and I said yes. By the time we got to the third question it is obvious that I didn’t know what museum I was there for and they asked me what I am doing here if I never read Bulat Okutschawa. I told them I just followed the signs. Dissapointment. And of course my own discomfort: what was I doing there? i mean I couldh’ve returned to Moscow spent one more afternoon at the Tretyakow Gallery instead of spending my little time looking for museums in the forest. Yet, I was already there and there was no possibility to vanish in shame and confusion. So, I decided to spend my time there and enjoy it.

They went on about the concert: I noticed the woman speaking to me had that unique form of character that is decisive and friendly but very truthful at the same time, blond dyed hair and the strong built of older Russian women, yet with the delicacy of a very feminine nature. Her friend invited me to sit down for the concert, as they had an artist as a guest for the afternoon. The woman with the blond dyed hair said, this wasn’t an artist. And in a low voice, rather a prostitute. (It might be my lack of Russian, but the word seemed quite clear and is the same in Russian, as in any other language). I sat down and noticed what my discussion partner meant. It was indeed not really a hearty folk singer, more like an agitated band wanting some attention (two men were also involved playing the guitar).

After half an hour at the concert I had had enough and decided to return to the two women still standing. They asked me if I wanted to see the museum, i said yes, of course. They asked me about Romania and told me Bulat’s poems had been translated in Soviet times. They had been very happy about it. The stress on Soviet was definetely positive and I wondered how many people in the Romanian art scene have a good memory of the socialist time, since probably their voices wouldn’t be heard in our cultural industry today.

A student, who spoke good English, was called and she showed me around the house. We entered a datcha that had three rooms, two of them were open to the public as a museum and the other one looked like a Romanian living room in the country side: a dusty old carpet and a huge old TV set, an old wooden table wirh old wooden chairs, a big old sofa, resembling a dusty divan and everything covered in unidentifiable, apparently unneccessary stuff.

We went to Bulat’s working room. The first thing one notices is a collection of small bells hanging from the ceiling. A friend once brought him one and as he kept telling everyone what a wonderful gift this was, he kept receiving them. At one point he hung them from the ceiling in front of the window, so when the wind would pass through the room it would ring all the bells, calling his friends to him.

On the wall there were pictures of his most beloved faces: including his wife. And now I realized and was told that the blond woman, who had received me was his widow. As he had used his guitar to accompany his poems, they would organize concerts every saturday in his memory.

I looked at the portrait of his wife when she was young and smiled: her face was shining with the feeling of triumph, triumph was embeded in her traits, in her being. She was beautiful with the beauty only a woman, who loves and has the certainty that she is loved back can have. There is no doubt, no insecurity, no hidden thought. Just triumph. Some confuse it with arrogance and others envy it or cheaply try to imitate it, the make up industry makes money out of it. But very few know how it exists and the faithfulness it takes to live it. (here the German word Treue would be more appropriate).

So, if you are ever in Perdelkino, bring a bell to the museum house of Bulat Okutschawa.
They’ll hang it and it will ring when they open the windows.


Moscow memories- part two a city walk and a visit to a cemetery

6 Aug

As I am writing now, I have already returned to my cosy room in Berlin, Charlottenburg and have spent a day trying to get back to my everyday life here. So, the pase of this writing will not be as alert, yet I promise I will try to keep you entertained.
After writing the last blog entry I went out for a walk on the near by Leninski Propeskt. The first of surpizing elements someone brought up in Romania would find in the moscovite urban space.

In Bucharest and other central and eastern European cities, there are no more boulevards named after famous communist party leaders. In Moscow there has been no such break with the past. Of course, this is not the case when speaking of Stalin, who had been already been condemned during the socialist time.

Another of the things that stroke me was the size of monuments, let us look at what I mean:

To the left of the pciture we see a figure flying into the sky, having a human form, but as tall a any of the skyscrapers near by. The statue honors Yuri Gagarin, the famous Soviet cosmonaut. I went up close and tried to take a picture of him:

The cold war falic symbolism of competing to conquere outer space becomes quite apparent in this image, but even if we look at him in a more favorable light…

Anyway a bit amazed by the dimensions of urban space symbolic monuments, I returned to my room in the guest house to enjoy the view of a sunset over Moscow… and get ready for the next day, as I had important things to do.

