last look at the Moscow night from the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski
along the Moscow River. 1:30 AM. Photo: JH.
Moscow is a boomtown at the
beginning of the 21st century. A boomtown amidst
the ancient fortresses
and centuries old buildings. There are tall cranes and construction
all over this far-flung city. The lobby of the Baltschug Kempinski
where we are staying is pulsating with the entreprenurial feeling.
And the feeling, not so incidentally to this Westerner is easily
identifiable. We call it freedom.
In the hotel lobby at four o’clock in the afternoon (high
tea), it is mainly men in suits, although there are many more
casually dressed in jeans and pullover sweaters that reveal
their rich diets.
Jeans are everywhere, on all ages, types and sizes. Jeans, as
some may have forgotten, are an American invention, invented
boomtowns in other boom times.
The men in
the hotel lobby sit around in groups of two or four or six,
someone occasionally smoking a cigar, and discussing.
In Russian. Discussing what I cannot say. I can’t understand
one word of the language. But it appears to be serious. The
intent is serious. With the occasional laughter interspersed.
Cars pull up to the hotel door, just ten yards from the lobby
-- Mercedes, BMWs, Japanese models (no American so far), dropping
off, picking up more businessmen. Occasionally there is a woman
present (besides the women on the hotel staff). She often has
bags with her. Luxury shopping bags, that is. And she is wearing
jeans too, and maybe a form fitting sweater and some jewelry,
and always high heels. Her hair is often blonde or deeply hennaed
both. Women’s hair color is a big thing in Moscow, and
often a combination with pink or mauvish highlights -- all
of it a bid
for keeping up with the fashion.
The fashion for the men is more traditional. The Russians’ suits
are usually boxier. And their shoes are usually black and longer
in the toe, and frequently unshined and scruffy looking (although
there is a bootblack often languishing just around the corner
from the lobby). The very prosperous also have beautiful shoes
are shined. The cut of the Westerners’ suits are often
more shaped to the form of the body, although not necessarily
The exceptionally well-dressed have no nationality, just a
need to express their prosperity in style. They are the cut
In one corner of the lobby is a maquette of the Kempinski that
is a-building in Dubai. It is fabulous and makes you daydream about
living your life in luxury hotels without a care in the world.
Wherever that world is. Not far from the maquette display is a
grand piano where a blonde woman with an upswept hairdo plays cocktail
piano and I find myself singing the words under my breath:
You must remember this,
A kiss is still a kiss;
A sigh is still a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As Time Goes By.
was a busy one for us visitors. At eleven
o’clock we were transported by van to the Kremlin
for a tour. I would call it the “demystifying tour” for
the Kremlin of my lifelong imagination was transformed
by this tour. First of all, it is a huge tourist attraction
as are our national monuments and buildings. There are
also lots and lots of small children in groups. We were
part of a group organized by a public relations executive Marilyn
White, brought here ostensibly to report on the
3rd annual Moscow World Art Fair. The tour of the Kremlin
was a perk.
A guide met us outside. A Russian woman with highly accented but excellent
English; full-figured with short blond hair with mauve-ish/pinkish highlights,
dressed in a trencchcoat (it has been raining a lot off and on), white blouse
and small square ceramic earrings, she had a shopping bag with her also, and
looked as if she might be going shopping (for some luxury items) after she
finished with us.
begin our tour walking
towards the Troitskaya (Trinity) Tower, the Kremlin's
in 1495 by Antonio Bono and Pietro Antonio Solari, the Trinity
Tower was crowned with a spire similar to that of the Spasskaya
Tower at the end of the 17th century and serves
as the main entrance into the Kremlin complex. Chimes were
added to the tower in 1686, but were destroyed in 1812 in
the fires that raged around Moscow during Napoleon's occupation
of the city.
Left: looking towards the buildings which face
the walls of the Kremlin, while walking across the stone bridge
into the Kremlin.
from above: A street inside the Kremlin; The
Arsenal, just inside the Troitskaya
commissioned by Peter the Great in 1701 to store weapons
and military equipment. Several canons
that were captured during the Napoleonic Wars are arranged
in front of the building.
