Valentin Pluchek plaque, Moscow

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Valentin Pluchek (1909-2002) was not served well by the Russian tradition of artistic directors running their theaters as long as they think they can. Even by the time I met Pluchek in 1989 there was a sense he had overstayed his welcome. He was 80 – a very fit and able 80, I will say – and much of what happened at his Satire Theater by that time had the feel of old-fashioned. There were times when “moribund” would have described some of the shows he did. And yet he continued on as artistic director there for another 11 years, until  he was finally pushed out, after 43 years, and put out to pasture. He died two years later. I remember all of this and I remember how difficult it was to watch. Yes, he needed to step down. But what an ignominious way to go – just shoved out. I’m not saying I could have done it better – I’m saying it was a tragedy, at least for this man whose life was really quite extraordinary.
Pluchek began life as a homeless kid – by choice. He didn’t like his step-father and so he ran away and ended up growing up in orphanages. Now that already says something about character. He studied painting as a kid, and showed talent, but he was also drawn to the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky and the avant-garde theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold. As such, at the age of 17 in 1926 he signed up to study acting under Meyerhold. Three years later he began studying directing with Meyerhold and, for good measure, became a member of Meyerhold’s acting company. He played bit parts in the Master’s famous productions of Gogol’s The Inspector General, and in Mayakovsky’s The Bedbug and The Bathhouse. Unable to stage anything in Meyerhold’s theater – because nobody but the Master staged anything there – he began working on the side a lot, even creating his own company, but he stayed with Meyerhold until the end. The closing of the Meyerhold Theater in 1938 cut Pluchek loose. Joining with the playwright Alexei Arbuzov, he created another new theater – the Arbuzov Studio – which fell apart at the beginning of World War II. He banged around for several years after the war, not quite sticking anywhere. Then, in 1950, he was invited to do a production at the Satire Theater. The show was successful enough that he was invited back. Between 1953 and 1957 Pluchek staged three of Moscow’s biggest and most important hits – Mayakovsky’s The Bathhouse (1953), The Bedbug (1955) and Mystery-Bouffe (1957), following the latter of which he was named chief director at the playhouse. These productions not only resurrected Mayakovsky’s reputation in theater – his plays had been semi-banned since his suicide in 1930 – but they also served to return Meyerhold’s name – if only quietly – to the cultural consciousness. Meyerhold, arrested in 1939 and murdered in 1940, had been wiped clean from the Soviet cultural record.

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Throughout the remainder of the 1950s on through the 1970s, Pluchek’s Satire Theater was one of the hottest tickets in town. He attempted in 1982 to resurrect another name connected to Meyerhold when he staged Nikolai Erdman’s long-banned The Suicide. But his production was shut down virtually before it could open. By the time he revived it in friendlier times, 1988, as Perestroika began, the show was no longer what it once was. The lead actress, Tatyana Vasilyeva, who, by all accounts was stunning in the role of the wife Masha, was no longer with the theater. The rest of the cast was older, times had changed, styles had moved on, etc., etc. It’s an old theater story. Still, the legend of the attempt to revive The Suicide remains as, perhaps, Pluchek’s last great theatrical effort. The one that actually did get staged in 1988 exists as a TV film and, alas, is there for everyone to see what a weak effort it was.
I met with Pluchek for a couple of hours in 1988 in his office in the Satire Theater. He was smart, quick-witted, friendly and energetic. I took a liking to him right away. He had known Erdman personally and hung out with him some, although he was never a friend. For a couple of years (1932-33) he played the role of Valerian in Erdman’s The Warrant. Pluchek provided me with much insight into Erdman’s style and texts – he was a real scholar, I would say. For those who are interested, I published the interview we had in Russian in the journal Sovremennaya dramaturgiya (1997) No. 1: 231-4.
One of my favorite stories from our talk was the one about a time the Meyerhold Theater performed on tour in Leningrad. This would have been 1929, because he talks about the premiere of The Bedbug as just having taken place in Moscow. Anyway, the performance ends and there is the proverbial wild applause with everyone calling for the author. But the author is nowhere to be found. Mayakovsky has gone missing. Pluchek heads back to the European Hotel where everyone is staying. Being an old street kid, he heads directly for the basement where all kinds of losers, street urchins and pool sharks gather to play for money. When he walks in the door, who does he see but Mayakovsky and Erdman leaning over a table. Pluchek calls out to Mayakovsky: “Why weren’t you at the theater tonight?” Mayakovsky, in his bass voice, answers back: “I need money. Right now I’m going to beat this fop here (indicating Erdman). I need money more than I do fame.”
As I say, it’s a damn shame that Pluchek’s reputation took several hits over the last couple decades of his life. I rather suspect it’s time for someone to return to his extraordinary career in its entirely and give it another look.
Pluchek incidentally was Peter Brook’s cousin. Their fathers were brothers. Their paternal grandfather was an architect in what was then Dvinsk in the Russian empire, and now is Daugavpils in Latvia. Google photos of Pluchek and you will see the extraordinary resemblance he has to Brook.
The building you see here is located a few doors down from the Theater on Malaya Bronnaya Street. Pluchek lived here from 1970 until his death in 2002. The actual address is 2/6 Bolshaya Bronnaya. It was also home to a large number of other famous Russian directors and performers. We’ll return to them another time.




