Tretyakov Gallery. Moscú.
Catálogo exposición “Mancha y Construcción” Museo Estatal Galería Tretyakov, Moscú. Mayo 2004.
SEVENTEEN DAYS IN RUSSIA
Jose Manuel Ciria
Day 1. May 11 (Tuesday)
Restless night. The last few days have been an overdose of calls, appointments, encounters and misunderstandings. Marta. I am tired and nervous about the trip. I don’t know what Moscow will be like and the mere idea of getting to know the city fascinates me. Except for the photo that we all know of the Red Square, I can’t manage to imagine the city. In spite of being so tired, I was incredibly awake at five in the morning. Airport, horrible airports, all uncomfortable and impersonal. The flight to Munich sedated with Valium. Another airport and infernal plane change. Three-hour delay to connect with Moscow, they can’t manage to fix the damned airplane. Finally change of plane, leaving half the passengers on the ground, with the corresponding complications, and selection of luggage and bags directly on the runway. If it had been in Spain, they would have called us a third-world country. The Russian landscape is monotonous and boring, full of shades and infinite greens. Finally Moscow. An unending line of people crowded together to pass customs, there is no air conditioning, there are ten or twelve cabins but only two have a corresponding security civil servant, who with enormous calmness let the unending travellers pass one by one. Juan Carlos, divine Juan Carlos, with any possible trace of patience destroyed, he still received me with a smile and a hug in the control hall.
A taxi is waiting. Sunshine. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. Chaos. An enormous sky and immense streets and avenues full of cars. A pitiful car fleet, except the black Mercedes with tinted windows of the rich and the Mafia, and a few BMWs, of the same type of people. Juan Carlos’ house is comfortable and located in a quiet and tree-filled neighbourhood. I unpack, take a cold-water shower and have supper in a nearby “Chinese”. Agreeable and animated conversation about art, the Tretyakov project, Spain’s situation with the change in government, life. Juan Carlos hopeful.
Day 2. May 12 (Wednesday)
In order to adapt to the time change as soon as possible, I managed to go to sleep at eleven at night (local time), logically, I awake at six in the morning. I begin to fiddle with the instructions of my new digital camera. Light breakfast, the refrigerator is empty. Juan Carlos returned from a trip the previous morning. It rains and the sky is a deep grey. The apartment, around ninety square metres, has a large living room with a small terrace, a large bedroom, another medium-sized, a kitchen with a large window, a full bath and a toilet. On the doors of the apartment there are two numbers, JC explains that the dwellings have a common entrance but serve to house two families, and at this for years the building was occupied by high-ranking Russian diplomats.
I had recently been listening to the Rolling Stones, the long versions of Sympathy… and Honky Tonk Women. Nevertheless, going out into the street from JC’s house, I am inundated with the Beatles’ music. The climate, the atmosphere, the light remind me of the dear England of my childhood. The buildings are old, dirty and solemn, vegetation and a silent, regular rain. My eyes are sponges and devour everything I pass: streets, buildings, people, their clothing, cars, faces… First visit to the Moscow Cervantes. A singular building, an small old palace hidden in the heart of the city with its yellow-painted façade. Entering and passing the reception governed by a security guard, the office for organising the different courses, professors and students. A large area with a round central table with chairs and three tables in the corners opposite the entrance. Behind the tables three young Russian women of great beauty: Natalia, Irina and Alla. I quickly note that in Russia you have a terrible time going down the street, it is impossible to find another place with so many pretty women.
Confirmation of the interview at noon with Andrei Yerofieiev, director of new trends of the Tretyakov Gallery. I decide to take a walk and buy some materials that I am going to need, while Juan Carlos deals with Renato Valdivia, Minister Counsellor of the Chilean Embassy, an amusing and likeable person. It has stopped raining momentarily. I discover the first problem confronting me: the language, no one speaks any other language but Russian, and when I say no one, I mean except for a very small number of young people, there does not exist anyone who can help you with information, besides their not having the intention to do so. The Russians are extremely proud, egocentric and the majority rude. I quickly wonder, proud of what? An uncomfortable city like Moscow that houses eighty percent of the economy of the country. Russia, that even with an enormous wealth of raw materials and a vast territory, has never been exemplary in any production except agriculture and, of course, arms. Where our friend Putin does not have the healthy rivalry of an opposition, there is no representative contrary to his party in the parliament. Where the money enters the State treasury from oil and gas operations, it is not reverted to social improvements or infrastructure construction. There are no motorways, or good highways, or social security. Where currently the average man’s life span is fifty-four years and a woman’s sixty-nine. Where the apparatus continues controlling absolutely everything, and the only change refers to the urban landscape, full of publicity billboards, stores, restaurants and bars, under the merciless creed of the new religion: money. Money, with the insecurity, lack of laws, and possible State intervention in any activity, does not obey normal parameters, but rather it must be gotten in a large amount and rapidly, and that the means used for getting it do not matter. Where life isn’t worth anything, the police are absolutely corrupt and you don’t find a single beggar in the street. Where fear has always existed, and continues to exist today.