Senate building, opposite
the Arsenal, built between 1776 and 1788 by architect
Matvei Kazakov, commissioned by Empress
Catherine the Great to house meetings of the Moscow branch
of the Senate. The cupola sits above the building's grand
hall, which was formerly used for meetings of the USSR
of Ministers and the awarding of Lenin Prizes.
The building also used to contain the former quarters
of Lenin and Stalin's study, under which a secret passage
discovered that may have enabled the Director of the Secret
Police, Beria, to overhear the dictator's conversations.
In 1991 it became the official residence of
the President of the Russian Federation, although Putin does
not actually live there.
Tsar Cannon cast
in 1586 was originally created with the purpose of defending
the Kremlin's Savior
Gate, which leads to Red Square, but the canon was never
State Kremlin Palace was built between 1959
and 1961 to host Party congresses. Its 6,000-seat auditorium
now plays hosts to the Kremlin Ballet Company and various
and rock artists.
from top left: Patriarch's Palace and
Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles. In 1589
the estate was turned into the Patriarch's Court
when Patriarch Iov, the first Patriarch of Moscow
and the newly formed Russian state, took up residence
there. Subsequent residents included Patriarch Filaret,
the father of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov; A
group of schoolchildren on the steps of
The Cathedral of the Assumption; The Cathedral
of the Assumption was
the place of the coronation of the first Russian
Ivan the Terrible, in 1547, and all the Emperors
from 1721 onwards. Napoleon's cavalry stabled their
Legend has it that in the winter of 1941, when Nazi
troops had already reached the outskirts of Moscow,
Stalin gave the secret order for a service to be
held in the Cathedral of the Assumption to pray for
the country's salvation; The spacious and
light interior covered entirely with glowing
frescoes; The Cathedral of St. Michael (left)
was the burial place for the rulers of Muscovy,
from the Grand Duke Ivan I (1328-1341) to Tsar Ivan
V (1682-1696), the half-brother of Peter the Great. The
Cathedral of the Annunciation (right) was
the private church of the Russian Grand Dukes and
Tsars. Members of the ruling family
were married, their newborn heirs baptized,
and their confessions heard here.
around Cathedral Square with the imposing turrets
behind Church of the Deposition of the Robe.
going through the brief security check we walked over a bridge
that once spanned the Moscow River, through one of the main
towers (the oldest of the fortress) onto the Kremlin grounds.
The grounds are enormous and parklike, similar to a college
campus with lawns, groves of trees, flowerbeds, double-laned
roadways, and what the Russians call “squares” but
what most Americans would regard as would-be parking lots.
are from the 18th century or older with the exception of a
very large concrete and glass building which reminded me of
Lincoln Center in New York. Not surprisingly it was built around
the same time as Lincoln Center. It was originally built for
all the Soviet Congresses with an auditorium with a capacity
for 6000 people. Today is serves many purposes and most especially
as a concert hall. The concerts for children often run as often
as three times a day.
Across the way is an enormous yellow building which houses government offices
and a great armory originally constructed for Peter the Great. Napoleon came
along and lived in the Kremlin for about a month and during that time, or soon
thereafter, had the armory blown up in 1812. It was reconstructed a century
later. Interestingly, at the Moscow World Art Fair, there is one dealer who
sells almost exclusively Napoleonic memorabilia and works of art including
busts of the French emperor.
from top left: Two views of Ivan the
Great Bell Tower. Napoleon took a great
interest in it when he captured Moscow during the
campaign of 1812. On hearing that the cross on
the central dome of the Cathedral of the Annunciation
was made of solid gold, he immediately gave the
order for it to be taken down. Unfortunately, the
French leader confused the cathedral with the Bell
Tower and its gilded iron cross. All attempts by
Napoleon to remove the cross failed, and it was
only when a Russian peasant volunteered to climb
the tower that they were finally able to lower
the cross on ropes to the ground. When the peasant
approached Napoleon looking for a reward, Napoleon
had him shot as a traitor to his own country; Tsar
Bell, the largest bell in the world, weighing
in at 200 tons. Cast in 1655, but not hoisted for
another 19 years, it fell to the ground and immediately
shattered in the fire of 1701.
from above, left: The
Cathedral of the Annunciation, Patriarch's
Palace and Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles, and Ivan
the Great Bell Tower; The
choristers at The Cathedral of St. Michael; Our guide.
