Trip to Russia. Day 4. Moscow. Down through the Underground to the Not Good Apartment
Fourth day was the day to take care of business and renew my papers. Most of it was spent in Soviet style offices waiting on line, curtsying, smiling, providing champagne and candy to grouchy officials who didn’t even notice me. Nothing changed in that department. A good amount of time was wasted in traffic traveling from one bureaucratic installment to another and the whiffs of fear — what if things won’t get done — time is so limited — were coming over me.
Meanwhile, my family went underground on a tour of the Moscow metro. It is impossible to cover all the stations in a few hours so they had a route of a few more interesting ones. Besides the first and last stations, the girls took these pictures.
Looking at them now, I remember, how, years ago, we were making fun of foreigners taking pictures of the metro. What were they admiring? It’s just public transportation — what’s there to look at? Trains arriving in 90 sec intervals at the most — what’s the big deal? After having West 4th in New York as my hub for a while and now with 42nd/PABT as my port of entry, I know what foreigners were looking at in Moscow metro and why trains every 90 sec seem incredible. It took me 25 years of absence to notice.
Oktyabrskaya Station of the Circle Line. My home base.
The map of Moscow metro, to a certain degree, reflects the map of Moscow above the ground. There is the Circle line with 12 stations which more or less corresponds to the Garden Ring and radial lines crossing the Circle one making the metro map look like a spider. I grew up with one circle line. Now, there are two and it looks like a third one is in progress.
On every wall of every platform there’s this diagram. Top row is the list of stations of the line you’re on. Drop down lists name the lines and stations you can reach with a transfer. I have to admit, it is very convenient.
In Russian language, many words describe falling snow: almond dust — tiny sharp snowflakes that fall at the extremely low temperatures, buran — when high winds are blowing the falling snow at a very high speed and low temperatures in open areas, viuga and metel — when winds of various strengths and patterns are blowing snow and it’s hard to tell if the snow is falling from the sky or it is the snow lifted off the ground, purga — when strong winds are blowing the snow high up off the ground, snegopad — snow falling down without any wind.
When at my home station, New Year’s Day and the snow word “pozyomka” always come to mind.
New Year festivities is a serious business in Russia. If to combine Thanksgiving, Christmas, and The Fourth of July together, it might be close to the scale of Russian New Year celebrations. During atheistic Soviet times, this holiday substituted Christmas — a traditional tree, gifts, and Grandpa Frost instead of Santa Claus. And like Thanksgiving, it is the time for families to get together. Plus, like for the Fourth of July, people cook and eat together and go outside to continue drinking with friends and strangers, watch fireworks, and play outside, except in this case, in the snow. The outdoor shenanigans begin at about 2 or 3 in the morning after dinner is done. The streets are full of crowds, there’s music, lights, champagne, sleigh riding, dancing. The excitement begins to subside closer to 5 o’clock, around the time the metro opens to take you home.
On January 1, I would end up at my station in the wee hours of the morning, the only time it would look like this — empty. Shivering and exhausted after a sleepless night, woozy, cold I would get outside. At this hour, above the ground transportation would be nonexistent and a 30-minute walk to my house would lay ahead. Graying dawn. -20°C. Wind. Collar up, hat brim down, one foot in front of the other. And there would always be pozyemka — a blowing wheezing snow snaking around my ankles.
Novokuznetskaya Station. The girls took over taking pictures from here.
This station is all about the war heroes, military victories, and stoic Soviet people assisting those victories from the rear.
An interesting detail — these marble benches were taken from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior that was destroyed on Stalin’s orders. Above each bench, there’s a metal shield surrounded by flags. On these shields there’re inscriptions to fallen during the World War II: “Glory to the defending heroes of Stalingrad.” “…Leningrad.” “…Odessa.” “…Sevastopol…”
The ceiling murals picture military operations with pretty amazing realism. Under each panel there is a bronze floor lamp that illuminates the image with a soft light.
Novokuznetskaya was originally planned to be a peaceful station and there are some signs of it. Eventually, the plans changed and it became a museum of military glory.
The Square of the Revolution.
Not the most exquisite and elegant, it is the most popular among tourists and one of the most impressive. Each of its two dozen arches are decorated with four larger than life size bronze sculptures of Soviet citizens symbolizing glorious past and bright future.