Yerofieiev receives us smiling but circumspect. After his visit to Madrid during Arco, he doesn’t know what my reaction will be to the hall change, due to a supposed fire and the temporary stoppage of activities in the new contemporary art halls. The new location is somewhat soulless, and noting my lack of enthusiasm, he promises us that once the activities are started up again, the pieces will be placed for several months in an area even better than the one foreseen in the beginning. In any case, the height of the ceilings and the dimensions are fantastic. We agree on changing the date of the inauguration to the 26th and on the picture that we will use for the invitation. Tatiana, Juan Carlos and I leave the Tretyakov. Tatiana leaves us in the centre, and Juan Carlos invites me to eat in a “Georgian” at five in the afternoon. Good decision with the menu: Green salad, fresh cheese and beer. First and mind-blowing trip in the underground, which from the size of the escalator sections, it could well be called “journey to the centre of the earth”. The underground smells the same as ours, the posters, although in Cyrillic, are similar, the atmosphere identical, people similar, light scarce, however, I cannot avoid the certainty of being in another dimension. JC proposes shopping in a supermarket. We go out to the street again. Everything is grey. If today Moscow is this colour, in spite of the supposed openness, advertisements and movement, what must it have been like under the Soviet yoke? I answer the question myself: perhaps the persons were more human and caring.
Laden with bags, I naïvely suggest a taxi. There are none on the streets. To get one you have to call a half hour in advance. The reason is simple: Juan Carlos raises his arm and instantly a private car stops at our side, an old Lada driven by a old man with white hair and a pleasant look. After agreeing on the price, he takes us home for fifty roubles. Great! All the cars in Moscow, except the Mercedes, are potential taxis. The custom of trying to earn a second wage through transporting passengers comes from olden times. Almost everyone does it. But, no one speaks English.
We improvise a quick supper with two-colour caviar, cheese and strawberries, before JC leaves for the airport to pick up Gonzalo Rojas, who the following day gives a conference in the Cervantes. After an intense day, I fall into bed exhausted, thinking of the discipline that Juan Carlos self-imposes: going to the airport to receive the corresponding guest at twelve-thirty at night, which is sincerely very far from the city.
Day 3. May 13 (Thursday)
Orange juice and corn flakes. Lead-grey sky and a white thick light. Polar cold. Jazz. Boring morning waiting for the diplomatic bag with my package of fabrics. A long walk through the city, trying to communicate with people. Grotesque situations. When you are going to cross a crosswalk without a light, the cars accelerate to make you run, and I don’t ask that they treat me like on my first trip to Hamburg where one day when starting to cross, a car stopped waiting for me when I still lacked several metres to reach the curb. Of course, Germany is Europe and this is the “uncivilised” part above the Middle East. I have lunch in a “Russian” with JC –noodles and mushroom soup. Frenetic activity in the afternoon in the Cervantes, reading of a selection of Gonzalo Rojas’ poems, recent award-winner of the Cervantes Prize. Next to the maestro, his son and the Ambassadors of Spain and Chile. The Ambassador, Jose Maria Robles Fraga, acts very pleasant and obliging, we speak of Daniel, a common friend, and of getting together for lunch. I know Alfred, who is a friend of JC’s, a Colombian film director who holds the position of Minister Counsellor in his country’s Embassy, with whom we go eat at a fantastic Italian called “Il Patio”, located next to one of the seven Chechulin buildings, twins and colossal, that mould the Moscow landscape. After supper he leaves us at home with the promise to get together again. “Blue” by Kieslowski.
Day 4. May 14 (Friday)
They confirm Cesar Antonio Molina as the new director of the Cervantes Institute. Juan Carlos is happy. Today I should start working. After trying unsuccessfully to find an assistant photographer, I decide to take the entire photographic report with my camera. Have to wait until noon to disassemble the exhibition hall and be able to enter, the first idea of the project was to work directly in the Tretyakov hall, before the turn of events, the project has been changed and I cannot use the area destined for the showing. JC improvises a magnificent workshop in the Cervantes exhibition hall. I am entertained preparing in photomechanics the backgrounds of the digital prints will have to be put on the large lateral walls of my exhibition in the museum. The idea is the following: two photographs in black and white of the city covered in the centre with my red-coloured stains, on them there could be video projections, a collection of the soldiers’ boots in a military parade, and the other shot in the street of feet of running people. As is logical the audio will only be the sound of the boots.
