Archive for July, 2009

Vladimir

July 27, 2009

Really quick update: I am in Vladimir right now, making a partial tour of provincial towns in the Golden Ring outside of Moscow. My internet access is limited and sporadic, and I can blame my lack of posts or pictures on this. Vladimir is like a smaller, friendlier version of Moscow. There are more signs that people actually live and do practical things here. The first day I got in, I ended up eating in the foodcourt of a Russian department store (nastiest hamburger of my life).

Two things I appreciate about Russia is that most of the other tourists are Russian, and for once I do not look obviously foreign. I would say on average I get stopped on the street twice a day by Russian people trying to ask me for directions. Both of these things mean I feel like less of an intruder here, although there is always that awkward “I don’t speak Russian” moment.

Anyway, I like Vladimir. I have been daytripping outside of Moscow for the past week or so, partly to escape the city and partly to get a vague sense of what the rest of Russia is like (they say Moscow is nothing like the rest of the country, kind of like New York in America). The downtown here is a lot of orthodox churches and Kruschev-era apartment complexes, but the farther out you get these give way to older wooden architecture and junky old one-story houses. Over the last couple of days I visited the even smaller towns of Suzdal and Bogolyubovo with an english-speaking friend of my host here. These places are very charming after all the hassle of a Russian supercity, although I would be completely lost if I tried to visit them without a Russian-speaking companion.

I am skipping a lot of things…I’ve been to an abandoned hospital outside of Moscow, I switched from hostel to a homestay with a belligerent older Russian woman. I finally went inside the Kremlin (pretty much what I expected) but I still have not seen Lenin! I am trying to think more carefully about negative space, and will probably have to break my own rule about only making pictures on-site. It is hard to be selective here: pretty much everything lends itself to an illustration.

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First Weekend: lots of mullets

July 13, 2009

Once again, I made it back to the hostel safely today. I am still
feeling very overwhelmed by everything but i’m starting to focus on
drawing and I’ve walked around a lot of the city in the last couple of
days.

In spite of what I have heard about Moscow being an international city, I never seem to see any other non-Russian people outside my hostel. Even in touristy areas, all of the tourists are Russian. Almost no one in this city speaks english, and there is almost no  english on any of the signs. I have never been in a country where I understood so little of the language, and it is a huge barrier. It’s also very different being completely on my own, although occasionally I meet nice people at the hostel.

The city reminds me of Florence in some ways, only dirtier and weirder. Everything looks very capitalist here, but no one on the
street seems especially well-dress or bathed. The weather was really nice the first couple of days but it’s been getting hotter and today I could really feel the dirt of the city. I am trying to do the siesta approach to working: getting up early (8 or 9 AM) and go out while it’s relatively cool and uncrowded, then coming back in the afternoon to shower  and nap whlie everyone else is out, then going out drawing again in the evening. Apparently in St. Petersburg today is the last of the “no darkness” days, but even here it is light out until 10:30.

Yesterday I walked around Red Square, went into St. Basils (like the
Mona Lisa, surprisingly small in person) and walked around the outside
of the Kremlin. I then followed my guidebook’s recommendation and did
a walk along the river and onto the island in the middle, saw a few
more churches and a ridiculous statue of Peter the Great on a boat.

Mostly, though, I have been avoiding doing touristy things and drawing like crazy instead. I will put up some stuff whenever I get around to photographing/uploading it. In keeping with the theme of my college work, I have been looking for “threatened” architectural sites in the city to draw. There are a lot of abandoned/disrepaired buildings here, but the city is very careful about covering them up with tarps, and I have also seen a lot of places that are in the process of being rehabbed. There are a lot of issues here with new developer tearing down old historic sites, and there is probably a good theme for my work somewhere in there. Yesterday I went to see a Russian Baroque church South of the river that’s slightly dilapidated and under threat from new developments in the surrounding areas. I forgot that there was mass (“liturgy”) because it’s sunday, but the people there were very nice and one person spoke english and told me some stuff about the church, and was happy to let me sit outside and draw it. He said all the churches in Moscow were closed during the Soviet era and 2/3 of them had been destroyed during that time (which means Moscow was probably like 50% churches before the Revolution. I can’t walk anywhere in this city without seeing onion domes). Pictures will happen whenever I get around to uploading them.