Vasily Aksyonov home, Moscow

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Here is another of those places that you won’t find without me. There’s no plaque here, no information listed, nothing to be found on the internet. The marvelous Soviet-Russian novelist Vasily Aksyonov lived here in the late 1970s, right up until he was essentially pushed out of the Soviet Union in 1980 and deprived of his citizenship. The address is 21 Krasnoarmeiskaya (Red Army) Street. Aksyonov occupied Apt. no. 20. I know this from the old 1976 Writers Union phone book I have in my library. I’ll say right away that I could make this post about any number of well known writers. This building was essentially built for the Writers Union and so a large number of writers ended up receiving (under the old Soviet system) apartments at this address. For example I on occasion visited the horribly underrated short-story writer Nikolai Shakhbazov here in the early 1990s. I’ll find a way to write something about this remarkable writer and man some other day. A handful of the best contemporary Russian playwrights still live in this building today – specifically, I mean Yelena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov.
But at this moment I am thinking about Aksyonov, a man who had no small influence on me. I had the great good fortune to be a student of Aksyonov’s for a year when I was in grad school working on my Master’s at George Washington University. Aksyonov had just showed up in D.C. and was at loose ends. I don’t know the reasons behind how and why Dept. Chair Charles A. Moser was able to hire Aksyonov to teach a seminar in Soviet literature, but he did. Moser had connections to the prominent dissident Vladimir Bukovsky – there was a memorial Bukovsky library in the GW Slavic Dept. – and maybe that was the key. Furthermore, Moser’s wife was the daughter of a prominent Bulgarian politician and political activist in exile (Georgi Mihov Dimitrov), thus putting him in circles of eminent exiles and dissidents. Whatever the reason, however, Aksyonov did end up for a short while (two semesters) at George Washington University, and I happened to be there to be one of his few students. I have always been curious as to why this information (Aksyonov as a GW professor, obviously, not my status as his student) is virtually absent in the historical record. His longtime tenure at George Mason University in Virginia is usually given as his first professional home after ending up in the U.S. Actually, it was Charles Moser and GW that extended that first hand (after Carl C. Proffer put Aksyonov up for the first few months in Ann Arbor, MI). At the time of Akysonov’s death in 2009 I wrote about him at some length in a blog on the site of The Moscow Times. There isn’t much more to pull out of my memory than what I put down there. But I will share a few more stray thoughts.

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After the Fall of the Wall and the collapse of communism, Aksyonov returned to Moscow, at least on occasion, for extended periods. His now-Russian citizenship was returned to him and, as I understood it, he acquired an apartment in Moscow that he could call home. My friend The Moscow Times photographer Igor Tabakov reminds me that this was in the high rise on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. Aksyonov occasionally figured in cultural news. I saw him from time to time on talk shows, in new documentary films, or as the subject of interviews in newscasts. Wikipedia tells me that he left the U.S. in 2004 for Biarritz, France, and that he split his time from then on between Russia and France. But he was a regular visitor and extended resident in Moscow throughout most of the 1990s. I ran into him at the Vakhtangov Theater one night; this would have been in the mid-1990s. He hadn’t changed a bit since the last time I saw him in 1981, he still had that wonderful swagger and that pleasant crooked smile with a twinkle in his eye. He responded warmly when I reminded him where we had crossed paths. Standing under portraits of Mikhail Ulyanov and Pyotr Fomenko, we chatted for a few minutes like old acquaintances before the bell rang that brings intermission to an end. The last time I saw him before his death was at the Sovremennik Theater. I have forgotten what the premiere was that night, but Aksyonov, as usual, was surrounded by a small swarm of friends and well-wishers. I didn’t attempt to approach him this time. I was perfectly satisfied to have had the opportunity to see him there in the hall of the first theater that ever produced one of his plays, Always on Sale (1965). It was a nice little closing of a historical circle for me. I suspect it was also around the time of this visit to the Sovremennik that, as co-editor of the Russian Theater Archive series of books, I had a small hand in publishing Aksyonov’s play Your Murderer in a translation by Daniel Gerould and Jadwiga Kosicka. That, for me was also a meaningful event. Aksyonov had helped me publish my first ever article in Russian way back in the 1980s, and 15 to 20 years later I was able to help him publish one of his neglected plays in English.
I trust you understand that I do not mention these insignificant incidents in order to worm my way into some kind of proximity to Vasily Aksyonov. But it is true that Aksyonov made a deep impression on me as a man of talent, wit, generosity and humanity, and that forever after I continued to harbor for him a genuine affection in my heart. No, what compels me to write today is what Bruce Springsteen called the “ties that bind” – that feeling of warmth and connection that ties to me Russian literature, culture and art. Aksyonov epitomized the best of what I know about Russian literature and Russian literary figures. He is one of those who make me feel at home in this culture, no matter what it chooses to throw at me and mine.