Lunch alone in a frightful “Russian”, when I go back we begin to line the floor of the room with plastics. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, as soon as I begin to scatter the fabric on the floor, they alone begin to put themselves in their place: dark backgrounds on the ends, then yellow for contrast interposed behind the white canvases. I decide to resolve the centre of the piece in two halves of a red canvas, rounded on the lower ends –a type of medieval coat of arms in front of a constructivist composition-. I am waiting for Yerofieiev to arrive; he wants to take a photo while I am working, for the cover of the invitation. I would have suggested any other picture, the work is still very green; until two or three days have passed there will be no stains, dirt and atmosphere, and this only if I start working seriously. After demands and rushing, in the end, change of idea and he puts a horrible picture of me. Russians are very difficult.
Marta. Alex and Yago, What will my two “pirates” be doing? I can’t erase them from my mind. I paint the red centres. Juan Carlos comes to get me at eight-thirty; we have a beer on a covered terrace near his house. Caviar and salad for supper. Telephone conversation with Olvido from Rabat. The telephone does not stop ringing in JC’s house. Marta. A strange sadness washes over me; I don’t feel comfortable in this city, even with all Juan Carlos is doing to take care of me. “White”. I sleep restlessly.
Day 5. May 15 (Saturday)
I wake up feeling enormous solitude. I am always alone. Cold-water shower and light breakfast. I stop my first “private” taxi, a big old Volga. It is an ugly day with a sticky and heavy atmosphere. I go very early with JC to the Cervantes and begin with the heavy work: taking measurements for the later assembly, drawing each canvas and developing the stains of each element. Piano music from Preisner in my head. The activity begins to produce results, for hours I concentrate on the colours and the shapes, I see myself from outside absolutely engrossed. I am very lucky, I enjoy my profession very much, at least the workshop part, the only truly important part. I always work with music, since there is no player in the cold hall, I put on a mental soundtrack. JC rushes in to get me out of the place, a taxi waits to take us to pick up Rojas and his son Rodrigo at the Hotel. We have lunch in Juan Carlos’ house, it’s my turn to cook: Caviar, cheese and cold cuts arranged gracefully, a bit of meat cooked just right and lightly dressed salad of lettuce and onion shoots. Rojas entertains us by telling of his experiences in China, Venezuela and United States. In the afternoon, a long walk for various hours to Gorky Park (rebaptised as Park of Culture). Lots of police.
Day 6. May 16 (Sunday)
Visit to the Red Square and the Kremlin. Saint Basilio seems taken from a cardboard set in Disneyland. The mausoleum of Lenin impressive and constructivist. Fantastic landscape. I meet Rafa, Alla’s husband and correspondent of El Correo and ABC, who pleasantly offers to take us to a type of local “flea market” called Ismaelova. When we go to get the car next to the Hotel Russia, the police tell him he has committed an infraction. In the mornings the only way you can go is through a street behind the Hotel, unless you drive one of the black Mercedes, of course, and that parking lot, therefore, is the only one useable. The police, once the parking lot was full puts up some portable “”Parking Prohibited” signs and station themselves waiting for their prey. Every day it is the same thing, in this situation or in another similar. Rafa confronts the police, JC has to resort to his diplomatic card. The police are absolutely dangerous, they earn miserable wages and they inevitably have to earn their way subjugating whomever they can with aggressive gestures and threats. We get away this time.
We decide to skip the flea market and Rafa leaves us near the house. Terrible food in Fridays, onion soup and inedible chicken. Nap. In the afternoon we return to the Hotel Russia to pick up the “flamencos”, Paco (Francisco Javier Jimeno) magnificent guitar, a Flamenco singer from Malaga and a Flamenco dancer with much talent. We accompany them to a “self-service” next to the Red Square. We sit in two separate tables. Juan Carlos and I only want a soft drink and a beer. When paying, the waitress gets mixed up and instead of bringing us the bill that we have asked for, she serves us another round of drinks that logically we refuse.
Heated discussion, we have to pay for all the drinks, the ones drunk and the mistaken ones. They can’t separate the bills of the two tables. The manager ignores everything and disappears. If communism and its supposed disappearance have produced people so obtuse, bad-mannered and uncouth, and I am talking about young people between twenty and thirty years of age, that is, that have lived the Soviet era obliquely, then, Hooray for Russia! And to think that some of my friends have always believed that this country is Arcadia, well let them come, let them come, of course afterwards they will say that the bad feeling is due to the change and to the openness, to Perestroika and Glassnot [sic], or however you say it. To hell with them! We say goodbye and return angry to JC’s house. “Red”. Possibly “Blue” and “White” are better more complete films but I stick with the ambiguity of the mixture of times in “Red”.
