Maybe Mark’s story of the previous night was more truthful than I suspected. Grandma seemed unlikely cheery this morning and couldn’t stop feeding me breakfast. Russian delicacies came and went and after eating three times as much as I normally do for breakfast I finally could convince her that I had had enough.
When strolling through town, a young man, maybe still a boy, came up to me. About 17, short hair and neatly, although simply, dressed. White shirt and light trousers. He wore a cap. Without much of a reason, when almost passing me by on an almost empty street, he stopped in front of me and, first in Russian, started telling me that he was a soldier and that he had almost no money and if I could spare him some.
Overcome by his sad face and big puppy eyes, I gave him a couple of Rubles. What startled me was that this guy looked really clean and ‘nice’. Maybe a bit undernourished, but healthy and strong. And, apparently, still there was a need to beg.
Well, Stalin, a megalomaniac as always, decided he needed something big in his city. Possibly to make the city stand out more from St. Petersburg, who knows.Anyway, he decided that building nine huge neo-gothic apartment blocks would do the trick. You decide. Anywhere you look, in Moscow, you can see one or more of these ‘nine sisters’ as they where called. They’re big and, indeed, in a way, impressive. To top of his requirements, he also had one built in Warsaw. The funny thing is that, from a distance, they all look alike. But when you take a closer look, they are definitely very different.
It was time to visit some museums in Moscow. Basically, only two are of interest: The Pushkin museum and the Tretyakov gallery. The Pushkin is stuffed with all time classic from East and West and, although their collection is very impressive, it is said that in the basement an even larger collection of supposedly lost-in-war paintings, statues and other art is stored.
Meanwhile Brueghel, Ruysdael, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin, Picasso, Chagall, Kandinsky, Miro, Michelangelo, DeGoya, Rodin, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Manet, Degas, van Gog and others adorn its walls.
The Tretyakov is huge. Okay, not as huge as the Hermitage maybe, but you can stroll around for hours and still discover paintings you haven’t seen before. Here, too, the walls are adorned with Russian and international masters. In high season, it gets so crowded here that you even have to wait in line up to several hours to actually get a ticket to get in!
A third museum that is worth visiting, is the International Roerich center. Roerich was, well, a strange guy who traveled to Tibet and staid there for a large part of his life, painting the Himalayas and other things of his everyday life. Over the years, the International Roerich movement has grown into something of a world peace organization and a lot of his art can be found online at the website of the Roerich museum in New York.
So what are my first impressions of Russia? One is that how Russians do business depends on who they do business with. Is it with a friend, then they will go at lengths to get what their friend needs or wants. Is it with unknowns, they simply don’t care and will try to get away as easy as possible. Likely, this is a left over from communist regime, where no stimulus was obtained by doing your job right, or to the best of your abilities, where as doing your job right, for a friend, would mean a higher status with that friend and, consecutively, more benefit for you in the long run.
Another thing related to the former communist regime is how women tend to dress. In one word: Gorgeous! It seems this is since, during communist regime, it was very much discouraged to be different from others. Basically, if you where too different, you where punished. It’s a fact that teenagers everywhere want to distinguish themselves from their peers and, more importantly, from their elders. For years, here in Russia they didn’t have the possibility and now, they’re back with a vengeance. With success I might add! It is surprising how good Russian girls know how to dress and how good they look. Considering that almost all Russian woman over 35 are ugly as hell, this leaves one wandering.
In addition, when you tried to distinguish yourself from your peers, in the past, you had to do that subtly. Now, with the less-than-subtle way of distinguishing themselves from others, results in Russians always posing for a picture. Not like stiff puppets, but more like fashion models. They are very much aware that this is a small moment in which they can shine, and so they do. That, combined with their awesome dress, makes summer an interesting time to visit Russia!
After visiting the three museums I decided my dose of culture had reached its max for the day and went for an ice cream in the park next to the Kremlin. In addition to the ice cream I had a, what turned out to be lukewarm, Pepsi and minutes after sitting down, two older guys, roughly 65-70, sat down at the same table with me. They where continuously arguing with each other (in Russian). After some time they asked me something and of course it became clear immediately that I was not, in fact, Russian.
We started talking (or actually they tried to get a conversation going), and for some reason to conversation slowly switched to art and money. They worked at the Pushkin museum (where I had been earlier that same day) as restorers and confirmed that so many paintings where still stored away that no one knew of, but for which there was no money to restore them. In addition, because of the current situation, they hadn’t been paid in months and they both had daughters to take care of too! One guy was drinking a beer when joining the table, clearly getting drunk, the other was enjoying a Fanta. The one with the beer had hair that looked like Einstein’s, going off in all directions. He did have a much pointier face, was foaming at the corners of his mouth and was wearing alien-eyes sunglasses. The other one, short hair, glasses, was much more quiet and seemed to be a bit taken back by his friend’s pro-activeness.
The two Russians gave me a set of cards with Paintings from the Pushkin museum. On one of the cards, Einstein wrote something like: “To Dutch-Russian friendship!”, after which the other told me that only one word is the same in Russian as it is in Dutch, the word “stool” (more or less that exact word in English, meaning the exact same thing in Dutch and Russian). Then, as true Russians, having given me something, they wanted something in return. Money. I made it clear that I didn’t feel like giving them money but would be happy to give them something to drink, which they politely declined. After some bickering hence and forth, the guy with the glasses stood up to leave and said his goodbyes. Einstein just kept on going, becoming more and more pushy, where as his friend clearly was becoming embarrassed. I decided to give the guy 100 Rubles and be rid of him, but he just kept on going. Then, when his friend came back to pick him up, saying that Einstein was drunk because, at his age, alcohol is more difficult to take in, Einstein firmly gave him a punch in the face. They left, I laughed, said my goodbyes to Igor and Vasily, and decided I had had quite a nice show and some cards I could use sending a message home with, for only $4.
Something I actually picked up from Vasily was that due to the many regulation changes in Russia over the past years, ‘common’ Russians had a hard time understanding the situation they where currently in, both politically and socially. During Gorbatchev, they had the most freedom they could enjoy. Now, they might have more freedom, they just don’t have the money to express their freedom.
Already, circles of hookers where presenting themselves to the public at around 7pm as I started walking back to Mark’s. There, we said our goodbyes and agreed to mail as soon as Mark would have email. I left and started off for the train station I would leave from.