Vasily Kandinsky house, Moscow

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When I lived in Leningrad way-way-way back I had a personal relationship with architecture. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the Mojave Desert where most of my personal relationships were with lizards, tarantulas and cacti, and, when I ended up in a big city for the fist time in my life, I naturally had to find substitutes. Whatever the case may be, I truly learned to love buildings in Leningrad. The best of them have spirit and they can communicate.
Take this place I came upon today. I was out doing a bit of hunting with my camera, knowing in advance I would be shooting a few places, but also hoping I would find more than I had bargained for. And here it was – my surprise of the day – the Vasily Kandinsky building. How cool is that? The great abstractionist painter – posters of whose paintings, along with those of Chagall, graced my apartment walls as far back as the mid 1970s – lived here from 1915 to 1921.
The neighborhood is a good one, the Khamovniki region of Moscow. Leo Tolstoy had owned an estate just down the road a bit until 1901. As you can see from the photo immediately below, Kandinsky’s home was one of those imposing Moscow houses that went up in the last years before the Revolution. In fact, the whole place belonged to Kandinsky. More than that, Kandinsky is the one who had it built. According to Yelena Khorvatova’s blog, Kandinsky bought the land in 1913 with the purpose of erecting what in Russian is called an “income house,” or, as we would put in English, an apartment house. Kandinsky had lived in Germany since 1896 and upon returning home to Russia he presumably wanted to ensure he had some source of steady income. Fashions in painting come and go; people always need some place to live… He wasn’t thinking much at that moment about the fact that an as-yet unknown, unimagined and unimaginable government would come into being in just a couple of years and that one of the first things it would do would be to abolish private ownership of real estate…

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The entrance to the Kandinsky house is on what today is called Burdenko Street, but which was called Dolgy, or Long, Lane at the time the  structure was erected. That’s the street you see on the left immediately above. The address from that side of the building is No. 8. For the record, the address on this side of corner is No. 1 3rd Neopalimovsky Lane.
Kandinsky and his wife Anna, according to Anna herself, had a beautiful view of the Kremlin from their windows and the artist created at least two paintings of that view – “Zubovskaya Square and “Smolensky Boulevard.” You can see them, as well as a great photo of the building shortly after it was built, on Khorvatova’s blog. According to another site devoted to taking walks in Moscow, Kandinsky once wrote about Moscow in general: “Moscow – duality, complexity, extreme mobility, the clash and confusion of various external elements… Moscow is my artistic tuning fork.”
Unfortunately, this subtly attractive building is now rather lost in the chaos of Moscow’s urban clash and confusion. If you stand right up close to it, right there where Kandinsky would have walked as he entered and exited his “income house,” right there against the walls, inside of which he and his renters lived, you get a wonderful vibe. You sense the early 20th century, you have a feel for something that could inspire someone of Kandinsky’s ilk. But the further you step back from it, the more the subtle messages are lost in the hum and drum of modern Moscow. Khamovniki in general is a neighborhood in transition. It’s a fabulous district, filled with history. But the Soviet era did major damage to it. And the Putin era is now running roughshod over it, too, albeit with somewhat more attractive buildings. The Kandinsky house is doing the best it can to hold the fort, so to speak. To keep the neighborhood from wrack and ruin. But it is a tough job. It currently is surrounded by monstrous banks and government buildings that would suck the air out of any neighborhood. These days the place rather sticks out like a healthy thumb on a hand of broken fingers.

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Andrei Platonov plaque, Moscow

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Andrei Platonov (1899-1951, real last name Klimentov) is a writer about whom you will often see the words, “the best writer you’ve never read.” At least that’s true in the English-speaking world. Most of Platonov’s works – he wrote novels, stories, poetry and plays – were buried in the noise of their time. The vast majority of them have come back to us in recent decades. He was already in the process of being rediscovered in the late Soviet period, but it was after the fall of the wall that he came to us more or less in full light and full flight. The plaque commemorating the fact that he lived at 25 Tverskoi Boulevard (not to be confused with Tverskaya Streeet) from 1931 until his death in 1951 is the work of sculptor Fedot Suchkov. According to Suchkov’s memoirs the bas relief that he created for the plaque originated in a bust he had made for the Platonov family and which was kept in the family home. Heinrich Boll, the great German writer and an admirer of Platonov, purchased a copy of the bas relief for his own personal collection. The plaque hangs not far from another honoring the fact that the poet Osip Mandelshtam also lived at this address for a brief period in the early 1930s. This is the same home in which the 19th-century publicist Alexander Herzen was born, and where the Gorky Literary Institute is located, all of which I have written about previously in this space.
Platonov’s sister-in-law Valentina Troshkina would later recall: “Andrei worked here a lot, he would take his writings to publishers, but only rarely could he publish under a pseudonym. Friends would sometimes gather on Tverskoi. Guests included [Mikhail] Sholokhov, [Alexander] Fadeev, Georges Chernyavshchuk, a marvelous person, although people said various things about him.” Troshkina’s comments, like those of Suchkov, are published in memoirs published on Platnov.narod, a fan-maintained website for the writer.