The Great Kremlin Palace was
commissioned in 1837 by Emperor
Nicholas I. The western wing of the palace features the Imperial
family's private apartments and five grandiose state reception
rooms, each dedicated to one of the chivalric orders of
the Empire. The ground floor of the Grand Kremlin Palace
features the Imperial family's private apartments, which
carefully preserved as a museum to the Russian Tsarist
guide led us to the square of churches just beyond this modern
building, where the czars were consecrated, crowned and buried.
Fifty-six Russian rulers, including Ivan the Terrible are
buried there. The czars’ Moscow palace is also on this
Square, great yellow and white edifice of five stories. It is
there that the Russian presidents now entertain foreign dignitaries
and hold receptions, but the palace is no longer permanently
occupied. President Putin, for example, does
not live in the Kremlin. He has several residences as president
but lives mainly in a house outside of Moscow that was once occupied
by Vladimir Ulanov Lenin, from which he commutes
the tour we were taken inside two of the churches -- the one
where the czars were crowned (and which Napoleon used for a stable
and later tried to destroy) and the other where the czars were
buried up to Alexander II. The last czar, as
we know, was buried very unceremoniously, his body thrown, along
with his family and entourage down an abandoned mineshaft in
Ekaterinburg. The leadership succeeding Nicholas II, however,
preserved the relics and symbols of the previous forms of leadership
and religious traditions, despite the finality of its closure
in the public consciousness, so that the history remains intact
for all to consider.
The tragedy of Nicholas and Alexandra, like the tragedy of Louis XVI
and Marie-Antoinette, is personal but not national in the scheme of
political changes. However, Mr. Gorbachev’s Perestroika reflects
another course in political transformation less violent, and is a tribute to
the ability of man to find other solutions for old problems. Reviewing the lives
of the czars, one can see easily what a long road it’s been and how much
better off the Russian people are today than their forebears were. Touring the
grounds of the once foreboding Kremlin, able to see its beauty, its architecture,
its religious history, one can also feel a very strong sense of the transformation
that has come about just since the ending of the Soviet rule but even moreso
since the fall of the autocratic system.
and below: The grounds of the Kremlin.
tour was concluded after about two hours. We
were told that there were several exhibitions in the Kremlin
which we were free to view although it was time for us to
visit the building just outside the Kremlin wall where the
Art Fair was setting up for its Vernissage opening last night.
The building is called The Menage. It is very old but completely
restored for purposes such as last night.
It was a hub of last minute activity, putting things in place, putting down the
final carpeting, adjusting the lighting. Everywhere you turned people were on
cellphones or chatting with colleagues, in a rush for the big night.
We toured the place and JH photographed many of the booths. We’ve seen
a number of art fairs at this stage of the game and so are able to quickly assess
the differences and the styles. There were approximately 70 dealers participating
in this Moscow World Fine Art Fair from Paris and Geneva and Moscow, along with
jewelers from all over the world. There was a difference, however, in that this
one was designed most specifically for the Russian clientele many of whom are
possessors of new (and often large) fortunes. Americans are familiar with their
forebears who settled the American West and California in the late 19th and early
Their tastes run the gamut between the classic and the contemporary and there
is a strong inclination for mixing both as freely as entrepreneurs mix their
business interests. The whole fair reflects that freshness and newness.
our tour and photo op, it was time to return to the hotel and
deal with the lingering jet lag, which brings me to the matter
of transportation around
the great city of Moscow.
abounds outside the Manege, the location of the Moscow
Wolrd Fine Art Fair.
the press conference we came across the fair's organizers
Patrick Hourcade, Sixtine Crutchfield, and Tusi Chogovadze
Rappo and Valentina Vassileva
of the problems confronting a tourist in a new city anywhere
is how to get around. In Moscow, the solution for some might
be a van (if you’re in a group) or a hired limousine
(if you can afford it). For us it has been a taxi. Now taxis
are not so plentiful in this boomtown, compared to New York
where yellow cabs are everywhere all the time. Furthermore
addresses in this foreign language can be almost as difficult
to master as the language itself. The Kremlin, the Kempinski,
the Cafe Pushkin are easy for both parties to understand.
