Moscow 04 p4

Decorative Arts museum and Vernissage

Awesome clock outside a theater
Saturday September 4

A museum I did not want to miss was the Museum of Decorative Arts. Walking there from the Tsvetnoi Bulvar station I came across a very exciting clock on the fa├žade of a theatre. It has 12 little doors in different designs, and every hour the cock crows then the appropriate door opens to reveal a scene from a fairytale. My knack with timing made me walk in front of it just as the clock struck 10, so I was able to witness the mechanism in motion. There were other people there, actually waiting for the hour to turn.

The museum is free and a treasure trove of Russian crafts and costumes...

Then I went to Sportivnaya yet again, where both my friends were waiting for me. We first went to Lubyanka so they could check out that bookstore, only for them to get stopped on the road for passport control. Oh the irony of two Armenians getting stopped because they look vaguely Chechen and let go thanks to their Lebanese passport. As for me, nothing was asked of me, even though the last three suicide terrorists had been women. Go figure.

We walked from Lubyanka to the Red Square (passing a St George church on the way), which was closed again; it was supposed to be the city's 857th anniversary with celebrations and all, but they all got cancelled due to the terrible events of that week.

We had a closer look at the Cathedral of Kazan. The original was another casualty of Stalinian thinking: he found it blocked the way of military parades, as did the Gate of Resurrection, which contained a chapel that was very venerated because the tsar stopped there to pray before entering the Red Square. Up in smoke they went, before being rebuilt recently.

That day a delegation all dressed in black was visiting it. One of the women was eating an ice cream while leaning thoughtfully on the pink wall, a great photo composition.

The Resurrection Gate and its little chapel
I had been waiting for what was coming up next for weeks: the "vernissage" at Ismailovo Park, a market for handicrafts. The place is huge and its setting delightful, like some amusement park dedicated to traditional crafts. We were quickly overdosing on matrioshkas (the nesting dolls, which actually originated in a Japanese Fukuruma doll imported in the late 19th century), lacquered boxes, birch bark (beresta) crafts and red-gold-black tableware, but they were of such beautiful and fine work, seriously underpriced.

Wondering where to start
Bear out-performing our splits

V bought a painting from a nice old man he took a liking to, and after having his picture taken with him we all shook hands with him. He noticed my hands were like ice and proceeded to explain to the boys I needed to be warmed up – and as we clearly did not speak Russian, he did that by showing them.

Amidst my booty of the day were two items that all three of us got so excited with we each took one: a gusly (we naturally heard "bruce lee"), wonderful little musical instrument that allows you to insert sheets underneath its strings to play, so you can enjoy it even if you're musically inept like me; and an ingenious wooden toy that has five carved chickens perched around a kind of paddle, with a ball hanging underneath it. When you move the paddle in such a way that the ball describes a circle underneath it, the five chickens start pecking the wood noisily in turn. I can't begin to describe how awesome this thing is!

That evening while I was counting my treasures, an aged traveler noticed my journal-keeping and sat with me to share many things. He was Ukrainian but lived in Sidney. He told me a few stories of his childhood before the war in a small town near Kiev. I was particularly touched by what he said of his father, who lovingly cared for the trees he planted in their garden, one apple tree in particular. "When the apple was ripe you held it to the sun and you could see the seeds inside. You did not eat the apple: you bit into it, and then let the flesh flow into your mouth."
He explained that the gusly, along with a small flute called sapilka and the drum, were the three instruments that traditionally accompanied country weddings 400 hundred years ago and more. A little later he returned with a handful of two different kinds of the tiniest apples I had ever seen, one the size of a cherry, the other even smaller, both of which he said were referred to as "paradise apples" (raiskaya yabloko, if I heard him right). They were sour and delicious. The small ones, he said, are used in cooking and they make other things with them such as jam or wine. And of course liqueur, by putting apples at the bottom of a bottle and covering them with sugar, then letting them ferment. The conversation made me feel grateful and sad. Everybody has a story worth telling.