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Troshkina tells another story I had never heard: When the Germans approached Moscow during World War II many Muscovites were evacuated, Platonov among them. According to Troshkina, he left almost his entire archive of unpublished writings with Troshkina’s husband Pyotr for safekeeping. Platonov took only one thing with him – a piece he called Journey from Leningrad to Moscow, based in spirit, at least, on the great Journey from Petersburg to Moscow by Alexander Radishchev (about whom I have written in this blog). The work apparently meant so much to Platonov that he actually tied the manuscript to his arm when he slept in the train, but somewhere, at some point, the string holding the valuable work of literary art  either slipped from the author’s arm or was clipped by a thief who surely had no idea what he or she was stealing. Thus disappeared a potentially major work by Platonov, one he worked on for eight years, mostly at the home on Tverskoi Boulevard.
It is impossible to imagine Soviet literature now without Platonov somewhere in the center of it. His strong, unique, innovative language conjures up a whole era of Russian/Soviet history. His unblinking pictures of the difficult human condition, along with his unbending humanist convictions, make for literature of genuine power and impact.

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Nikolai Smirnov-Sokolsky plaque, Moscow

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Ah, yes, the charms of ignorance again. No, not of innocence. That’s long gone. Of ignorance. I still command plenty of that.
I was amazed a few years ago when I first ran across this plaque commemorating the fact that Nikolai Smirnov-Sokolsky lived in this lovely building at 30/1 Malaya Bronnaya Street, smack-dab across from Patriarch’s Pond. I knew who Smirnov-Sokolsky was. But how did anybody else know, I thought harrumphingly to myself. I knew Smirnov-Sokolsky from my work on the playwright Nikolai Erdman. In his early years as a writer, before he wrote plays for the great Vsevolod Meyerhold, Erdman was a popular and talented author of skits for nightclubs, cabarets, music halls and even the circus. One of the people he occasionally wrote material for was Nikolai Smirnov-Sokolsky, who hosted and emceed many of the comic evenings that took place in such venues. In fact, Erdman immortalized Smirnov-Sokolsky by mixing his name comically with the famous clown duet Bim-Bom in a skit called “The Qualification Exams” in 1924. Here is how he did it:

EXAMINER 2: …What’s your name?
BALLADEER: The National Red Satirist Bim-Bom-Smirnov-Sokolsky-Petrov.
EXAMINER 2: What?
BALLADEER: Bim-Bom-Smirnov-Sokolsky-Petrov.
EXAMINER 2: That’s your real name?
BALLADEER: One part of it is real.
EXAMINER 3: Which part?
BALLADEER: The tail end – Petrov. Bim-Bom-Smirnov-Sokolsky is a kind of generalizing last name.

The exchange goes on for some time, as the Balladeer, trying to get his performer’s license renewed, admits that he wants audiences to confuse him with the real people…

EXAMINER 2: You seem to forget that a name like that might arouse objections from a second party.
BALLADEER: That’s impossible. There are so many Bims, Boms, and Sokolskys these days that you can’t even call them names anymore. Properly speaking, they’e become a sort of mass market product…