Day 7. May 17 (Monday)
Orange juice, an apple and a piece of cheese for breakfast. The sun has come out. I pay two hundred roubles to the Cervantes security guard and to his friend “the trash guard”, for them to carry a large board to the room where I am working and to come back and get it at the end. Their faces remain imperturbable and their look coarse. But they obey when they get an order and even more if there is money showing. During the morning we already had a new confrontation with the police with their corresponding “mordida” (bribe). The centre white pieces with “Gloss” are ready, I hope they are dry in time for the assembly day. Photomechanics to see the proofs. Lunch in a “Russian”. It isn’t hard at all to be on a diet, no dish appeals to me and I eat soups and salads. I am surprised to see the lines of people at the doors of McDonalds. In the afternoon, Flamenco recital in the Hermitage Theatre. Behind the scenes, we laugh before the performance. The tremendous guitar and enormous success with a public that packs the hall. The Russians love Flamenco, there has to be something good about them. It is curious to note that some can’t hold back and start clapping –not one synchronised with the rhythm. Curious note: In any other place the people applaud each in his own time, in Moscow, they all follow the same rhythm. They are absolutely “martial”. Entertaining supper in an “Armenian”, with an excessively nice and cloying waiter, a cat and a parrot. Slow. The “flamencos” enjoy the surrealistic situation.
Day 8. 18 May (Tuesday)
As I didn’t go to the police in the seventy-two hours following my arrival, in order to regularise my situation in the country, -I’ll explain, if someone goes to Moscow and registers in a hotel, the hotel itself, in exchange for a few hundred roubles, takes care of taking the documents to the police; if you stay in a private home, as in my case, you have to go to the police station, wait in long lines during the entire day and pay a few hundred roubles-, we have to resort to a “trick”, since resolving it through the Embassy is impossible for the amount of paperwork: notarial document with witnesses, rental contract for the house, salary sheet of the habitual inhabitant of the building, sworn declaration of intentions… The “trick” in question is like a spy film. Inna, JC’s secretary, accompanies me, frightened, to office twenty-nine on the sixth floor of the Hotel Peking. A guard blocks the way to the apartment, supposedly they should have delivered us a form in the reception area. A few roubles fix everything and he permits our access. A long gloomy hall with peeling walls and old lamps. We reach the department, the half-open door, a small room with a lot of light and decoration full of horrible pictures, travel posters and some plants. A well-dressed woman around sixty years of age asks me for my passport. Her very long and cared-for fingernails painted red surprise me. She takes a stamp from the desk drawer, she presses it on the airport control pass and she asks me the dates of entering and exiting the country. She charges me a thousand eight hundred roubles (fifty euros) and gives me a smile while she puts the money in a metallic box. Supposedly I am now legalised. I don’t want to think about the possibility of the police asking me for my documents, and that I have to answer them that I am staying in the Hotel Arbat, and that by chance they decide to check it out. It must be my anarchist soul, I begin to be fed up with my stay. So much control, so much “mordida”, the enormous feeling of defencelessness, and I still have ten days left. You have to be complete dickhead for Russia to seem a welcoming place. Twenty years or more have to pass for these people to be part of the world, but it is clear that they have to want to be. And I don’t mean that there are no extremely cultured persons, and good and well-mannered people, but this is not the general rule. Here you can only come with a wad of bills, surrounded by tourists with whom to make trips to monuments and museums, and after three or four days, return home. From the time you dig a little, you start to be frightened. Without leaving the province of Moscow, simply approaching the periphery of its geographical limits, you travel back in time to the 1950’s. Travel during ninety minutes signifies return to the 19th Century, and making a journey of three or four hours to the interior means directly visiting Medieval times and feudal societies. I don’t exaggerate, the Russians themselves recognise it.
Juan Carlos must return to the theatre to present the second Flamenco recital, and then rush to the airport to pick up Eugenio Trias. I decide to stay and paint a while and return home. I want to write, to listen to music, to see a DVD. I think about painting, painting is pure thought. Some new ideas fall into my head, my workshop is more than five thousand kilometres away. I hope I remember them. I usually use this system, when something occurs to me, I don’t write it down, I simply hope to memorise it, if it doesn’t return, it is because it wasn’t worth it. A light supper and “Chinese Box” with Jeremy Irons.