Alexander Pushkin, Muzeon Park, Moscow

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Today’s message is short and sweet: Even Pushkin ends up in dump heaps.
But what impresses me is not so much that somebody removed this small Pushkin statue to Moscow’s Muzeon Park of Fallen Monuments to share space with the disgraced Joseph Stalin and Felix Derzhinsky alongside more respectable company such as Mikhail Lermontov, Mikhail Lomonosov and others. Everybody has their bad days. No. What gets me is the way it was done. Look at these photos. The great Pushkin was just  unloaded at a corner between two sidewalks going different directions. Now, it’s true you can find photos of this statue on the net that aren’t quite as bad. Some show grass under the base on which his feet stand. Some show him looking in one direction, some show him looking in another. But in all cases Pushkin more or less looks like  a sore thumb in a bad place.
The photo immediately below is the most damning. I realize this was probably a temporary thing. I just happened to come along with my camera and catch it for eternity. But, still. How could this have happened for more than 10 minutes? How could it have happened at all? Somebody dug up a sprinkling line or something running through the environs, and he or she simply piled the dirt up on Pushkin’s feet! What kind of a person do you have to be to throw dirt on Pushkin’s feet? Did it never occur to this person that, maybe, this shouldn’t have been done? Or that, maybe, it ought to be undone once it was done? Which brings us to the next question – why hadn’t anyone ordered the great poet’s feet to be cleaned? Anyway, just beyond this rather forlorn Pushkin stands another abandoned object, perhaps a pedestal for some statue that didn’t make it here in one piece. This whole “ensemble” of wayward, tilting pedestals and half-buried Pushkins stuck in corners is just too much for me to bear.


As for the statue itself, it is the work of Aldona Nenasheva. She created it in 1987. This much I’m able to glean from the fairly informative Muzeon website.  I’m not able to glean much more. I don’t know why her Pushkin is sitting here, and although I don’t know this for a fact, I suspect he was intended to sit somewhere else. In a vain search for answers to these and a few other questions, however, I ran across quite a bit of commentary about this little statue by others. It appears to be a fairly popular likeness. Folks talk about its philosophical air, its culture, its whatever all else. I must admit I was surprised. It’s possible I was just thrown off by the dirt on his feet, but this Pushkin looks to me like one of those miniature plaster casts that you’d buy at a tourist trap. Okay, there’s a bit of a thoughtful gaze and there’s something nice about his curly hair being picked up by the ruffles on his shirt. But, still. Isn’t this cookie-cutter Pushkin? The Muzeon site assures me it’s not. Here’s what it has to say:
“The work of A.M. Nenasheva clearly reflected the general stylistics of the development of Soviet sculpture of the last decades: the revealing of the heroic in an everyday image of a contemporary; the expansion of theme in minimal movement; the development of monumental forms; keen psychological portraits.”
Or, maybe this is just another example of why I ran screaming from academia when the opportunity presented itself to me. What a scholar can’t say when s/he begins piling words on top of one another…



