Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Memories of Russia … 1990

All, everything that I understand, 
I understand only because I love.
~Leo Tolstoy

The Olympics in Russia, in February, brought back memories of a trip taken long ago … and now, with so much in the news, it's on my mind.

Back when my parents were living overseas (in Bangkok) we decided to go to Russian, on our way home from Thailand. My dad's company paid the full fare economy price, and we could get deals to stop other places, as long as it was for plane tickets.

Anyway, in 1990, it was still the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev's Perestroika was in full swing, so things were starting to change, and people were just beginning to make comments and speak out, in ways that would have had them arrested not long before. At least that's what we were told.

The two most powerful warriors
are patience 
~Leo Tolstoy

This was almost 25 years ago, so my memory is very fuzzy, and I'm not quite sure of where exactly some of my photos were taken, though with a little research on Google images, I think I've gotten most of them figured out. 

Also, it was 35mm slide film, so I only made up a few prints back then. Remember how expensive it all got? Anyway, that's why there aren't more photos. I used my new scanner, which I am still trying to figure out!


Consecrated 1489,  Russian Orthodox
Cathedral Square, Kremlin, Moscow

This place was breathtaking and I had never seen anything like it!

A little music for the trip!

Church of the Deposition of the Robe in the Kremlin, Moscow 

The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin of the Moat
Completed in 1560
 Red Square, Moscow

Incredible dresses in the Kremlin Armory Collection, made with silver thread … unbelievable! These may have belonged to Catherine the Great.

At that time, I was knee deep in the theatre and in acting classes, back in San Diego, and learning about the history of the history. That included Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938) and The Moscow Arts Theatre. Every acting student was told that they should have a copy of Stanislavsky's My Life in Art.

Love the art in yourself
and not yourself in the art.
~Konstantin Stanislavsky

The folks from the Group Theatre (1931-1941) in New York, (later the Actors Studio people) were captivated and inspired by this realistic, non presentational style of acting … of living truthfully on stage. If there had been no Stanislavsky, there would have been no Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan or Sandford Meisner.

Our demands are simple, normal, 
and therefore they are difficult to satisfy.
All we ask is that an actor on the stage 
live in accordance with natural laws.


I have no idea how I found out about it, (this is before anyone I knew had the Internet) but when I learned there was a Stanislavsky Museum, I had to go! So my parents, my sister and I all traipsed around Moscow, looking for it. It was not easy and the street signs were Cyrillic script, so basically, we were matching the shapes on the signs and wandering around, asking people, that didn't speak English, how to get there. 

Unless the theatre can ennoble you, 
make you a better person,
you should flee from it.

Finally, we found it! The sweetest little lady, with a  floral scarf of roses over her head, and tied at her chin, met us at the door. She seemed ancient to me, at the time, like one of those little shrunken apple dolls, and spoke little or no English. Her face lit up when she realized we weren't actually lost and that we were there to see the last home of Stanislavsky. I think we were the only ones there. It was like going back in time. 

The main factor in any form of creativeness
is the life of a human spirit, that of the actor and his part,
their joint feelings and subconscious creation.

If I could go back in time, to see any play by a group of actors, it would be to see a production of Chekov's The Seagull, by the Moscow Arts Theater. Apparently, they have a museum as well. This little theater is part of the Stanislavsky museum.

from the Seagull, by Anton Chekov

"Now I know, I understand, Kostya, that in our work, in acting or writing, what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I dreamed of, but knowing how to patient. To bear one's cross and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn't hurt so much, and when I think of my vocation, I am not afraid of life." 

My task is to elevate the family of artists 
from the ignorant, the half-educated, and the profiteers, 
and to convey to the younger generation 
that an actor is the priest of beauty and truth.
~Konstantin Stanislavsky

I'm not sure if the following pictures where in Moscow or St. Petersburg ...

Saint Petersburg

We took the night train from Moscow to, then, Leningrad. The train was actually heated by coal and looked like something from a WWII movie. There were little shelf bunks and everything in our little cabins was in old varnished wood! Talk about being transported back in time! I have a feeling that train was retired years ago. 

There was a gal in charge, who got mad at some rowdy guys on the train, and locked them out of their room. Most of the time she sat by the coal stove heater at the back of the car. Anyway, it was all very exciting!

The energy, was totally different in Saint Petersburg, than it was in Moscow. It felt  … lighter. There was grey-ness to Moscow, at that time, and sadly, we were told people were waiting in long lines for oranges. The buildings were so beautiful but everything looked a little … sad, in 1990. 