I need to go out for a while and drink something; the temperature is nice. I have a card for a “very Russian” joint that was recommended to me. I stop a car and bargain for the price showing first a fifty roubles bill and then another, he agrees to take me. The driver, a bald man around fifty, seems sad, once in a while he looks at me out the corner of his eye. The address is quite far, he stops the vehicle in middle of an avenue and asks another car for the best route. We arrive after a half hour, he indicates a street, with a sign prohibiting entering, and that the place in question is on the right side, a little farther down. I give him money and I walk down the dark street towards the pub. After going three hundred metres without seeing anything, I ask a couple that I meet on the street. In Russian they explain that that was not the address. I turn around and return to the main street. I raise my arm and after a while, an old, dirty Lada stops. The same operation: I show the fifty-rouble bill, he asks for more, I show another indicating to the driver that I have no more money. He agrees. An enormous Russian, after driving around for a while and making me feel I am in his hands, he leaves me at the door of the locale. The bar is, in effect, “very Russian”, but depressing. The scanty light, the wooden furnishings and walls, and in the air a peculiar odour like that of old cinemas. The majority of the tables are occupied by men, who drink without talking to each other. Some women go from one side to another or lean on the bar. I sit at a small table in a corner and ask for vodka in a small glass. The waiter, with a disparaging air, puts it brusquely on the table. Bringing it to my mouth I detect the unmistakable aroma of pure alcohol, the first sip burns my throat. People look at me, a woman makes a gesture of coming over, raising my hand I ask her not to. Returning to the bar she says something indecipherable to a friend, who gives me a furious look. I am unable to finish the homemade vodka, I don’t want to have a terrible headache the next day. Before leaving, I go to the restroom, when I come out, I go towards the table to get my coat, the vodka is not longer transparent but whitish and a spectacular woman is sitting next to my chair. Without looking at anyone I leave the joint hurriedly. Immediately two men also leave and follow me, I cross the street, turn the corner and cross again, they do exactly the same. I try not to panic. I don’t mind confronting someone with fists and kicks, but I suppose it is probable that they have firearms. I walk faster. Upon leaving the avenue there is an underground passage to cross, I go in fast and instead of crossing the street, I go up the other stairway onto the same sidewalk. When I get out I see them go running over the street to the exit on the other side of the street. They see me and laugh. Suddenly there’s a police car, I stand in front of it without letting it pass. They first honk at me, then two agents get out with truncheons in their hands. I take out my passport and indicate the I am lost and I need to go to the street Arbat. They yell at me and frisk me. My pursuers have disappeared. I offer them three hundred roubles pretending I have nothing more in my wallet. They return my passport and indicate that I should get in the car. In a while they leave me on the corner of Arbat street. I return to JC’s house taking a long walk to relax.
Day 9. May 19 (Wednesday)
Day with grey skies. I miss my children more and more. In the Cervantes there is a change of plans. Tatiana has to accompany Trias to visit the city instead of taking me to buy the flat bars that I need for the central red pieces of the large mural. Those that know me know the “agony” that I am with my things and how badly I adjust to changes in plans. The girls of the Cervantes avoid looking at me in the eye, I must look very unfriendly. Finally Inna is who goes with me to a hardware market, I had asked for a metal shop. ?? I decide to settle for this reluctantly and to adapt to the possibilities that are offered. It really pisses me off to work like a man possessed for the final result not to be perfect.
Returning to the Cervantes, JC has gone to eat with Trias, it is late. I go eat at “Il Patio”, the Italian restaurant that Alfredo showed me, where to cap it all, there is a waiter who speaks English. Incredible! I try to read the menu in Russian with little success, the P is the symbol Pi, the I is a backwards N, the S is a C, and the D is an indecipherable symbol that in addition is written in different ways. Alfredo commented, the night we ate together, that language is a sample of the character of the country. Translating Spanish to English, the text is always shorter, English is much more specific, however, translating from Spanish or other language to Russian, the text grows enormously. I agree, they are very complicated. The best thing about Russia, without doubt, is caviar and the beauty of the women.
After confirming with Yerofieiev the assembly in the Tretyakov for the 24th, I telephone Dimitry Topolsky (Dima), a local artist famous in Moscow and acquaintance of Juan Carlos. Dima comes to get me at the Cervantes and takes me to Sasha’s house, his current girlfriend. Before going up, he buys some bottles of wine. It is great to find some Russian friends that speak English correctly. We spend the afternoon talking about our projects, about the situation of Moscow’s artistic scene and the functioning of the market in Russia. I am not surprised at anything they tell me. There is “something” in the air that warns you of how things move in this city. They show me their work, there are some very interesting things but rather disperse in both cases. Sasha is charming and among the entire production that she shows me a couple of really inspired works stand out. He stays closer to painting of a conceptual root. We agree to meet the next day in Trias’ conference, and then go to eat supper together. They call a taxi for me and say goodbye with all the kindness in the world. Damn, in this city there should be no one but artists! Yes, we artists are possibly weird and capricious, but we are also pacific, normally pleasant and some, are even good persons.