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Yeah, but how many people know Nikolai Erdman’s “The Qualification Exams”? Or the texts performed by Smirnov-Sokolsky in the cabarets in Moscow in the early 1920s? But this is where we come to another important moment in my ongoing education in the world. Smirnov-Sokolsky, it turns out, was one of the founders of the huge and hugely popular Estrada Theater in Moscow, a venue for light comedy and popular music that is located in what is now called the House on the Embankment. (See more about that in a post I made in May.) From the 1930s to the 1960s he was an extremely popular performer of his own comic texts. And, just to keep things mixed up a bit, he was an important bibliophile. What? Yes, this comedian amassed an extremely important collection of first and early editions of major writers that counted over 19,000 books. So that’s what all the books are about behind him in the plaque! He also specialized in books banned in the Tsarist era. His collection now comprises a large segment of the book museum at the Lenin Library. If that wasn’t enough, Smirnov-Sokolsky himself also wrote several valuable books about the book and publishing industry in Russia. So important was his work in this field that, according to Russian Wikipedia, he was dubbed the “Knight of Books.” My hat’s off to the man for more reasons than one, now.
For the record, Smirnov-Sokolsky lived in this building that, in my opinion, has a bit of a New Orleans swing to it, from 1927 until his death in 1962. He was born in 1898 in Moscow. The excerpt from Erdman’s “The Qualification Exams” is quoted in my translation from A Meeting About Laughter: Sketches, Interludes and Theatrical Parodies by Nikolai Erdman with Vladimir Mass and Others, which, if you buy used, can be had for a half-way decent price.

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Mikhail Bulgakov house, Moscow

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I hate to say it, but Mikhail Bulgakov’s memory has not been done a favor by all the attention paid to the building he lived in at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya Street from 1921 to 1924. It is honored with two plaques, one a workmanlike affair indicating the years of the writer’s residency and the information that the building is maintained by the state, the other a more decorative thing that adds the information that some scenes from Bulgakov’s popular novel The Master and Margarita are set in this building. This latter plaque, as you can see below, is rather under attack from the signs that the contemporary world heaps on many city dwellings. Even the rather imposing second-floor balcony sign proclaiming the location The Bulgakov House, gets lost in the visual chaos of the place.
That’s not so bad, you say. That’s just what happens in the modern world. And you’d be pretty much right. I wouldn’t argue it. But, to my eye somehow, Bulgakov plays second fiddle here, popular as he is. The surfeit of information smacks up against a deficit of impact. But that’s nothing compared to what hits you when you enter the courtyard of the building where the entrance to Bulgakov’s apartment was located.

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Here the building featuring two museums and a theater has been plastered with all kinds of stuff – sculptures, bas reliefs, pictures, posters, marquees and such. At least one statue – of Woland’s helpers Fagot and Begemot – was erected near the door to one of the museums. This work by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov was originally planned to be part of a large ensemble of sculptures that was to be erected in the mid 2000s in and around Patriarch’s Pond, another section of the city that is closely connected to the plot of The Master and Margarita. (You can see a bunch of them here.) Although all (or almost all) of the statues were made, none  were ever erected in the intended location. I guess it was kind of a consolation prize that Fagot and Begemot were given a home at building No. 10. If you’ll look closely, you’ll see that they stand in close proximity to a trash can, although if you look even closer, you’ll see that many candy- and cigarette-hungry visitors just stuff their waste papers into the primus heater held by Begemot. People have their picture taken with the duo like they don’t really care, and the whole atmosphere of the place reminds me of a cheap attraction in a run-down, half-forgotten town. A little deeper into the courtyard is the entrance to museum No. 2, the so-called “bad apartment” from The Master and Margarita – that is, apartment No. 50, in which Bulgakov actually lived. I don’t know, folks. De gustibus non est disputandem. The great truth of which is proved by taking a gander at one of the many websites devoted to this conglomeration of museums and statues and such. Here, for example, are just a few of the comments on Afisha, or Marquee, magazine’s page devoted to the place:
“The Bulgakov House is a special place for me! I was there once and I talked about Mikhail Bulgakov all night…,” writes Svetlana Migovich.
“I think this was done really well and the spirit [of the place] is well-created…,” writes Aigul Kh.
“The museum may be marvelous, but the rudeness of the guy at the door amazed me…,” writes Ekaterina Arkharova.
Well, nobody’s perfect. As for me, after about 10 minutes of forcing myself to take pictures, I ran out there as if somebody had sucked all the air out of the place.