Although there was quite a lot of restoration going on in St. Petersberg, there was a creative energy that seemed palpable and exciting. It's a strange thing, to feel happy that things were being restored but then having mixed feelings about the money spent, when there was so much struggling.

The Catherine Palace, Saint Petersburg

Like so many places we went, the Catherine Palace was in the process of restoration. I can't imagine the cost to do restoration in those places, when everywhere you look, everything is covered in incredible carvings, plaster reliefs (?) and gold gilding. I've still never seen anything like it, anywhere else. 

The Tsars … wow, they weren't kidding around. Visiting these places, you really understand why there was a revolution. It was seriously over the top. If you want to see more of the crazy "over-the-top-ness," Google Russian "carriages at the Kremlin Armory." We actually saw jewel incrusted saddles and stirrups. 

I'm not sure if this, below, was in the Catherine palace or where it was. So much of what we saw was incredibly ornate, like this.

There was also a summer palace we went to, Peterhof, that had a huge fountain that went down all these steps, but it was sadly empty and just a big old mess. It was a little depressing. You kept trying to imagine it, in all it's glory. Well, I just went to Google Images of "Peterhof fountain" and it is INCREDIBLE now! The fountain is magnificent, again, in all its glory. 

I don't think we came away from Moscow with any souvenirs. Most came from an outdoor market, in St. Petersberg. There were lots of nesting dolls, and tiny detailed painted boxes … and art.

One of the best things you can bring back from a trip, is art. First of all, you are supporting artists, and in many places, it's very affordable. On this trip, each of us were able to pick something out, to bring home.

I chose this signed print, below. I can't remember the name of the little church (if I ever knew it) but I was told by the lady, at the market, it was the little church where all the artists went, including the actors. It's been hanging in my apartment, for the last 17 years.

This is my sister's etching with watercolor, she picked out, of St. Basil's .. it's even dated 1990.

This is the little painted wooden egg, from the same outdoor market, that sits in my big bookshelf. See her little black cat?

This, below, is not from the market. Back then, the big deal souvenirs, were Russian military watches, and you had to by them on the black market, because I guess they weren't supposed to be sold. Our taxi driver in Leningrad took us to a small park, where we met a guy …

It was very exciting. I don't know if you would get into trouble as the buyer but it felt a little naughty and "spy movie-ish" meet in the park. The watch doesn't run anymore but it would be a fun conversation piece, if it did. Might have to head to my watch man. 

We were lucky enough to go to a ballet, inside one of the old swanky residences, in St. Petersburg. I think it was the Yusupov Palace, because someone told us that Rasputin died out in front. So, I Googled it. Although, apparently he was poisoned inside the residence, when that didn't work, he was shot in the head, and then thrown in the river. Nothing says drama like being poisoned, shot, and thrown in the river. Sheesh.

Anyway, we were walked through this amazing old residence, having no idea where we were being led, until we found ourselves in a beautiful, ornate, "home theatre" and the dancers were on stage right in front of us. My sister Penny joked that the sweat would be flying off onto us. 

They were doing pieces from different ballets and the one I remember was with a young man and woman dressed in white. Actually, he had on only white tights ... and he was beautiful. Like a Botticelli angel. It was a slow and sensual, romantic and sad ballet … danced to Albinoni: Adagio in G minor. (No idea at the time. I looked it up later) and we were all besides ourselves and almost in tears, by the end of the dance. 

Here is a ballet video I found, with the same music! It's in slow motion and beautiful … except the guy's underwear. Just imagine, instead, long white ballet pants and the guy Charlie, who won the gold metal for ice dancing. ;) He looked more like that.

The weird thing is, that we kept hearing that music, on the rest of the trip. Even in England, it would come on the radio, and my sister and I would just look at each other. Even on a subway! It was a strange synchronicity.

Winter Palace and State Hermitage Museum

The palace was built between 1754 and 1762, for Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. She passed away before it completed, so it would be Catherine the Great and her successors who spent time in this huge and incredible palace.

Room after enormous room, covered in art … art that I knew and Recognized! Van Gogh, Matisse, Da Vinci, Rodin, and on and on. After being at the Louvre the previous summer, I thought between there and the Hermitage … This is where everything is! It's not true. but it felt like, between the two, they must have half the western art, in the world!

