Monday, July 16, 2007

Sun Sets on Moscow 7.17

Woke this morning with a terrible stomachache that lasted most of the day. Went to the museum to finish condition reports, etc. The exhibition installation is coming along, with graphics and some paintings going on the walls today. At lunchtime, a Russian woman by the name of Natalie accompanied me to a pharmacy to buy some stomach medicine. She was very sweet, and has a daughter living in Virginia. She is a guide for tour groups in Moscow. We returned to the museum café, where she ordered some plain rice and tea for me. We ate and talked, then returned to work.

I returned to the hotel by car around 4pm, and slept for a while. A fever developed, but has since broken. I am feeling significantly better, though empty, at 10:30 pm, as I pack up to head back to the USA. And so the sun sets on the Moscow leg of the adventure, and brings to a close the entire trip. Barring any unforeseen delays, I will be in NYC tomorrow, basking in my American surrounds. I’m looking forward to eating a slice of cheese pizza, and drinking Starbucks coffee. I’ll drop one more line from the US, just to conclude this travel journal. Thanks for tuning in.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

7.15 Red Square

Yesterday, I traveled by Metro with another fellow over to Red Square, where we had a difficult time finding the appropriate entrance. It took us a while, but we finally figured out that the Kremlin is the cluster of buildings inside the great red wall punctuated with guard and clock towers and turrets. Red Square abutted the walls of the Kremlin, and was bordered by a large red gate building on one end, and St. Basil’s Cathedral on the other. In the middle, on one side was Lenin’s tomb (open 10am-1pm), and on the other, GUM, a large, multi-layered, arcade like shopping mall. Great spaces overall. Leaving there, I bought some sandwich stuff, beer, and yogurt in a small grocery and had a small picnic in the park nearby. After eating, I read a few chapters in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and then took the Metro back to the hotel and rested for a while. My boss called around 6pm, and so we took a walk to orient her to the city. Afterward we attended a loose meeting and had a late dinner. Zzz. Can you tell that I’m ready to go home?

Tretyakov Gallery / Vodka Drunk

Feel like it’s been a while since my last post. Lots has happened. My visit to the Tretyakov Gallery was rewarding…gallery after gallery of Russian painters, Repin being the only one I can recall by name…His painting of Ivan the Terrible holding his wounded son, with his crazy eyes peering out for intruders who would bring about his death…The chronology of the paintings, and their corresponding styles, paralleled western painting, from neo-classical through romantic to realist. Winding up my tour in the small gift shop, I left the museum solo, and made my way back toward the Pushkin Museum, where work was to begin at 3pm. I had lunch at the Patio place where we snacked the day before—pizza and salad. Worked until around 7—watching the crew unpacking crates for customs inspection—then walked through intermittent rain back to the hotel. Upon arrival, I had a couple of beers and two shots of vodka…At first I didn’t feel any effects, but it slipped up on me and left me stumbling around the mall, drunken but gleeful. I returned to the hotel and had a sushi dinner and awoke to a thumping headache.

Had breakfast and walked slowly to the museum, where I worked all day condition reporting. Long lunch. Rode Metro back to hotel, which was very interesting. Dropped off a cd there. Late dinner with a large group at a frilly, rococo pan-Asian restaurant, decorated in French neo classical décor and costumed wait staff. The string quartet playing in the central room wore white powdered wigs. Very surreal. We had drinks afterward at the Café Pushkin next door, and then returned to the hotel via gypsy cab.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Arrived Moscow 7.12

Well, after a 34 hour bus ride filled with many adventures, we arrived in Moscow. The trip was punctuated by several stops, some very long (3-4 hours at a convenience store just inside the Russian border), and others short, along side the highway so the drivers could smoke or switch. The border experience went smoothly, but had a pervasively serious and grave feeling. None of the Russian agents smiled—a show of “authority” and checked our paperwork several times over. As others pointed out, they like to stamp things, giving them an air of power. Once we were through, things were relaxed again. We hung out at a convenience store parking lot for several hours, where we bought vodka, bootleg cds, candy, and other snacks. I had good conversations with Sami, our Finnish (or Suomien) security guard, and Yuri, another Finn who drove the bus. Both nice and very funny. Finally the trucks cleared customs, and we hit the road (lackadaddy).

The roads were uniformly quite bad: bumpy, narrow, rough, thus making for a swerving generally uncomfortable ride. It was light until about 10pm. Not sleeping very well the night before in Helsinki, I was very tired, more tired, in fact, than I have ever been. Finally after a late dinner of borscht, bread, breaded fried steak (of some gristly mystery meat) and French fries chased with Carlsberg beer and three shots of Russian vodka that we picked up inside the border, I was pulled under by sleep. But due to the bumps, I was only able to sleep in 1-2 hour intervals, so never felt rested. By 4am it was light again. We stopped at a small truck stop holding area where the drivers had a small breakfast, coffee, and cigarettes.