I woke up quite late the next morning and unlike a proper tourist did not feel guilty about it. Also unlike a proper tourist, I did not go to the Kreml and the Red Square, nor did I take the queue to see Lenin’s mausoleum.  I chose to spent my first morning in Moscow at a graveyard, namely the Novodevichy graveyard or the graveyard of the young lady to the English speaker. I went there and met a number of people who mattered to my life and had a cigarette close to their graves, for most of them enjoyed having cigarettes more than receiving flowers.

My first stop was Nazim Hikmet. Not many people know, that the Turkish poet spent his last life years in Moscow after running away from Turkey with a boat over Romania. In the English list of famous people burried in this cemetary (which of course you have to buy, unlike the Russian one) he is listed as Nazim Khikmet, poet (Turkey). He is the only one to which a country has been added.  His wish was to be burried somewhere in Anatolia without a gravestone, but as we can see not all things that happen to us depend on what we want.

He was a poet of life or to be more precise of living. As you can see from one of my favorite poems:

Living is no laughing matter:
	you must live with great seriousness
		like a squirrel, for example--
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
		I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
	you must take it seriously,
	so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
	in your white coat and safety glasses,
	you can die for people--
   even for people whose faces you've never seen,
   even though you know living
	is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees--
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don't believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

and yet at his grave I was confronted with death, not only with his death, but through his death with the death of all those of us, who love living, some of the time or most of the time.

Maybe the most beautiful thing about his grave, is that it is one of the very few, with a tree growing out of it, two flowers have been added and grow together, like in another one of his poems: He shares the grave with Vera Tulyakova (if I got her last name correctly). So here are a few pictures:

As I stood by the grave being struck by the reality of death, I almost cried (as those who know me well, know I never do) and a woman passing by asked me if he was my father. I said he was a poet. Only later did I realize that she had asked me in a Turcic language (she said baba) and not in Russian, which I tried to use to respond. I did not succeed in crying, but shortly after I left rain started to fall. My first rain in Moscow.

I originally wanted to go to Tschechov’s grave after Nazim’s but in the last moment I decided for Tolstoi. I wandered around the cemetery for quite some time (the map was terribly badly done, the grave lines were marked on the map, but not in reality so one had to count every encountered grave, just to know where one is).  And the rain had become quite heavy. I saw an old woman bowing to water a grave and was surprized at her obstinate loyalty. The drops of water from her watering can were nothing against the rain and she got wet to poor them onto the grave of someone she cherished.

I tried to find shelter and a tree saved me from getting soaking wet, as I looked down at the roots of the tree, I noticed the small grave of someone who had died in 1921. The tree that had grown from it was sheltering me now.

I couldn’t find Tolstoi’s grave, no matter how long I looked for it and decided to return to my original plan, namely Cehov. I am sure Nazim Hikmet and Anton Cehov would have gotten along, had they been contemporanies. Now they are neighbours and both receive my visits alone. Cehov died of tuberculosis that he had contacted when visiting the punishment colony Sachalin, to be close to his neediest fellows, as he put it. I never regretted spending time with one of his books and he seems to me from the little of him I have read, one of the wittiest and most beautiful souls. Here we find him with his wife.

I will spare you the details of other grave visits I made while in the cemetary. Just for the context:  One of Stalin’s wives, Nadezhda Alliluyeva-Stalin, as well as Nikita Hrutchiow and Gogol.  And a grave I really liked, but unfortunately I don’t know the owner:

So, I guess I will write my Moscow memories in a series of small episodes, so as not to bore you when reading.There is still a little to tell, so i hope you will bare with me for at least one more episode.

Memories from Moscow

26 Jul

It’s a bit weird to be writing memories, since i’v been here only for about five hours, but my impressions seem to be here to stay and i would like to cheer up Roxana and Alvaro ,  in their summercamp last days in Barcelona, and follow one of Serkan’s suggestions, he made before I went to Brazils, as well as entertain all the nice people that liked my status.

Before travelling to an Eastern European country, especially the none-Vishegrad central european ones that are more like Western Europe, I feel a bit uneasy. It’s a strange uneasiness that I never have when doing something that is new to my biography: so I must confess yesterday I was more uneasy about coming here than I was the day before I moved to Brazil wihtout personally having met almost no one from the Latin American continent beforehand. Fortunately, my flatmate consolled me saying: it’s good that u are a bit uncomfortable, you can’t release endorphine all the time.

So, I woke up at 5 am in a funny mood, went to Tegel Airport, only to notice that I had been to there every second week for the past one or two months. I know the place by heart. The airport crew was incredibly friendly and experienced. I was suprised at their reproachless professionality until I found out at the end that we should fill in a survey.