Altogether, there are 20 different images. Some of them repeated twice, some — four times. The sculptures are placed in chronological order, beginning from the October revolution of 1917 and ending in late 1930s, when the station was completed. Because the arches are low and the statues are large, most of the figures are sitting, kneeling or bending down.
There are peasants, students, pioneers. Here’s a revolutionary.
This is a border guard with a dog. This dog is very important.
A whole series of traditions are associated with some of these sculptures. For example, since the 1930s, during college exams, students would literally line up to rub the dog’s nose, knee, or paw. They say it brings good luck.
This tradition keeps on going. If you pause for a few moments next to this statue, you’ll see tourists stopping by and making a point to rub the nose, and the knee, and the paw of the dog, or rushing Muscovites brushing just the nose on their way out. Of course we had to keep up this tradition.
From the architectural point, it is the apotheosis of the Stalinist empire. It’s impressive pomp is not accidental. Above the ground, there are three major railroad stations: Leningradsky, which sends trains up northwest through Saint Petersburg to Finland, Yaroslavsky, which covers the northeast direction, and Kazansky — all the way to the Far East. With that, Komsomolskaya station was planned as a gateway of the capital to create the first impression for city guests.
In the 1930s, my grandfather was the Head of Kazansky Railroad and my grandmother was the first female train dispatcher. They lived nearby, on Davydovsky Lane with my dad and my grandmother’s sister. One day, Stalin was supposed to board a train at the station. For whatever reason, the train was late. The next night, my grandfather was taken from his apartment in a dark car to a hospital. He had no symptoms of any illness. A few hours later, my grandmother was notified that her husband passed away from the complications of appendicitis and within a few days, she was evicted from the apartment.
Can you call this magnificent landing hall illuminated by these massive chandeliers a subway platform? Such an incredible space and light!
And of course — among all this baroque — here’s our fearless leader.
Architects from Latvia designed this station. They abandoned natural stone and made the most of ceramics produced by Riga plants.
The walls are faced with yellow and brown tiles reminiscent of Baltic amber. The flooring is gray granite. The lattice of ventilation, the ends of the station benches, the tiles on the walls of the platforms are decorated with Latvian motifs. On the brown surfaces of the pylons there are very thin, almost imperceptible, reliefs of Latvia scenery. All drawings are signed by the artists.
There is a legend associated with the manufacturing of unique tiles for the station. A master potter from Latvia was ordered to make tiles to imitate amber. He brilliantly completed the task. During the transportation, some of the tiles got damaged. An order was sent to the master to replace damaged tiles. Outraged that his work was treated lightly, he refused claiming that the exact color could not be replicated. No persuasion worked. A worker was sent to the master to act as an apprentice and learn the secret of the tiles. The master did not reveal it. A scandal was brewing. The “apprentice” took a risky step – he told the master the whole truth. The master surrendered and made the missing tiles, but they were still differed in color.
The main decorations here are 32 stained-glass windows taken from the Riga Cathedral where they were stored. The ideas were borrowed from the books of Orthodox priests. The station turned out to be a temple of knowledge with many secret messages hidden among the images.
These round arches with stained-glass windows and original lighting are simply stunning.
Some say these stained glass windows make this station look like an aquarium.
But the storylines… Maybe one day, I’ll go back and take my time looking at these windows to decipher the meanings they hold. Tom, will you come with me then?
A mosaic at the end of the platform — Peace to All — Peace in all the World. Peace.
And a selfie!
Days and days, I walked by this mosaic on my way to work. I could not imagine back then that I would be living in another country, having children there, and that one day these children from that country would be taking excited selfies in the midst of my early days’ quotidian humdrum.
It is called so because right above it there is Kievsky railway station that takes trains west. There are two of these stations — Kievskaya Circle and Kievskaya Radial. This is the radial one.
If you look from the side of the middle hall, you can see that the pylons are decorated with stunningly beautiful panels dedicated to the “inextricable friendship between the fraternal peoples of Ukraine and Russia.”
At the end of the pylons benches are installed. People used to sit and read books here waiting for their parties to arrive — metro stations have always been good places to meet, now these people are staring at their phones and tablets.
All these mosaic murals are made of semiprecious stones. “Peoples’ friendship is the source of prosperity of the socialist motherland.”
“Blossoms Soviet Ukraine, a republic of workers and peasants.” And right in the center, here’s the father of peoples, Joseph Stalin.