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Eda Urusova home, Moscow

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Eda Urusova, born Yevdokia Urusova in 1908 in Moscow, died in 1996 in the building you see here. Her family, which by then consisted of Urusova, her son Yury Unkovsky and his wife, occupied the first-floor apartment, two windows of which you see immediately below in the lower left corner. I know that because my wife Oksana (often) and I (occasionally) dropped by and said hello through the windows. The address is 6 Chistoprudny Lane not far from Pushkin Square, but it is one of those almost invisible buildings in Moscow that is set way back from the street, deep into a courtyard that is probably 150 yards or more from the street it officially stands on.
Eda Urusova was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary – by which I mean to say extraordinarily difficult – life. I wrote a bit about her in one of my old Moscow Times TheaterPlus blogs in 2009. Much of what I’ll write about her here comes from stories my wife tells. Oksana performed with Urusova in Boris Lvov-Anokhin’s production of Michael Redgrave’s dramatization of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers from 1993 to Urusova’s death in 1996. The two became close and Oksana often went to see Urusova at home, where she was essentially confined because she could no longer walk. The theater had to send a car with a healthy driver who could help get her seated in the front seat and then drive her to the theater where they would wheel her to the stage in her wheel chair. She performed in her wheelchair in The Aspern Papers. I’ll get to the reasons for that in a moment, but I want to begin with something else.
Urusova once told Oksana how easy it was for her to get into the theater when she was still a young girl. You see, her uncle, I believe it was, was the great playright Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin. So all she had to do was to go up the box office, share this information, and they would let her in.
If you know Russian history at all you know the Urusova family name was one of the most prominent in Russian public life from the late 17th century. It is a family of princes and princesses and it included many major government figures, lawyers and public activists. Eda Urusova – for everyone called Yevdokia “Eda” for most of her life – was a direct descendant. She was also related to the popular 19th century writers Yevgenia Tur (Yelizaveta Salias-de-Turnemir, nee Sukhovo-Kobylina) and Yevgeny Salias. In short, Urusova was born into the hot cauldron of great Russian culture.
For the record, it also turned out that Oksana had a curious connection to Urusova. Once she began rehearsing with the famous actress in late 1992 or early 1993, her mother recalled an old family legend, that one of their ancestors had been a serf violinist in the serf orchestra of one of the Urusovs in the 19th century. 

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Urusova and her husband Mikhail Unkovsky were the star actors at the relatively new Yermolova Theater in the mid-1930s. If one didn’t star in one of the theater’s shows, the other did. They often played leads in tandem. That fairy-tale story began to crumble in May 1938, when Unkovsky, who was also from a famous family – his grandfather was an admiral – was arrested. Urusova was arrested a month later, on June 17, as the theater was setting out from Moscow to Leningrad on a tour. The arrest took place right on the platform of the Leningrad Train Station. Unkovsky, whose legs were amputated because of severe frostbite, died in Siberia in 1940. Urusova would spend the next 17 years – from age 30 to 47 – in the labor camps (technically speaking, 13 years in actual labor camps, four years in exile in Norilsk). As she later put it, her profession saved her life. Being one of Moscow’s most popular actors, she was invited to perform in various labor camp theaters, thus allowing her to avoid hard labor in impossible conditions. Throughout her life of prison and exile she performed with several great Russian actors, including Innokenty Smoktunovsky (who was not a prisoner) and Georgy Zhzhyonov (who, like Urusova spent 17 years in the camps). She also crossed paths with the great children’s theater director Natalya Sats. The nature of these theaters meant that very little information about Urusova’s work was preserved for posterity. For those interested, there is a book by Natalia Kuziakina, Theater in the Solovki Prison Camp about one such theater, though not one that Urusova worked in. Urusova’s “easy” life in the camps was definitely a matter of degree, however. By the time she returned to Moscow around 1955, she was barely able to walk, her legs and feet having suffered terrible frostbite, to say nothing of the fact that she looked 15 or 20 years older than her actual age. She went from playing lead romantic roles in the late 1930s to playing bit parts of grandmothers after resuming her career at the Yermolova.
The tragedy of Urusova’s life was also her triumph, of course. She was an extraordinarily strong, wise woman. She bore the cross of a stolen life with great dignity. Virtually forgotten by directors and audiences by the end of her life, she was brought back for a powerful swan song in The Aspern Papers. Lvov-Anokhin had known and admired her for decades and he staged The Aspern Papers specifically to give Urusova a role commensurate to her neglected talent.