We stopped for a more formal breakfast at a rough truck stop kind of place. A few of us followed the drivers inside, and had coffee and pastry, while one of the drivers, whose mother and wife were textile artists affiliated with the Marimekko company, told us stories of his German and Sweedish heritage. He was a great storyteller with great delivery. We then reboarded the bus and passed through several small villages of small traditional Russian homes, some occupied, others dilapidated and abandoned. We made the final stretch into Moscow in about 7 hours. Whew.

Driving through the Moscow suburbs took forever. Immediately, the signage, all in Cyrillic, was instantly off putting, even more so than the signs in Shanghai. It felt as if we had landed in the country of Bizarro, Superman’s arch nemesis. When we arrived at the hotel, we had just enough time to put down our bags before we were driven to the Pushkin Museum. Very quickly, the city took on a more beautiful and tranquil aspect, as we crossed the Moscow river, and headed toward to the old city center. After a snack with some others in a small café, we returned to the hotel, where I slept for 12 hours. Feeling much better this morning.

Today, I’m accompanying some of the guys to the Tretyakov Gallery. Should be fun. More to come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

7.11 Hei Helsinki

Have to make this quick. Arrived Helsinki yesterday afternoon. Went straight to cargo to watch crates loaded onto trucks. Then was driven to city center, where our Hotel is. Right across from the train station designed by Eero Sarinen (sp??). City is very nice. Took a good walk around and took lots of pictures. Due to short visit, left all five Helsinki cdrs in one little place...the entrance to a very nice looking cafe. Then last night, we were taken to dinner at a real Finnish place, a restaurant specializing in traditional foods from Lapland, Finland’s northern region, where we at lots of smoked reindeer meat and fish roe, etc. Very good.

I’m sad to leave Helsinki. More from Moscow.

Monday, July 9, 2007

So long Shanghai / Hello Helsinki

My last day in Shanghai was spent watching crates moved out of warehouses, into trucks, out of trucks, into warehouses, and then onto pallets. Watched hard working Chinese crews lifting and pushing and balancing and moving…We went from one warehouse to the cargo terminal of Pudong International Airport, a large, cavernous facility for “palletizing” crates to be loaded onto planes. The day was long and hot, but all went well. Had KFC sandwiches for lunch, and wound down with a few beers with colleagues across from the hotel. Took some final photos of the Nanjing Road at night, and inside the Shanghai No. 1 Food Store.

I’ve had a long and interesting stay in Shanghai, but am ready to move on…Next stop, though it will be brief, is Helsinki, Finland. I’ll certainly post from there if I’m able. If not, I’ll catch up with you once we reach Moscow…

Saturday, July 7, 2007

7.8 Dongtai Lu Antiques Market / Flower & Bird Market

Walked to the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market today to look at all the little stalls filled with Chairman Mao memorabilia and little Buddhas and other figurines and statuettes. Very interesting, and very few tourists. I was attracted to one stall (they all had the same array of objects), by the woman’s bright smile. I selected a small item, and we bargained for a little while. “You’re killing me,” she said, as we finally agreed upon a price. After that, I didn’t have much small change, so I looked for a while, deciding upon a stand to buy several things at once. After much looking, I found one with the array of things I wanted to buy, and begin the long haggling process. Stall keepers say “hello,” and “cheaper,” and “discount,” once you begin showing some interest in their wares. They then pull out the calculator to convey their prices, typically in Chinese Yuan (RMB)…”Friend” prices, the girl said. I picked out a few things, and named my price: 100 Yuan, or about $14. After much negotiation I walked away pleased with my purchases, and filled with a mild sense of pride: the girl told me “you are good,” meaning that I was an adept bargainer. In short, I spent what I wanted to spend, and got a few little things to take home.

Tired from haggling (it really wears me out!), I crossed the street to the Flower & Bird Market, a strange menagerie of animals, birds mostly, in cages. Exotic little birds, chipmunks, turtles, fish, and cicadas and crickets were all caged and offered for sale. Clusters of men played cards around little tables, or ate their lunch. The sounds of the market were most interesting: the squawk of birds, the chirp drone of the cicadas. I watched a man spoonfeeding what looked like a small parrot. And I saw a boy leaving the market carrying a small cage with a chipmunk inside. Nice pet. From there, I made my way back to the hotel, again through market stall lined streets. I deposited on cd-r on the gate of an alley that led to people’s homes. I only left it there because I am running out time. But I feel as if the music will be lost on those who are unlikely to have a cd player, much less an interest in electronic music from the US.