Teatr.doc, Moscow

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This post aims to look at the present as if it were the past. It will be easy to do, because Moscow’s ground-breaking Teatr.doc, although it is alive and well, is on the verge of great changes. A murky, backroom conflict with the authorities in Moscow – specifically the Moscow Property Department – has led to the demise of Teatr.doc as we know it. I emphasize “as we know it,” because founders Yelena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov are currently taking steps to find a new space for this little playhouse whose influence on Russian drama, theater and film in the 2000s is enormous. The city chose to break off its rental agreement with Teatr.doc, forcing it off of the stage it has occupied since 2002. There are all kinds of reasons tossed around as to why the city wants Doc, as it is commonly called, out of the center of Moscow. Is it too politically bold? Does it occupy a space the city could receive much more money for? Does somebody not like someone personally? The official reason is that Doc allegedly violated safety rules when putting in a new entrance door from the street. But it was the Moscow fire marshal who demanded that they do that, and all the construction work was carried out under the guidance of officials. In short, the real reason as to why Teatr.doc is vacating its famous quarters is still yet to be determined. But the fact that it will no longer occupy this space, beloved of its army of fans, is incontrovertible. When the December schedule is played out, Doc at this space will be no more.
It is (was) a theater that is (was) hard to find the first time you went. Only a tiny little black sign with an arrow at the bottom gave you directions back into a tiny courtyard it would never occur to you to go into otherwise. (Even that wasn’t there in the beginning, of course.) And, a few steps later, when you reached the tiny courtyard, nothing here really looked like it had anything to do with a theater. In the last few years stencils of “Teatr.doc” appeared on window blinds and the door, but for years there was only a tiny little sign by the door, almost as if someone wanted to keep the place incognito.
Doc, once it got going, was anything but incognito. Young people made a bee-line for this place almost from the very beginning. Here was a space where they could hear and see people talking about hard issues in a language that was familiar and accessible. Shows here touched on difficult social issues such as homelessness, murder, prison life and such. Over the years the shows and readings and evenings hosted here became more and more political. This is not the place to write a history of Teatr.doc, but suffice it to say that such productions as September.doc (about the Beslan terrorist attack at an elementary school), One Hour Eighteen (about the murder to muckraking attorney Sergei Magnitsky in prison), BerlusPutin (a spoof of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) and Two in Your House (about the aftermath of rigged presidential elections in Belarus) could not possibly have been pleasing to the authorities. Nor could they have been happy with the many politically charged evenings, such as those organized by Varvara Faer to bring attention to the plight of Pussy Riot, when the members of that group were still in prison.
But all of this – and this is a lot – cannot come close to giving a sense of the importance of all the new play development projects hosted by Doc. The major one was (and, one assumes, will continue to be) the Lyubimovka new play festival, which has run every Sept. for many years. Over the last decade and half I think it is safe to say that Doc, through its various play development works, has unleashed 400 to 500 new plays into the world. It has been a place that discovers new writers as well as helping established writers try out their new work. Maksym Kurochkin, one of those whom Gremina considers a co-founder of the theater, has used Lyubimovka virtually every year to unveil some new, wonderfully wild work. You can sort of see Maksym in the second photo below, chatting with my wife Oksana Mysina near the entrance to the performance space. Beneath that you see a typical use of the stage space – this was for a production of Kurochkin’s Circuit Breaker, mounted by the Brusnikin Studio, but it could have been for any number of Doc’s barebones shows.

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On some days or evenings, one suspects that the walls at Doc bulged outwards. Look at the photo immediately below. This was taken during the reading of Yury Muravitsky’s Pornography a couple of years ago, presented at Lyubimovka. That’s the stage you’re looking at. And those are spectators packing the stage – leaving the actors only a tiny space on which to move. And, yes, that is a photographer taking pictures from outside through one of the windows, while below her a spectator who couldn’t get into the hall found a decent vantage point from which to follow the goings-on. It was at this very event that I counted, I believe it was, 136 people in the hall. The two outside topped the attendance off at 138. It is an example of how a tiny stage fit for about 50 or 60 spectators could handle more than twice as many. The next photo below shows Doc’s minuscule foyer, including the table where Vika Kholodova has sat selling tickets and handing out comps for I-don’t-know-how-many-years. On the right you see a few of the dozens of awards and plaques that the theater has earned over the years. Finally, below, is the stage entrance door. Behind it is the cramped little dressing room, if it can be called that. When the theater is overflowing with spectators at a reading, this door will be thrown open so that another eight to twelve people can stand on chairs or a table and peer from behind the backs of others in front of them to get a feel for what is happening. When that door closes for the last time later this month it will be a shame. And from that point on, the little basement at 11/13 Tryokhprudny Pereulok, Bldg. 1, will pass into history.