After that it’s the world of the unknown for the tourist.
The taxi is obtained in one of two ways: you can order one at the restaurant
or hotel you are visiting. Or you can go out on the street and hail one down.
However, unlike New York, or many American cities, there are very few cars that
are marked as taxis. So you stand on the roadside and just raise your hand to
hail, hoping that one of the unmarked cars passing by is an available taxi and
will stop. Fortunately there are lots of them once you begin this proceess. They
see you and pull over.
Then you must negotiate a price -- 200 rubles, 300 rubles. The driver might say
800 rubles and you say, 500 rubles, and he may motion you to get in or turn you
down. The cars we’ve ridden in are personal cars, often not in very good
shape but comfortable enough for the purpose.
in traffic, looking through the rain-splattered window
at St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.
of the opening night crowd at the Moscow World Fine
Steinitz and brother Steinitz
models take a break below Salvador Dali.
to r.: The Chanel pearls; Exiting the Moscow World
Fine Art Fair.
night after leaving the fair, we hailed a cab to go to an Italian
called Mario’s which had a very good rating from Zagat’s. (Yes, Zagat
is in Moscow too!) The first taxi that stopped didn’t know what we were
talking about (“we want to go to Mario’s restaurant”). JH had
written down an address but when he repeated it the taxi driver still didn’t
know what he was talking about. When JH showed him the address, written in English,
he couldn’t read it. So he turned us down. The second driver also couldn’t
help. There was a moment (and it has occurred several times on this trip) when
you realize that you are completely at the mercy of an individual who does not
understand one word of your language and you do not understand one word of his.
He could take you anywhere and too bad for you if he does. This did not happen,
of course. Taxi drivers are interested in the same thing they are interested
in in New York: get the customer to the destination, get the money and move on.
Finally a taxi came along with a driver who did not understand what we were talking
about, had never heard of Mario’s restaurant or where it was located. However,
he pulled out a map and a magnifying glass and started to look. Finally he said
in his Russian: “ahh, Mah-ee-oo.” Yes Yes. “Ressa-awnt.” Yes
yes. “Ahh,” he nodded. Then JH said: 400 rubles. He nodded again,
and we were off.
It was a bit of a ride to Mario’s, moving quickly through main thoroughfares,
down neighborhood streets, around corners, down some more neighborhood streets
until the driver began to slow down, as if looking for it. Finally, there it
was: a one-story white building with a yellow sign: Mario’s. Now, we were
also told that the taxi drivers will accept rubles, or euros or dollars, and
that they especially like dollars. The current exchange rate is approximately
27 rubles to a dollar. So I pulled out fifteen bucks American and asked if that
would do. He was very pleased.
were very late for our reservation (9:15 -- we arrived at 10)
but the staff
at Mario’s was very accommodating. The place looks not unlike an Italian
restaurant in Greenwich or Westchester. The menu is in Russian and Italian. I’m
proficient in neither also pomodoro and tagliatelle may as well be English at
this point. The waitstaff (mainly younger men) looked very American to these
eyes. It was busy but not crowded. At a big round table next to us, three couples
were celebrating one man’s birthday.
We both ordered a tomato, mozzarella and basil starter followed by a dish of
pasta and two glasses of Vodka in chilled glasses along with some Pellegrino.
At first the waiter didn’t understand when I ordered vodka. Vahd-ka. Hmmm?
Finally, Woid-ka, and he smiled acknowledgement and was off.
The dinner was excellent. About fifteen minutes before finishing we asked the
hostess if she could get us a taxi. Fifteen minutes later, a young man named Sergei who
manages the restaurant, informed us that the taxi had arrived.
This taxi was marked: yellow with a light on top. One of the few. But when we
got in, there was no meter working. So it was “the Kempinski” and “400
rubles.” Okay. Returning to the hotel, I kept looking for milestones that
were familiar but it wasn’t until we passed through Red Square and the
GUM that I began to feel at home once again. It had been raining briefly while
we were eating dinner. On arrival at the hotel, we strolled over by the riverside
where JH got that great shot of the Moscow night.
manager, Sergei, in front of the restaurant; Serving
the birthday cake and mixing the
pasta at Mario's.