Being There.

Some friends and I were walking through Gorky Park, the actual park, not the 1983 film, although it is interesting to me that one of my favorite comedians, Alexei Sayle, has a small role in the film. He gets shot in the head and because the special effects technicians got a little overzealous when they shot the shooting he was left temporarily deaf. While he was sitting around the set recovering Lee Marvin sat down and talked to him for about half an hour and all Sayle, who was understandably starstruck, could do was smile and nod politely.

My friends and I had just been to a Marc Chagall exhibit at a Moscow museum which, at the time, was a pretty big deal. This was 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed less than a week earlier, and Chagall’s paintings were being shown in his native Russia for the first time since he left in 1923. It was striking to me that even though Chagall himself wouldn’t live to see it his paintings had outlasted the Soviet Union. And even though I really loved the Chagall  paintings I’d seen in books this was the first time I’d ever seen his pictures in person. No matter how good a reproduction may be it can never capture the feeling of being in front of an original painting, seeing its size, the brushstrokes, and the colors unfiltered.

Because it was snowing and because we were in a park we decided to build a snowman, although we didn’t pretend he was Parson Brown, but if we had and he’d asked, “Are you married?” we would have said, “Holy crap, it’s a talking snowman!” but that’s another story. Since we didn’t have coal or carrots we used kopecks for the eyes and nose and mouth. Some Russian kids gave us weird looks. As we walked away I looked back and saw them examining the snowman. I figured they’d take the kopecks but they didn’t touch it.

On the metro going back to the hotel we sat across from a boy who might have been seven or eight.

“Would you like a piece of candy?” one of my friends asked. He gave her a blank look. She held out a lollipop from her candy stash. He took it and politely muttered “Спасибо.” He then took out a red plastic pencil case and put the lollipop in it, keeping his head down. The rest of the trip he kept moving around the lollipop and his pencils, a smile pushing out at the corners of his mouth.

Every once in a while I think about that kid and how he must be grown now, and I wonder if any memory of us has melted away, like the lollipop and the snowman, or if he remembers that, if he feels lucky to have been there.

8 Comments

  1. Kristine @MumRevised

    What a nice memory for you. We are spending some time in St Petersburg this summer… maybe I’ll bring candy.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Russia isn’t what it used to be so the kids probably all have candy now. Too bad it’ll be the summer and you won’t be able to build a snowman either. On the bright side you’ll be able to take a boat ride down the Neva. I couldn’t do that when I was there but I could have walked across it.

      Reply
  2. ALLISON EVERETT

    I remember being at Neue Pinakothek in Munich, and I turned a corner. There, in all its glory was a Van Gogh Sunflowers. It took my breath away. Art is mindblowing.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That must have been mindblowing. There really is something amazing about seeing works of art, especially ones you’ve seen reproduced, in person. I envy you because I’ve never been in front of a Van Gogh.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    A beautiful story. It’s been my dream for years to go to the Hermitage. There’s just something about Russia and art that pull me.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It is an amazing place and it’s fascinating to me that in the early 20th century, while the tsar was still in power, the Russian royal family bought a lot of western European avant garde art–artists like Gauguin and Picasso, while other Europeans were turning their nose up at those works. For all the trouble Russia has seen its people have always had a great appreciation of art.

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    I feel lucky to have been here today, Chris. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Your comments always make me feel lucky.

      Reply

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