I need to get rid of the bad taste the previous day left me. After supper I ask for a taxi to the Hotel Cosmos and another to come and pick me up at that address after two hours. The Hotel Cosmos is a place my friend Forgue told me I shouldn’t miss. The old building is an enormous building with a convex façade, built in reddish brick. As I go in, no one looks at me, I ask in the reception where is the famous bar, the employee looks at me a little strangely, the entire lobby and the first floor are the famous bar. Men is security uniforms, next to mafiosos with their own bodyguards. Women and women, each one more beautiful and spectacular. I go to a bar and ask for a Cutty with water, they open the bottle before my eyes, I ask the waiter to leave it on the counter. A couple of girls come over and try to have a conversation with me, they only speak Russian, I ask the waiter if their drinks cost the same as mine, I invite them to the whisky. They try to convince me to go up to one of the room, I act like I don’t understand and that I don’t want to go anywhere. To be more explicit, they show me a couple of condoms and rub against me. I indicate that perhaps another day, that I am very tired. Quickly they look for another prey. When the taxi arrives, I am already waiting at the door. I feel good. Moscow is more beautiful with alcohol. I remember Marta.
Day 10. May 20 (Thursday)
Another morning of grey skies and thick whitish light. I begin to get used to cold showers. It seems that one month out of the year, no one really knows why, the corresponding authorities cut the supply of hot water by neighbourhoods. ?? I have heard that cold water is good for circulation. Of what I have no doubt is that it wakes you up in the mornings whether you want to or not, you stay all day with your neck recoiled and your eyes like saucers.
JC is going to accompany Trias to visit some museum, I refuse grudgingly. I have to concentrate on my work; I still have a lot to do and very little time. We agree to meet for lunch. Tatiana takes me to the restaurant. Eugenio is a man with a good-natured look and a fine sense of humour. We agree in our degree of being stunned by the beauty of the Russian women. The conference is a success –“The need for religion”-, however, for some listeners it is an atheist discourse and not very respectful of religion. Now they are all believers, and the similarity of the religions cannot be called into question. Eugenio was amazed. At night, disorderly supper, with a slip-up between the two cars and a film-like reencounter, Alfredo’s girlfriend who is also called Tatiana, Alfredo, Rafa, Eugenio, Juan Carlos and I. We eat meat.
Day 11. May 21 (Friday)
It continues to rain. What a shitty spring! JC is going to the university with Trias. I have to continue working. I count the hours until I finish, assemble, inaugurate and leave. My roubles are disappearing at top speed. I have always considered myself an “all-terrain” person, able to grow before situations and to use large doses of humour when adverse circumstances require it. Moscow gets to me, I am sad. Speaking with older people, through my improvised translators, they describe their lives, they narrate what the situation was like before the openness, on the impossibility to travel, in addition to not having the means to do so. Some act proud of their existences in the “best of all possible worlds”. The fiction puts a thick bandage over their eyes, Putin is good for the country, he gives them stability. In many parts of the world, the landscape is the same, entire populations influenced by an ideology or a religion that makes them different from “the others” and makes them blind and easy to manipulate.
The work is acquiring body, if I had to start again, I would resolve it differently, but in principle I am satisfied with it. I have to wait to assemble it. I want, when I go back to the photomechanics with which I work in Madrid, to make different constructions or mixtures with the different elements of the mural. I soak in Rodchenko and Popova. Lunch with Trias and JC in an “Armenian”. In the afternoon, a visit to the old Tretyakov. The museum is pretty badly arranged, the fascinating part of the collection –the Russian icons- are crowded one after another in three not very large rooms, then there are a lot of motley painted areas, where a good portrait and some great landscapes from the 19th century stand out. We say goodbye to Trias at the door of the Hotel Motropol, after an enormous traffic jam, well, in reality after the normal traffic jam that happens daily. As I have said, Moscow is chaos, a jungle where traffic is insufferable and poorly resolved, no one knows for what strange reason you cannot turn left on any street, so that to go from one point to another not far away, you have to go around the whole city, or risk it, for which reason the police are located in the strategic places, provoking the traffic jam and forcing the trick as much as possible. At night, supper in JC’s house: Cheese omelette and sausages. I sleep deeply.
Day 12. May 22 (Saturday)
The sun has come out. I have to confirm my appointment with Dima. I go with Juan Carlos to the Cervantes and help him pack the pictures for the finished exhibit “Juan Mordo Legacy” belonging to the Fine Arts Circle of Madrid. Alla blushes when I give her a small drawing and a couple of flattering remarks (deserved). In a while she tells me that in the small piece she sees much of me. ?? I am pleased with the comment. I hope that she enjoys it very much with Rafa, they are a great couple. Dima and Sasha make me wait, but finally come to pick me up. We stop a car and go to the Architecture Museum, fantastic exposition of Russian architects from the Stalin era, truly impressive. In the exposition, the different bids for the Soviet’s large building, planned to be constructed in its time in the location where the Christ the Redeemer was later rebuilt. At the side of the museum there is an exposition hall called “The Ruin”, an old extraordinary area in ruins, the exhibition however, is a real bore of horrible paintings. We stop another car and go eat at a restaurant belonging to a friend of Dima, an establishment in a basement fixed up like the interior of a humble private home. Surprising and pleasant. There is a party for children, I remember my two little fiends.
