Palace to the people

Yesterday our St. Petersburg guide told us many stories about Russian history and politics as we toured the city and the Hermitage. Unlike our guide in Moscow who ended such stories with the rhetoric flourish, “so that is a story, so who knows,” she let them stand. Like facts. Yet numerous times throughout the day several of us would look at one another with a knowing glance (“knowing glance” here stands in… Read More

The Ballet of the Umbrellas and the Dance of the Red Scarf in St. Petersburg

Rain in Saint Petersburg teaches you the art of the nimble umbrella on a crowded street on the way to the great Hermitage. Each city seems to have its own special way of walking its streets. Do you go high, go sideways , go low with your own umbrella as a stream of umbrellas comes toward you like a regiment of Peter the Great’s cavalry…at this marshy place where he said “Build… Read More

Wish Fulfillment

Two days ago, I sat in the spot where, it can be claimed with some justification, modern theatre was born: the main auditorium of the Moscow Art Theatre. It was here that Stanislavsky’s “System” of actor development was put into effect (the beginning of so-called “Method Acting” and the foundation of all modern Western acting of the 20th and 21st centuries). It was here that Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” received its… Read More

Red squared

On our tour of the Museum of Contemporary Russia (see Kristi’s post), we saw footage of a parade though Red Square at the end of WWII. The battalions of soldiers marched in perfect square formations in a grand parade lasting nine hours. Passing in front of Stalin’s podium, the military representatives tossed German medals at his feet, marking their victory in a formal, rainy, epic performance of power. What a different space… Read More

For real?!

Did you read that first sentence in my last post?!? It began with the phrase, “as we were leaving the Moscow Art Theatre.” Leaving the Moscow Art Theatre?! That means we were inside the Moscow Art Theatre!!! Ok, Ok, I know that may not mean much to those unfamiliar with the theatre’s history (and this post won’t offer that), but I am hoping perhaps some students may read this and fully understand… Read More

Russian Curry

On our last day in Moscow I decided to take folks to the enormous souvenir market at Izmailovskii park.  As we walked by row after row of apparently matryoshka dolls, Shelley stopped and pointed at one guy whose nesting dolls featured American sports teams.  After laughing about how funny it would be if they had Golden State Warriors, we suddenly realized that they DID.  Then we joked about how funny it would… Read More

A Dash of Russia

Years ago our dear friends Kelly and Masoud hosted one of their wonderful dinner parties. My husband, Mark, complimented the taste of lemon in a particular dish. In her characteristic good-natured verbal sparring, Kelly told Mark that he was hallucinating the lemon taste and headed back to the kitchen for more delicious food. Moments later she returned to say something like, “oh my gosh, I put a dash of lemon pepper in… Read More

My obsession with Bulgakov

Yesterday as we left the Moscow Art Theatre, Shelley asked if our view of the importance of art (dance, literature, theatre) in Russian culture was skewed by the constituency of our group. After all, our schedule included several theatre productions, a ballet, visit to a theatre and several literary sites. Her question coincidentally summarized why I have always been drawn to Russian theatre – it seems that national identity, belonging and struggles… Read More

Bulgakov’s Cowardice

There are  lots of sad stories in Russia, but few sadder, to my mind, than the story of Bulgakov, the modernist writer who was both banned and protected by Stalin and is enjoying a huge renaissance today. Bulgakov sounds like a real rascal — a brilliant writer who was not afraid to tweak the leadership. Stalin loved his work — he saw one of Bulgakov’s plays 16 times, and he always enquired… Read More

Not all authoritarianism is Stalinism

In the US we enjoy drawing parallels between different political eras. We love to find echoes of the past in the present, so commentators often compare President Vladimir Putin to past Russian leaders, both Soviet and pre-Soviet.  But after visiting the Museum of Russian Political History (formerly the Museum of Revolution) I find such parallels facile and unhelpful. The Soviet Communist Party was not just another in a long line of authoritarian regimes…. Read More