You know it’s a tourist when a person stops and actually pays attention to the art. “Soviet Army liberates Kiev. 1943.”
Muscovites pass by these murals without noticing them. The architecture and works of famous artists are barely noticed by hurrying passengers. “Poltavskaya battle. 1792.”
Here’s our leader in a mosaic version being quoted on the “indestructible eternal friendship of Ukrainian and Russian peoples and all peoples of the Soviet Union.”
On the mosaic at the end of the hall, there is a festive gathering on the streets of the Ukrainian capital with the monument to Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky. The hetman led national wars against Turks, Crimean Tatars, and the Polish. In 1600s, he is the one who signed an agreement with Muskovy to ally against Poland.
This is Kievskaya Circle station. Same Ukrainian motifs in the decorations.
Now, these chandeliers look incredible to me. Back then, I don’t think I ever noticed them. I always avoided this station — because of the railroad above, it has always been so crowded.
Lighting is really important in the design of the station. Crystal bowls in a bronze frame suspended from the ceiling visually reduce the heavy feeling of stalky pylons.
Ukrainian flowery patterns.
Everyday life of the Ukrainians.
The idea behind all the lavish metro decorations was so that Muscovites would feel joyful and festive entering these underground palaces flooded with light after a hard day at work on their way home.
Just like on this picture.
Decoration of the wall running along the train tracks on Kievskaya Circle station.
In February of 2001, an explosion wrecked this place. A bomb was planted under a marble bench but heavy weight of wood and marble softened the blow and the impact of the terrorist attack.
The decorations here reflect the Belorussian culture. Lamps on pylons are meant to look like vases.
The ceiling vaults are covered with marble-mosaic panels depicting the life of the Belorussian people. Here’s the Belorussian coat of armor.
The Belorussian people are enjoying life and prosperity.
The ceramic tiles of the platform are supposed to remind a carpet with Belorussian national ornaments.
Art and heritage aside, I hated this station and these tiles. During summer months, at this metro station, my slog to our dacha started during spring, summer, and fall weekends.
My parents owned a property and a house in a countryside, a dacha. For some, to own a dacha would be a matter of status. For them, it was an escape from their status. My mom was an editor of a major magazine with millions of subscribers — it was at some point even in the Guinness Book of Records. My dad is a scientist and he does well. On weekends, my parents would gear up for a few-hour ride from this station — crying me in tow — to slave over the land the entire weekend — weeding, pruning, digging — not much reward coming for them besides being away from the daily grind. For me, it was a place that meant the ruin of my social teenage life — most of my friends were staying in cool Moscow as they had no place to go.
As long as I remember them, my mom and dad were so wrapped in their togetherness. They’d forget other people exist. Whatever my mom wouldn’t do to make dad laugh! Once, weeding a strawberry patch, she smothered strawberries all over her face to scare him. Dad, always consumed with his own thoughts, didn’t notice. She forgot she did it. It was time to go home. They packed. Walked to the train — half an hour walk and an hour ride. Took the metro — another hour, with transfers. Bus — two stops. Short walk to the apartment. It was an early Sunday evening, time for a major mass return of Muscovites from their dachas to their city apartments.
— People were really staring at me all this ride home. I wonder why? — my mom looked in the mirror by the front door to check.
Dad never noticed. She didn’t get mad. They both burst out laughing.
Tom and I met here after my paperwork ordeal. My favorite station — I like all this air and light here. I like these steel columns much more than squat and heavy pylons other stations have. In Soviet days, compared to others, this station felt somewhat futuristic. Even now it still looks uncluttered modern and fresh. I can’t even imagine how people felt here in the 1930s. The name and the design is a nod to Futurism and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky whose statue is right aboveground.
A pride of the station is 34 mosaic panels imbedded in oval ceiling vaults They all were made by a famous Russian modernist Alexander Deyneka.
At this station, people tend to walk looking up and occasional chest bumping happens here.
The colorful parachutes is my favorite.
A fragment of the Red Square, most likely during a military parade.
After the metro tour, the girls went for another round of Claustrophobia game. According to the costumes, that could have been Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes related theme. They really liked these escape room games and now are trying to find something similar in the US. So far, the escape rooms in the US are not the same.
We ran into their group at this wonderful place called “SOUP café.” To run into your children in a multimillion person city? Coincidence? Not really. The recommendation to visit this restaurant came from the same source — my friend Tanya.