Visit to a couple of uninteresting galleries. We decide to go to the new Tretyakov, where five days later I have my inauguration. There are different areas for temporary expositions, but the works hung in the majority of the cases have no quality. We walk to the third floor where they keep the permanent collection. Upon entering, a punch in the stomach: Malevich, Tatlin, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Lissitsky, Popova… a small cubist area of Udaltsova. Heavens! How “pretty” they are and what luck to be able to see them live and in their proper home. We meet up with George Pusenkoff, a Russian artist residing in Cologne, who inaugurates a sample of his work in another of the rooms two days after my inauguration. He invites us to see the assembly: Insipid photographs in boxes of light and a great circle lined inside of Warholian Mona Lisas in different colours. Spectacular art of the worst. Where is the art? Where is the concept? Where in hell do you find the beauty, or the provocation, or the grace, or the nerve? Dima finds the key word: Shit. He has known Pusenkoff for years and brands him as an unviewable artist that moves well among the politicians. A bit more of the same. Perhaps worse. We wonder about the survival of this type of shows. After a quick run through Socialist Realism and consequences, we return to the Suprematists and Constructivists. A delight. I concentrate for a while on a suprematist composition by Malevich, in a bit I have a revelation: Malevich places geometric elements of different colours on a flat and whitish background, suddenly I see the influence brought by the entire 20th Century, I see Miro, who in reality paints exactly the same, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic shapes on coloured backgrounds.
Visit to an interesting semi-clandestine bookstore and a tea with biscuits in Sasha’s house. Dima calls for a taxi for me and I return to JC’s house. At night, accompanying Juan Carlos, Trias, Nicole and Mario Muchnik appear at the house. Animated conversation splashed with recollections of marvellous people now gone, and a little visit to the television, suggested by JC to inform us on “the wedding”. Mario, an extraordinary person, likes me without knowing me through our common and much-loved friends Rosa and Marcos. We agree to meet the next day.
Day 13. May 23 (Sunday)
Sun. Preisner and another book I bought yesterday by Rodchenko and Stepanova. We go to Ismaelova in Alfredo’s car with chauffer. The flea market is organised on different floors, in a giant wooden building that looks like a great temple. I love the visit, women and men dressed in traditional outfits, a presentation of ancient songs and dances performed by children. Lots of people. In the “authentic” icon stand for tourists, behind some boxes there is a large icon half covered with a cloth; upon asking about it, the seller shows it to me without taking it out of its hiding place, behind the big one there is a smaller one that I take in my hands. He asks six thousand roubles, I place it on the floor near the entrance to see it with more light, the seller gets nervous and tells me he will let me have it at half price. I refuse. He asks me how much I am prepared to pay, and I answer a thousand roubles, he wraps it quickly asking me for a thousand five hundred, frankly excited and wanting to get rid of it. Alla assures me that it was probably stolen from some church. In another stand I get another icon from the 18th century even better hidden. The Russians who accompany us put some distance from the rest of the group, they do not want to be involved in any problem. After a fabulous meal in the Pushkin with Alla and Rafa, Nicole and Mario, Eugenio and JC, we go to the Cervantes to roll up the finished pieces in PVC tubes that Tatiana managed to get, at this stage called “Tatania” by everyone. Muchnik begins to distribute his photographs on the walls, some are really surprising and of enormous quality. JC and I leave early and have supper in a new “Georgian” that has opened next to his house. “The African Queen”.
Day 14. May 24 (Monday)
Torrential rain, The 59th Street Bridge Song on the player. We go directly to the Tretyakov to begin the assembly and to speak with Yerofieiev. The walls are not finished being painted, we cannot begin until the next day. Yerofieiev is a snake, civil servant included, no one knows for what strange reason, in the old Tretyakov apparatus. He desperately looks for money like any other Russian, the “mordida” is the national sport. Oscar “the Cuban” picks us up. Oscar has been in Moscow sixteen years, and besides having married several Russians and having five children, he works in transportation services in the city and excursions in his Toyota minibus, and in organising a matrimonial agency for natives wanting to marry foreigners. We pass by the Metropol to get Trias and then by the Russia to pick up Nicole and Mario. The Ambassador has invited us to eat in the Scandinavian. My best meal in Moscow: Arugula salad with Parmesan an delicious salmon. In the afternoon, the inauguration of Mario Muchnik, I can’t take it, I have a knot in my stomach since the morning, I go back to JC’s house accompanied by Almudena who kindly takes me in her car.
Before waking, in the dozy half-sleep, I play a fascinating game: In my head I imagine a composition by Malevich with his rectangles and squares floating in space, suddenly I join them superimposed and becoming the image in a Rodchenko. When they separate, the constructivism becomes suprematism, then constructivism again, then suprematism. Suprematism, far off and small elements. Constructivism, close up and large shapes.