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Vladimir Mayakovsky bust, Moscow metro


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The new, northern, vestibule of the Mayakovsky stop is one of my favorite places in Moscow’s metro system. It is challenged only by the spectacular platform of the Dostoevskaya stop, about which I have already written on this blog space. Hard to believe it’s been in use now for nine years, but that’s what Wikipedia tells me. It was opened Sept. 2, 2005.
There is a bust here of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) that, to the best of my knowledge, is a small copy of the head portion of Alexander Kibalnikov’s monumental full-body statue that stands a few dozen meters away in the middle of Triumphal (formerly Mayakovsky) Square. (For the record I’ve written a bit about that, here, too.) The bust, like the statue on the street, is a fine likeness. It has that hard, dynamic, energetic feel that Mayakovsky did himself. There are a lot of great images of Mayakovsky out there – just Google him and hit “images” and you’ll see what I mean.
But it’s not the bust that makes this space such a success. That is actually a modest detail, quite small actually, placed to one side of the vestibule. No, what makes this space so exciting is the vaulted mosaic ceiling. Again, Russian Wikipedia tells us that artist Ivan Lubennikov and three other unnamed artists worked for over three years creating the mosaics. They mix sky images with shapes drawn from the Constructivist style of using circles, oblongs, lines and rectangles in designs. Scattered in and amongst the images and backgrounds are bits and pieces of Mayakovsky’s poetry. The large, yellow background – nothing sky-like in that – really gives the whole space a bright, happy feel that contrasts with, and reflects well in, the black marble walls. The geometric shapes, then, placed around the ceiling, are like apertures revealing a sky that is located somewhere beyond the ceilings. Up there clouds drift, airplanes fly, and rainbows come swooping down towards us. One of the coolest angles from which to see the ceiling is on the up escalator. The higher up you go, the more the ceiling and the sky “beyond” it are revealed.

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Lubennikov, born in Minsk in 1951, has done quite a bit of work for metro spaces, including for two other relatively new Moscow stops – Sretensky Boulevard and Slavyansky Boulevard. He also created the stained glass design of the Russian folk figure Speckled Hen for the renovated Madeleine stop on the Paris metro, line 14. That design was installed in 2009, and you can see a small gallery of photos by going to an article on the website. Don’t be daunted if you don’t read Russian – just click on the small boxes beneath the larger image at the head of the story. This is what Russian Wikipedia has to say about the Paris design:
“The Speckled Hen composition is unique in that it is the personification of a whole country as seen by Russian artist Ivan Lubennikov. This work suggests a quilt sewn from various patches; you can see a samovar, the first sputnik, the hammer and sickle, a Moscow metro station, golden domes with crosses and the Kremlin, while Malevich’s Black Square is located in the middle of the image of the chicken. The stained glass panel stands against a black background and is flanked by French and Russian texts telling the story of Speckled Hen. Some of the French inscription crosses over from the wall onto a golden egg.”
None of this has much to do with the Mayakovsky stop in Moscow, but it does whet my appetite to get back to Paris to shoot pictures of Lubennikov’s Speckled Hen. I’m always looking for reasons to go to Paris.

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Gleb Uspensky hotel, Tomsk


Gleb Uspensky (1843-1902) is one of those Russian writers on whom, let’s be honest, the sun rarely shines any more. In his time, however, he was well known and well respected – Vladimir Lenin was a fan and he was hardly alone. Uspensky was a believer in literature as a means to affecting social change and was close to the progressive People’s Will movement. He wrote primarily about the poor and the disenfranchised, publishing almost exclusively from 1868 to 1884 in the popular literary journal Notes of the Fatherland, which was edited by the great civic poet Nikolai Nekrasov and the great satirical novelist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. Uspensky traveled much throughout Russia and Europe, gathering information for his writings. After visiting Germany, France, Belgium and England, he noted the lack of “general fear” that he saw in Europe. “In France,” he wrote, “the people are their own bosses.”
He arrived in Tomsk on July 13, 1888, and stayed in the building you see here – it was then called the European Hotel. Its address is now 1 Rosa Luxemburg Street (Magistratskaya Street when Uspensky was there). On June 9, a month before his arrival, the Siberian Newspaper ran the following note: “Our famous writer Gleb Ivanovich Uspensky will travel throughout Siberia this summer and will arrive in Tomsk on one of the next steamboats. As they say, Gleb Ivanovich is traveling with the goal of acquainting himself with the migrant movement.” Indeed, Uspensky was inspired to travel to Tomsk, and to Siberia in general, by his close friend the writer Vladimir Korolenko, who had spent time in Siberian exile. Korolenko’s stories about the people who remained in Siberia, or who traveled there freely to avoid problems in “European Russia,” fired Uspensky’s imagination.