The plane landed at Vnukovo airport at shortly past 1 pm, at 2.15 we were still standing in line waiting for the passport control to give us little sheets of paper to sign that w mustn”t lose, although they have the size of an event flyer, albeit none of the design and hand in in order to exit the country. Standing in line in front of me was a middle aged German couple, or maybe they were alrady retired. I always get confused but new people I meet in Western Europe, since they look a lot younger than my Romanian childhood and youth taught me to estimate. The woman turned to me and started complaining in a gentle but sarcastic tone: we couldh’ve flown again during the time we have been waiting here. I smiled and told her: yes in Europe we forget what it is like to be using passports for every travel we make. She smiled cordially and looks for a shorter queue.

I am surpized of how fast I got into the Eastern European (forgive my essentialist use of the name of this region, I mean post-socialist compliance to bureaucracy to be more exact) reaction to the customs officer. Since th German couple had found a shorter queue I found myself behind a Spanish young man with a visa problem. Not a real one, let us say it was a mere detail. He had flown today although his visa was only given to start tomorrow. I understood there was a problem and came closer to the passport control. The woman explained to me in Russian and with the aid of a piece of paper that the visa only started tomorrow so he should wait until 12 pm and than enter the country. In doing this she pointed at the seats. The Spanish guy asked if there was nothing he could do. The answer was wait. Where I noticed my Eastern European-ness was when I heard myself reply to him: but it’s only ten hours to go. Another thing that struck me in this interaction was that I was reluctant to adress him in Spanish, language which I do have some fluncy in, but was comfortable trying my few words of Russian with the lady behind the desk. I think the reason for that was that she expected me to speak Russian, whereas he couldn’t have known that I spoke Spanish.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the guy behind and go into Moscow. Again trying my few words of Russian, I find the airexpress to go into moscow. The train is perfectly equipped (including supervision cameras) and quite expensive. You can even order an English language local newspaper, or so much i could make out of the menu, albeit i did not see anyone to order it from. The landscape going into Moscow is a mix of green landscapes, little village like villa settlements and judging by their similarity to Romanian places they probably represent the homes of the newly rich and very tall skyscraper-like appartment buildings, probably from the socialist time. I think I even had a glance of the monumental university in the south west of Moscow. But I might just have been imaging it.

I was struck by the feeling that Moscow is like Istanbul. Since you feel you are IN the city. There is a small you and a big city, that hosts you. Feeling I never have when in Berlin or Bucharest. Maybe because they are not as endless and as intense as Istanbul and Moscow.

I reached kiewskaya and tried to change to the subway circular line. I nearly didn’t notice the nice seeling paintings depicting wokrs (?) since everybody was rushing by me in such speed that I felt pressured to move in the same way. Another thing I had forgotten since my visit to Petersburg: the escalor is so fast. Looking at the people going up whilst you go done, you barely have a moment to observe their expressions and try to guess their thoughts. Thank God I wasn’t there during rush hour. All in all a quite confusing experience.

After getting lost while trying to change the line, I was forced to go down the same escalator. I saw a guy, who while holding the edge of the light skirt of the beautiful blond woman in front of him is filming her naked behind while the escalor brought them closer to the outside. She seemed to be noticing sth was going on but was utterly unaware what it was that was being done behind her back. Or, if she was she didn’t show it.

I came to the guesthouse and checked in. 10 min after I had checked in, had a cigarette on the balcony and put it out in the cofeee cup plate, since there was no ashtray and i did not want to throw it down 13 stories, I tried to turn on the computer. It first spoke to me in Russian, which I found understandable, when it turned to Chinese (the Windows interface) and French (the Google website) I gave up on trying to get what was happening. I just wanted to take a shower when I heard a knock on my door.

A nice, quite strongly built and short red haired woman adresses me bluntly: dieduschka, which means little girl. After the experience in Turkey where even my close friends mothers sarted talking to me with “Siz” during the last two years, (Siz is the Turkish equivalent of the polite You) I was surprized of being made young again by the given context. She explained that I was given the wrong room and I should move out and wait on the corridor. This I could understand from her repeating a number and looking through the flat for traces of my inhabitance. Eventually, she threw away my cigarette but, the whole 13 stories down and cleaned the plate, than returning to the corridor to point at a seat I should take, until I will ve given the room, I am writing this from now.

Hello world!

26 Jul

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