22 January 2016

One day

I love my visits to Moscow for the crazy things that Victor dreams up to do as much as for anything else.  On the train from Didcot to Reading, from where I would take the coach to Heathrow, an e-mail came in from him telling me that he had a great idea about how we should spend the evening.  I was to go straight from the airport to the Tretyakov Gallery, where there was an exhibition of paintings by Valentin Serov, and meet him there.  It closed at eight, so I would have to hurry. Victor told me that I should take the metro to Oktyaberskaya and walk from there. With my luggage, in the rush hour, with icy pavements, and in temperatures of at least -10, that sounded like quite an undertaking.

I emerged from the metro station and tried to orientate myself. I knew that one of the big roads beside it was Leninskiy Prospekt, but that wasn't what I wanted. A sudden dearth of street signs lost me a few minutes, and when I did orientate myself I found I had to cross about 16 lanes of road. However I could now see bridge ahead of me so I knew the Moscow River must be there, and I was heading the right way.

I thought it wise to confirm where I was going by asking a passerby. In fact I asked two, choosing (as Natalia had advised me on my previous visit) a couple in their twenties who, happily, responded to my opening question by saying that yes, they did speak English. They also told me that the building that I was heading for was indeed the right one, but warned me that there was a two-hour queue to get in.

There was indeed a long queue, I walked along it the main entrance where Victor had told me I should meet him. Sure enough I heard him call my name, and he sent a security man to move the crowd barrier and let me in. I put my backpack through the scanning machine, and marvelled at how I had bypassed what I now know to be one of the five longest queues seen in post-Soviet Russia.

Once inside, of course, there was the small matter of queueing for the cloakroom. In winter in Russia, no one goes anywhere without bulky items that need to be checked in. So we joined the queue, which was making remarkably slow progress, until some alternative idea occurred to Victor and he left me to keep our place while he pursued his inspiration. It turned out that he had decided that a bank of left luggage lockers provided a solution. No matter that the only vacant ones had no keys.

No matter either, it seemed, that my backpack was an extremely tight fit. Indeed, in pushing it in, I drew blood from the base of one of my fingernails. That's a part of the body which bleeds copiously, and there was nothing I could do to stem the flow. Fortuitously (or, as I know now, As Russians might say "accidentally", the same word having several English equivalents), a couple of paramedics happened past and Victor recruited their assistance. They took me straight to a side room, which appeared to be an office and their break room as well as being available for medical treatment. Victor reassuringly left me in their hands, although we had established that they spoke no English, and one of them proceeded to bandage my finger. It was not a simple matter of applying a sticking plaster: it involved an antiseptic wipe, a meter of gauze, and quite a lot of sticky tape. The end result certainly looked impressive. I was instructed to leave it in place for десять часа - 10 hours. That much I could understand. «Десять?» I responded in surprise, and he confirmed that I was right. (When I experimentally took it off later that evening, I realised how right he was.)

Victor reappeared, and suggested that we might go for refreshments. On the basis of the information that he had previously given me, I thought the exhibition was about to close but assumed (as I have to when I'm with him) that he knew what was going on. So we went to the cafe, and I ordered a cappuccino which turned out to be made with UHT milk. The less said about that the better.

Finally we got into the exhibition. About the first picture facing us on entering the main room is the artist's most famous work, Girl with Peaches.

Serov was primarily a portrait painter; clearly he painted everybody who mattered in turn-of-the-century Russia. There were royals and nobles all over the place. There were also some other celebrities - I was pleased to recognise a portrait of Rimsky-Korsakov. In addition, were some nice landscapes. However the exhibition was heaving with people which made it more than a little difficult to see some of the pictures, and despite notices prohibiting photography many of them had their mobile phones out.

The report into the death of Alexander Litvinenko had appeared only a few days before I left for Moscow. Many people had helpfully advised me not to accept cups of tea from strangers. Just outside the exit, the army had set up a field kitchen to cater for the people in the two-hour queue in freezing temperatures. Victor grabbed a cup of tea for each of us. I didn't have a geiger counter about my person, so I risked it. Very nice, and extremely welcome, it was too.

The exhibition was originally due to close that weekend. It had apparently got off to a slow start until one VV Putin had visited it and given it a certain cachet. The gallery director had announced on the evening I went there they would close the doors as normal but keep the gallery open all night if necessary to allow those who had got in to see the exhibition. Shortly afterwards, it was extended for another week. Going to events with Victor is not only exciting, but also a privilege. Only afterwards did I fully appreciate how lucky I was to be able to see the most popular art exhibition in modern Russia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always loved that painting. Freakishly, the girl on it looks exactly like my friend's daughter! You're lucky to be able to visit Moscow and Russia so often, and having a guide like Victor is a great advantage!