Keeping It (Un)real in Moscow

Our Russian child sent us there but he needn’t have. Its cheerful pointy roofs enticed from the skyline across the rubble of the deserted lot on the way to our accommodation.

I couldn’t work it out. Why was such an elaborate complex stuck out in a suburb abutting another lot filled with tumble-down buildings?

Chunky limousines flanked the regal entrance.

At the top a couple of guards watched us walk past. People in uniforms sprinkle the urban scene but, being unaccustomed to this, I wondered whether I should pay or acknowledge them.

We entered the courtyard and my mind went into overdrive trying to construct sense.

It was like the opening scene of a movie. One searches, wide-eyed and open-minded, for clues, knowing the writer and director have employed setting, character, music, even font, to orient (or, sometimes, disorient) the viewer. One scans, takes mental notes, makes hypotheses, looks within one’s own experience for context.

Where were all the people? What the deuce was going on?

Old palace?

Some kind of cross-culture Disney world?

To steady my disorientation I did what many would have done in my situation – headed into the vodka museum. If in doubt, take photos. The €2 pass to do so can be bought here. Was I churlish or unadventurous not to sample the national drink? Not at 10am I wasn’t.

The buildings are extensive but it seems one cannot explore them. My way was barred by wooden poles across stairways. So this enchanting place with its balconies and windows begging me to gaze out from them was largely off-limits.

A couple of small stores on the courtyard sold Russian trinkets. One proprietor informed us that more open on the weekend. So we wandered. Then we happened to leave the area via a bridge.

Lo! Spread below us, out of sight from the courtyard, were the market stalls of which our Russian child had spoken.

So we descended; past some living quarters, past the boy toddler standing on the edge of a roof grinning at us, past moss and cracked paint, to the ground.

Babushka dolls, that staple of the tourist in Russia, featured prominently. There were chess sets, jeans, coats, reasonably fast food, icons, furs, jewellery, magnets, plates, linen, high-heeled gumboots, wallets and all manner of other things.

So we’d gone from act one to act two of the movie. We’d accepted the world portrayed in the film then been catapulted into another one.

Then we left the movie altogether. We went out the back.

It was as I imagine it might be venturing into the lots behind the impressive movie industry buildings. We were in the place where all the props and sets are thrown. It was as if we’d sneaked out during the shooting and stumbled upon the skeletons which play their role in creating the glitzy façade of a different reality and are then discarded.

The myriad empty stalls clutching at a lone man’s footsteps,

the tables waiting for someone to sit at them and eat a sausage or down a vodka,

the shabby, giant characters,

the boat, creaking upon a waterless sea

and the miniature castle:

their scenes were played out.

But workmen beavered away at another tower, another tale.

We never did work out what was going on here. There was no third act, no tidy resolution.

Humans want sense. We crave comprehension. It can be hard to leave things loose, to let them be unexplained. In our zeal for meaning we may bypass mystery and reach for the filing cabinet. We let our minds analyse and conjecture. We don’t allow that sometimes not knowing doesn’t matter. Sometimes disorientation is good for our spirit.

Have you had experiences like this?

Alight at train station Cherkizovskaya (Черкизовская). Turn left over the bridge and take the first right. It’s a free screening.

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