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Oksana recalls one story Urusova told about her time in exile in Norilsk. This is where she not only worked with Zhzhyonov and Smoktunovsky (who came there voluntarily to avoid being arrested for having been a prisoner-of-war during World War II), but lived with them in the same dormitory. Urusova told how the bitter cold winds of up to -50 C were so strong that they had to string a cord from the dorm to the theater so that the actors would have something to hang onto and would not be blown away on their short trip to work.
Another note Oksana recalls: Urusova told how the peasants in the labor camp where she first arrived in 1938 immediately gave her advice that saved her life. They told her, “Never go out and cut forest wood. It is too difficult. We know how to do it, you don’t. You will not survive.” As a result, Urusova was able to convince the guards that watched the prisoners at work to allow her to be the group’s storyteller, if you will. She would sit next to the great bonfire they built in the frozen woods each day, and in her booming, actor’s voice, she would retell for everyone in hearing distance all of Russian literature that she could remember by heart – including Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and virtually all of Pushkin’s poetry.
At my request Oksana just now recalled for me Urusova’s last performance. Urusova had recently fallen and had broken her hand and leg, causing a long layoff between performances, to say nothing of causing a great deal of pain. She mustered all her strength and made it through the entire play without a single problem. When the time came for her final words to be spoken – something along the lines of “We all die sooner or later” – Urusova, with her broken hand, tossed a bouquet she was holding high over her head as if it were a glass of champagne, and added her own final lines: “But I’m a long way off from that!” Oksana said the entire hall burst into applause. Unable to perform again, she died a few months later.
Urusova’s son Yury Unkovsky was born shortly before his parents were taken away from him, and for all intents and purposes he first saw his mother when he was 17 or 18 years old. It was a wound he never quite got over. His love for her and the way he doted on her in her old age was quite touching. Shortly before he died a few years ago he published a book Eda Urusova: Actress from a Princely Family.

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Serafima Birman home, Moscow

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Serafima Birman (1890-1976) is one of the names from the Soviet era of theater and film that invariably attract the epithet of “great.” She was among the first group of actors to study with Stanislavsky, officially a member of the Moscow Art Theater into the mid-1920s. She was also a member of Mikhail Chekhov’s Moscow Art Theater 2. She was a founding member of the Lenkom Theater. She acted, directed and taught both disciplines. Her appearances in film were few and far between, but once seen, she was impossible to forget. A Russian blogger who calls herself Mary Quite Contrary wrote this about Birman’s performance of Yefrosinia Staritskaya in Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible: “But the real shit hits the fan, of course, with Serafima Birman’s Yefrosinia Staritskaya. She is such a snake in the grass, but is performed so brilliantly that you can’t take your eyes off her massive black silhouette and hissing voice.” You can find this comment as well as a couple of stills of Birman in the film at Contrary Mary’s blogsite. You can see one of Birman’s scenes from the second half of the movie on YouTube.  Birman actually got this role in a backhanded way. It was originally going to be Birman’s great contemporary Faina Ranevskaya who would play Yefrosinia, but the studio decided that they did not like Ranevskaya’s “strong Semitic features.” As a result, the role went to Birman, every bit as much a Jewess as Ranevskaya, but who was listed in her passport as “Moldovan” because she was born in Kishinyov.
A lot is made of Birman’s physical appearance. One female journalist on the Russian Showbiz Daily website goes really overboard by calling Birman “unbelievably ugly” (neveroyatno nekrasivaya), although she does, at least, allow that she was a “genius.” This same post, as well as many others, go into great detail about Birman’s “unusual” visage, her desire to be “beautiful,” etc. It gets pretty damn annoying, I must say. I’d love to ignore this part of Birman lore, but it’s everywhere, and so I mention it in order to call it out. Not only is it bunk, it has nothing to do with anything. Period. Let’s be done with that nonsense.
Birman’s pedigree in Russian acting couldn’t be better. She began studying with Stanislavsky with Mikhail Chekhov, Yevgeny Vakhtangov, and Sofia Giatsintova. I haven’t found a source in English for one great story about Birman, but it’s worth quoting the Russian (Showbiz Daily) just in case it’s true. Arthur Miller was in Moscow and someone took him to see a dramatization of Dostoevsky’s Uncle’s Dream starring Ranevskaya and featuring Birman in a small role. Supposedly, Miller said, “Ranevskaya is a marvelous actress, but what she does is two-times-two-equals-four. What Miss Birman does is two-times-two-equals-five.” (That’s a back-translation from the Russian and doesn’t pretend to be a true quote of Miller.)