This place serves 44 different varieties of soup. You can order one large bowl or three small cups of different ones.
Always more for tasting than eating, Tom and I ordered three different kinds. First one is solyanka, a traditional Russian soup made of cured meats and pickled vegetables, with addition of lemon juice. It is served with sour cream. Second one — kharcho — Georgian, of course — is made with lamb and rice and seasoned with traditional blue fenugreek, or utskho-tsuneli, herb that grows mostly in Georgia and Switzerland. This soup is spicy hot and comes with tkemali, a sour plum sauce, which is somewhat similar to tamarind. The last one is a cream soup of crawfish tails and shrimp, a nod to the Black Sea. That one is accompanied by croutons.
And I could not miss beef stroganoff. The portions were small but the food was rich so it came out to be just right.
The restaurant took over a basement space somewhere in the middle between Mayakovskaya and Belorusskaya metro stations. So far, I’d say it was my favorite place to eat in Moscow.
It turns dark in Moscow early. We came outside at about six o’clock at night.
This is Peking Hotel. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but back in Soviet times, there was the one and only Chinese restaurant in Moscow. Expensive and obscure, it was surrounded by rumors of Chinese cuisine horrors — snakes, worms, cockroaches, rotten eggs…
A huge task was ahead of us — renting a car for our upcoming trip north. And it was on me, as the only Russian speaking person in our group. At home, in New Jersey, I am spoiled — Tom always takes care of business. He is quick, attentive, and his incredible ability to read and grasp the fine print is truly unique. I procrastinated until the last moment hoping Tom would surprise me and somehow get the car. This was the point when reality set in. Sitting next to the Peking Hotel, I made a few useless phone calls — it was too late in the day and we left it until the next morning.
This place was not on any of our planned Moscow routes. But there was no question in my mind if we were going to make it there. Three previous days we were circling close but never really making it there. Every day something would come up. This was our last full day in Moscow and we were going.
Bulgakov started writing this novel in 1920s and kept working on it his entire life, not really finishing. He destroyed the first version in 1930s but then returned to it again. The book was never published in his lifetime. After his death, over the course of twenty years, his widow put together and edited the drafts Bulgakov left behind. She made several attempts to publish the novel, even reaching to Stalin’s personal assistant through his tailor. But the responses were — not the time. Krushchev Thaw changed things around and an abbreviated version of the novel appeared in 1966-67 issues of a monthly literary magazine “Moscow.”
A side note on those thick literary magazines. I have not come across anything like this in the US besides The New Yorker’s inclusion of a few poems and couple-of-pages-long fiction pieces is a feeble reminder. Those monthly magazines — “New World,” “Moscow,” “Youth,” “International Literature,” “Banner,” “Star” — some of them up to 200-pages thick — were the gateway to the creative world. From behind the iron curtain, believed-to-be-brainwashed Soviet numbskulls were devouring the world’s culture. Solzhenitsyn’s work was first published in one of them. Latin Americans — Marquez, Cortázar, Borges — chapter by chapter, from issue to issue. Kesey’s “Cuckoo’s Nest,” new chapters of Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice” even before the movie came out, Stephen King in abundance, Suskind’s “The Perfumer,” to name a few. Just like people now wait for a next TV episode, we were waiting for the next issue of the magazine. Those magazines were treasured, bound, worshiped. In my new American home, I have some of the oldies that my dad bound at work and my mom brought here.
My first contact with a novel was through “Moscow” magazine. In 1976, I was in the fourth grade and 11 years old when at school I caught the buzz of the words “Master and Margarita.” My classmate and neighbor Alik confided in secrecy that his folks got their hands on a used copy of the magazine. They did not allow the magazines out of the apartment. Alik’s very strict mother approved my reading visits and I spent the next several days on their living room couch.
Bulgakov’s novel has three story lines — somewhat comedic Moscow and Muscovites, a love story between Master and Margarita, and a flashback with Pontus Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notzri, Jesus of Nazareth, at the center. These lines of reality and fantasy, so separate at the start, come together in one story in most unexpected ways.
On Alik’s couch, I flipped through the “boring” biblical stuff and love chapters, but had a good time focusing on happenings in Moscow.