Back in 1990, the place was a little shabby, actually. At the very least, it needed a serious coat of paint and air-conditioning!  Maybe it was just the day we were there. My dad also reminded me about all the artifacts that seemed disorganized and stacked on the ground floor. I just visited their website though, and it would seem that much has changed in the last, almost, 25 years. It would be great to go back someday and see it after the restorations.

Anyway, it was amazing to see all these incredible works in a gigantic palace. When you go into an palace, that's a few hundred years old, you sort of expect to see portraits of old monarchs, from around the time that the place was built, but to round a corner and see these enormous Matisse canvases, was a glorious and strange surprise!

The Dance
Henri Matisse

Matisse, 1910 

I was cleaning out my art supply cabinet last week, and found this program from the Hermitage, that I still have from all those years ago!

Art is not a handicraft,
it is the transmission of feeling
the artist has experienced.
~Leo Tolstoy

One of the cool things that my mom and I did, was to see a production of The Glass Menagerie, at the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater (Formerly known as the Gorky Bolshoi Drama Theater.). It was so moving, even though it was in Russian, and I couldn't understand a word! I knew the play well enough and at the end, when the actress who played Laura started crying during the curtain call (huge emotional release, after that play) my mom and I cried too.

I remember heading to the Peter and Paul Fortress, in St. Petersburg, and coming across this violinist, in a sort of tunnel, or arch. He was playing a beautiful Bach violin concerto. It was so beautiful and the echo made it even more so. It's one of my most vivid memories from the trip. 

That beautiful music, echoing out into the gardens and walkways … I think that's when I fell in love with Bach.

Leaving the fortress, we saw a little string quartet playing along the road, and when they saw us, they started playing Stars and Stripes forever! I kid you not. They were smiling at us playing John Philip Sousa! Obviously, they were all feeling pretty bold, with the changes happening at the time. In fact, it was only about 13 months later that the Soviet Union ceased to exist, as we'd known it.

More info on the Yusupov Palace, where I think we saw the ballet and where Rasputin met his end, click here.
More info on the Stanislavsky House Museum click here.
The Hermitage Collection

There is so much art at the Hermitage, I'd love to go back one day and see Gorgione's Judith, and da Vinci's Madonna and Child and Benois Madonna, Titian's Penitent Magdalene and so many others! 

There is a wealth of art and culture, in the country, and I hope the political situation there gets better, including the civil rights issues. I will be thinking good thoughts, and wishing the people there the peace and freedom, to live their lives and express themselves, openly and without fear.

In the name of God,
stop a moment, 
cease your work,
look around you.
~Leo Tolstoy

Blessings and light!
Have a beautiful and peaceful week.


Rick Forrestal said...

Great post, as usual.

(I want to go traveling with you.)
Love your travel pics and notes.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Ever since I saw Russian architecture as a kid, I always wanted to go there. Love the light in these archival photos.
During the Olympics I found an LP of Russian folk music and I find it so beautiful to listen to.
Thanks for the micro tour!

donna baker said...

Oh Lucinda, I just loved this post. Listen to Sarah Brightman on her album Eden sing Anytime, Anywhere on Itunes or Youtube. Pretty incredible. What a trip you had...


Thank you for this very wonderful trip to Russia with your amazing pictures !!!
Have a nice week !!!

Amanda Summer said...

I've long wanted to go to Russia and these photos only reinforce that desire. The night train from Moscow to Leningrad sounds like something out of Doctor Zhivago - completely romantic.

Unknown said...

you got lots of great photos!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Lucinda (I love your name), this is so rich in the heritage and beauty that issued out of this great land. My best friend is from Odessa, and has great stories of her childhood. Your photos are FANTASTIC, and I especially love the one with the dark background and the vase with flowers. Oh the art in the world, from a great painting to a vase to a photograph. I hope your art life is going well, and thank you so much for your visit! Anita

Tammie Lee said...

how wonderful to visit an older journey, to take it to heart anew.
I love your last quote.

lovely days and nights to you ~

Cobalt Violet said...

Thanks for the comments! It was fun to revisit!

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Wow, Lucinda, what a fabulous post. Love your quotes (especially Tolstoy). Thank you for sharing your emotions and experiences on this trip to Mother Russia. I was there a long time ago during a cholera epidemic. Ended up in a hospital in Leningrad. But upon recovery was astounded by the art at the Hermitage. Best wishes on your creative endeavors.

Incredible. Moving. Deep.

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