This has to be one of the most horrible plaques in Moscow. It seems to me crudely done, lacking in nuance and feeling. The “likeness,” which I can only put in quotes, is abominable. And yet, what a pleasure to walk down the great Sivtsev Vrazhek street in the Arbat region of Moscow and happen upon a reminder that the great poet Tsvetaeva once lived here. It wasn’t for long, and she wasn’t quite Marina Tsvetaeva yet. But who cares? That makes it even more interesting. The plaque informs us that she lived at 19 Sivtsev Vrazhek from the end of 1911 until the beginning of 1912. The details of that short stay add some color to the tale. According to the great Know Moscow website, Tsvetaeva and her future husband Sergei Efron moved in here shortly after the building was built. They, along with Efron’s two sisters, occupied Apt. 11 on the 6th floor from Oct. 2, 1911 to early March 1912, when the couple set out for Europe on their honeymoon following a wedding on Jan. 27. Tsvetaeva herself wrote: “I have a big window with a view of the Kremlin. In the evening I lie down on the windowsill and look at the lights in the buildings and the dark silhouettes of the towers. Our apartment has come to life. My room is dark, heavy, clumsy and sweet. It has a large book shelf, a large desk, a large sofa – all very weighty and clunky. There is a globe on the floor as well as my trunk and traveling bags that I never part with. I don’t much believe that I will be here for long, I very much want to travel!”
It was while Tsvetaeva lived in this building that she prepared her second book of verses for publication (The Magic Lantern). It was published in Feb. 1912 and she proudly presented a copy of it to her friend, the great poet Alexander Voloshin when he visited her at this address.
The novelist Alexei Tolstoy dubbed the building the “Nest of Numskulls” (Obormotnik) because it was inhabited by a large number of bohemians. At one time or another this building gave shelter from the elements to Voloshin’s eccentric mother, whom friends knew as “Pra” or “Proto,” as in “protomother” and the poet and novelist Andrei Bely. I’ve drawn these latter tidbits from a blog by Yelena Khorvatova.
Shortly after moving into this building, the likes of which were replacing many old, smaller structures, Tsvetaeva wrote a poem called “Little Houses of Old Moscow,” which begins:
The glory of our languorous grandmothers,
Little houses of old Moscow,
You are, all of you, disappearing
From these modest little backstreets
Like grand ice castles
At the wave of a baton.
Where are your decorated ceilings
And your great, ceiling-high mirrors?…