When, three years later, I seriously fell in (unrequited) love, my mom had already brought home the book. Not an abridged version like Alik had — the whole deal. I skipped through Muscovites, the Bible bits were still boring, and fell into the love story. To this day, Chapter 13 — The Entrance of the Hero — is my favorite one.
Understanding and appreciation of the biblical line came much later in life.
“Master and Margarita” is such a Moscow book. At first, I even wanted to make Ivan Bezdomny’s chase of Satan as one of our routes. But it turned out that no matter where you go, you find something related to this book.
On our Day 1, we walked by Pashkov house, where Woland decided the fate of Master and Margarita, granting them eternal peace. We went through Alexandrovsky Garden where Margarita met Azazello. We saw The House on the Embankment where Sempleyarov, the conceited and unfaithful chairman of the Acoustic Commission of Moscow Theaters, lived and where Bezdomny took a dip in the river and lost his clothes.
On Day 2, we went through the Sparrow Hills where Woland bid his farewell to Moscow and embarked on the Final Flight. We walked by Kievsky railway station where Uncle Poplavsky arrived to claim the apartment. We saw Novodevichy Convent where Bulgakov himself is buried.
On Day 3, we crossed Pushkin Square, where the truck stopped on its way from the insane asylum and poet Riukhin evaluated the heritage of poet Pushkin. We stopped at Mayakovskaya Square where naked people were running around after “Séances of Black Magic and It’s Full Exposure” at the Variety Theatre.
Today, on day 4, we finally came to the “not good apartment” itself and finished the day on Patriarch’s Ponds where, at sunset of one warm spring day, Satan descended on Moscow.
In the courtyard of this building there’s this bus that takes curious Bulgakov’s fans along the book’s paths. There are plenty of “Master and Margarita” routes in Moscow, just like there are Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” routes in Japan or “The Sound of Music” routes in Salzburg.
These are regent Koroviev and cat Behemoth. Not sure I like this sculpture. They look tired and cheap here. In the book, they were more upbeat and classy.
This bas-relief above the entrance to the Bulgakov’s museum tried to capture it all — Satan’s Ball and the staircase, The Final Flight, Moscow shenanigans.
The museum is free and run by volunteers who collect Bulgakov memorabilia. This is the Master himself. Obviously, people rub his foot. Is it for writing inspiration?
Or his hand…
Here’s the head of unfortunate Berlios, freshly cut off by a street car after Annushka spilled oil on the tracks.
An antique typewriter. There are a few in this makeshift museum. Did Bulgakov really type on this one?
It was interesting to see that now there’s a museum here and check out the memorabilia. But it was not the actual apartment. The real one was through an entrance next door. And it was locked.
It seems like the attendant of the museum got my vibe:
— Do you want the code? It’s ******. Don’t tell anyone, ok?
This is the staircase that leads to the not good apartment and the graffiti on the way to it. The walls here have been painted and repainted many times burying some really cool art. The pretense for repainting is that there are too many swear words — which is true — but there is more interesting stuff than curses.
You can spend hours here reading quotes from the book and people’s interpretation of them.
And of course, there are illustrations. This is cat Behemoth with his primus stove.
This is the door of #50 on the fifth floor — not a good apartment — where Satan lived during his stay in Moscow. The first time I came here was in high school, in the 1980s. There was no code at the entrance and it used to be a regular door with a fake leather cover. Later, after the door was vandalized and replaced multiple times, it was replaced with a sheet of steel covering the entrance. The people who lived there were forced out by an unending pilgrimage of book fanatics. There’s another museum behind this door. It was too late in the day and we couldn’t get in.
The window out which Hella flew.
Again I thought about Charlotte’s observation how, in Russia, people truly worship books and writers.
This is Margarita with a crown on her head, Behemoth swinging the salmon he stole, and the sword Hella offered to bartender Sokov upon his departure.
Finished with the apartment, we went to The Patriarch’s Ponds.
A monument to a fabulist Ivan Krylov opened here when I just started school and my grandmother used to bring me here often. In his days, Krylov was the most frequently reprinted author. When asked the secret of how many books he sold, Krylov said:
— You know, I write for children, and children have a tendency to rip books apart.
Around seated Krylov there are illustrations taken from his fables. Here’s Monkey and the Mirror.
The Fox and the Crow.
The Elephant and the Pug.
It is here, “once upon a time, in spring, during an unprecedentedly hot sunset, two citizens appeared at the Patriarch’s Ponds,” and the story began.