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Birman in the late 1920s lived in Apt. 6 at building No. 18 on Vspolny Lane, just a block from the famous Patriarch’s Pond. There’s nothing on the yellow building to indicate she lived here, but I know she did thanks to a wonderful catalogue of theater addresses that I own and which I mentioned in a recent blog about Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. In a couple of years she moved to another address and I rather imagine I will have to show you that place in good time.
Birman had – and still has – the reputation of an extremely demanding artist. As we all know, that means that the label of “hard to work with,” or “difficult personality” has also stuck to her. And, as we all know, that just means that people who don’t know what they’re talking about are writing about her. Still, it makes for some good stories, and good stories are always welcome. Here’s one I have shaved down a bit from a site called So People Will Remember:
Birman once dropped in to see her friend Ivan Bersenev rehearsing a show at the Lenkom Theater where they both worked. Peering in from the wings, she was horrified to see Bersenev, sitting at his director’s table in the hall, munching on a sandwich. Birman was furious. “How could you? You?! In the cathedral of art! And you call yourself a director! This is a cathedral, a holy place!” That evening Birman refused to ride home with Bersenev in his car, as was her custom, choosing to walk instead. Bersenev and the actress Sofia Giatsintova drove slowly alongside her in the car. “Sima! Don’t be silly!” they shouted at her. Birman pretended not to hear them the whole way home.
My wife Oksana Mysina played Birman in a relatively recent TV biopic about the actress Valentina Serova, one of Birman’s best friends. You can see one of their scenes from Yury Kara’s “A Star of the Age” on YouTube.

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Ivan Krylov monument, Moscow

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Putting together the pictures to go with his post proved to be one of the hardest tasks I have had yet on this blog. I could easily have put up twice as many shots as the eight I settled on. But as a true believer of the notion that less is more, I drew the line at these eight, still exceeding any amount I have ever used. The fact of the matter is I was lucky to hit this monument to Ivan Krylov, the great Russian writer of fables, on City Day in Moscow. The streets were teeming with families out to enjoy the great weather, the concerts all over town, the street theater, the ad hoc cafes, clowns, balloons and such.  And, Krylov, of course, is one of the most beloved figures in Russian culture. His fables and fairy tales, drawn in part, but not at all entirely, from La Fontaine, are virtually every Russian child’s first institutional introduction to humor, wisdom, irony and the paradoxes of nature and human life. Maybe this is one of the reasons why this culture does literature and art so well, both in terms of cultivating it and appreciating it, because virtually every citizen since the early 19th century has been inculcated with Krylov’s greatness from his or her earliest years.
If you need proof of children’s love of Krylov, just look through these pictures – look how at ease they are with the man, look at the love and affection they have for him (i.e., the girl blissfully hugging his right knee below). It’s hard to say what Krylov – in this monument sculpted by Andrei Drevin and Daniel Mitlyansky, and constructed by architect Armen Cheltykyan in 1976 on the north bank of Patriarch’s Pond – thinks of all this. At some angles he has the slightest bit of a smile, as though he knows too much about the world to really join in the children’s joy, but he also has too good a heart to deny their joy. From other angles the poor man simply looks exhausted by it all – exhausted by the perfidy of mankind, about which he wrote so well, and wearied by the effluence of love that he cannot possibly match in return.

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The monument is a multi-part piece scattered over a large territory which includes the statue of Krylov and several panneaux  that you pass on your way to greet the great man, and which illustrate scenes from some of his most popular fables. Immediately above you see a depiction of “The Wolf and the Heron,” with Krylov in the background. In the final picture below you see a rendition of the fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” with Krylov even farther in the distance.
Krylov (1769-1844) was a poet, essayist, publisher and, of course, fabulist nonpareil. He was a hugely popular man in his time and he was also simply huge. There is one sentence in the extensive Russian Wikipedia article that fairly begs to be quoted: “Anecdotes about his amazing appetite, his slothenliness,  his love of fires, his extraordinary willpower, his wit, popularity and his evasive wariness are only too famous.” His love of fires? That may be one of the finest, most comprehensive, one-line biographies I have ever read. If you search the net for images of Krylov you are most likely to find him only as an old man. I like the fact that the sculptors here made him relatively young. It suits his 236 fables, all of which are as young today as when they were written. For those who are interested, there is a pretty cool English-language ebook available on the net. It was published in 1869, includes a biography and prose translations of approximately half of Krylov’s fables.

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