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It so happened that Uspensky arrived just as Tomsk University, the first university in Siberia, was officially to be opened. Seeing as how he was a well-known figure, he was invited to attend the ceremonies. But he chose instead to go to a party at the home of Nikolai Naumov, a local writer of democratic leanings whose tales and reports about people and life in and around Tomsk brought him national fame in the 1870s. Still, on his return journey to St. Petersburg, Uspensky felt compelled to send a note back to the Tomsk municipal government, in which he said, “I sincerely add my joy to that of all Siberians and Tomsk citizens, especially, on the occasion of the opening of the university. Social progress (however it may come about) undoubtedly must move forward.”
Just one year after having been in Tomsk Uspensky experienced his first bout with mental illness. Eventually his malady led to a diagnosis of insanity (officially called “progressive paralysis”) and he was admitted to an insane asylum in 1892 in Novgorod, where he lived out the last decade of his life. He was buried in St. Petersburg in the Volkov Cemetery.

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Igor Stravinsky Street Mural, Moscow


I just heard about Zuk Club a couple of weeks ago. It was in passing and I didn’t quite get what it was all about. And then life took over and I forgot about it. That is until yesterday when I was out hunting down interesting places in my neighborhood. I was coming across Bolshaya Polyanka from First Khvostov Lane in the Yakimanka district south of the Moskva River and something simply grabbed my eyesight and yanked it in its direction. You see it above, it was a huge  portrait of Igor Stravinsky. Based on information on Zuk Club’s Facebook page this went up in mid-November, maybe on the 18th. I hadn’t seen it yet and its effect was enormous when I did. I almost burst out laughing. I didn’t want to move from my position in the middle of the street, even though cars were bearing down on me.
This is not the kind of thing you see in Moscow. Moscow has never been particularly whimsical, and street art of this kind is all about whimsy. Yekaterinburg has tons of street art – there are even walking tours you can take to see little gnomes drawn into decaying garages, short works of literature written into the crevices in walls, and murals painted on building sidings. On my street, Pyatnitskaya, there has long been a gorgeous, colorful fairy-tale-type tree painted on a building siding, but I’ve always treasured this especially because it was so one-of-a-kind. But, surprisingly enough, there occasionally are new things under both the sun and the the low, gray Moscow sky. It turns out that this Stravinsky mural is just one of many that in recent times have sprung up all over Moscow. There are already huge murals of Mikhail Bulgakov, Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Scriabin, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin and Sergei Rachmaninov and that isn’t a full list. I’ll have to get out and do some work on that, but for the time being the Stravinsky portrait at 33 Bolshaya Polyanka will suffice.

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Based on information from Zuk Club’s website, it would appear that the group has been in existence since 2011. It has done hundreds of murals and pieces of street art all over Russia and Europe. The Stravinsky and other such portraits in Moscow were mounted as part of the Best City on Earth program run by the Moscow Culture Committee with support from an organization called Novatek Art. There is a kind of revolving stable of artists who work on different projects including Kirill Stefanov, Artyom Stefanov,
Sergei Ovseikin, Maxim Malyarenko, Irina Zvidrina, Kirill Smirnov, Alexander Kochergin, Sergei Belikov, Alexander Okootin, Stepan Leshenko, Lisa Smirnova, Nikita Pavlov and Olya Shirokostup. I grabbed all these names from a virtual gallery on the Zuk Club site that shows 100 of the group’s projects done since May 2011.
Stravinsky (1882-1971) is a perfect portrait to have in my neighborhood. I consider myself rather challenged in my knowledge and appreciation of classical music. Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison saw to that. But I’m not a total rube – at least, not all of the time – and Stravinsky is one of the reasons for that. When I lived in Washington, D.C. – way-way-way-way-way-way back, as Van Morrison would sing it – I had a cassette tape of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale that I played in the car all the time. On the flip side was a recording of his Dumbarton Oaks concerto, which I loved no less. That particular piece always had especial meaning because the park at Dumbarton Oaks was located just a few blocks from where I worked and I would, on occasion, wander up there to dream on my lunch break. None of those dreams came true. At least they haven’t yet. Which doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on my affection for Stravinsky, and, perhaps, even enhances the attachment I feel to this portrait of him that has unexpectedly showed up in my neighborhood.