Day 15. May 25 (Tuesday)
Tatania picks me up at nine thirty. Trias has returned to Barcelona. We go to the Tretyakov and begin to assemble the pieces. I am nervous, one thing is to plan the work on the floor and something else to see it hung on the wall. As the workers advance, the work gains intensity. JC gets back from the airport. A chorus of people, visitors from the Art Moscow fair that is to be inaugurated in the afternoon and workers from the centre crowd around the workers while they go up and down the scaffolding. Tatiana faithfully translates my instructions. I like seeing that she is enthusiastic about the assembly. Yerofieiev visits us briefly, just giving us a short smile. “Stain and Construction” turns out spectacular, people begin to ask what it is about. I like the public’s reaction, some persons sit on the floor and others remain standing trying to participate in the montage. The work perhaps is too baroque, but it functions like a black hole devouring the looks, everyone has to stop to look at it, I suppose that is its purpose. A television crew that had come by the museum to film something else, begins to film while a very pretty interviewer riddles me with questions in English. ?? Where will the program be shown? Almost no one in Moscow speaks any other language except Russian. We eat in the cafeteria, julienne mushrooms and Kiev chicken. When the montage is finished, we visit the contemporary art fair that is located in the same building. A couple of David Salle, a mediocre Alex Katz and a couple of local deceased glories. I see a photo of a Muscovite artist that interests me: A nude Chechen with a sari, a belt of explosives and a detonator in her hand. I suppose that this image will soon be seen in many magazines specialised in art. I return home with JC, he has a date with Almudena at the opera. “Goya en Burdeos”, I remember Cristina and Jesus.
I want to get drunk. I gather forces from my sloth, get dressed again and go to the street. After walking aimlessly for an hour, I stop a car, a young and pleasant driver who does not stop speaking to me in Russian, leaves me next to a place I discovered near the American Embassy. The place is expensive, quiet and with normal people, there are couples and businessmen who want a drink before going to sleep. After drinking two or three vodkas, I begin walking again. The night is cold but pleasant. In a neighbourhood full of gardens and trees, I find a terrace covered with thick plastic walls. Inside, there are only men except for the two waitresses that are watched fiercely by the supposed manager or owner. I ask for a beer, then another. Fewer than three persons run the establishment, everyone is drunk. Suddenly, the lights start to go out. I calmly finish my beer, observing the clumsy oafs that protest not being able to drink more. I leave the place and raise my arm, I go to the street Donskaya next to the monastery, near Leninsky. One hundred fifty roubles. I don’t remember the driver.
Day 16. May 26 (Wednesday)
Intense rain all day. Cervantes. Visit with Tatiana to the Tretyakov to wind up details. Next to the museum there is a cemetery of sculptures that after the fall of the communist system were removed from their original locations. Lenin after Lenin, and at the back a frightful sculptural group of the caravels and Peter the Great. Stalin, still recognisable, has his face destroyed, too bad that it is in stone. A bit of sun comes out and it rains again. Quiet lunch at the house and a nap. At four thirty JC comes to pick me up. Inauguration. Words. A lot of people, a lot of praise. I love it when someone that does not understand my work and is not at all interested in my work, comes over to tell me that I am fantastic. I try to return the compliment with a look, translated in a –“you don’t have a bloody idea and on top of it you don’t like me, why in hell do you come to tell me your life story?” –. Solitude often overtakes me in midst of a crowd. We leave in two cars: Tatiana II and Alfredo, Almudena and JC. Supper in Vogue and drinks on the terrace of the Hyatt. I can’t get used to the contrasts: How differently one sees Moscow from the side of those that have black Mercedes with chauffer, who wear expensive suits and throw money around! JC has problems with lifts in general and even more with those that have glass walls, according to him, some are self-programmed and they can go flying to the sky. Nicole and Mario join the group at the exit of the theatre. That night in bed, I am calm, my mind is in Warsaw. Tomorrow is my last day in Moscow. I don’t think I will ever come back.
Day 17. May 27 (Thursday)
Sun. I usually fall in love easily with the places and cities I visit. I try to make a positive summary of my stay in Russia, independently of the exhibition in the Tretyakov. I can’t do it. Juan Carlos is very happy with the showing and with the amount of public that attended the inauguration, in the end, he is the person responsible, he is the one who, as director of the Cervantes in Moscow, included me among the different activities that he organises, just like he had done previously in Tel Aviv. He has been at all times pleasant and generous, and has tried for me to be comfortable in his house. I love him. It is already known that he is going to be the new Director of Culture in Madrid. I believe he deserves it more than anyone. I would like to help him in some way.
An entertaining farewell cocktail for Carmen Fontes, the Ambassador, is organised in the Embassy, and he makes us laugh for a good while. I spend the afternoon aimlessly wandering around the city. I falsely try to lose myself in a place that does not attract me. Supper in a “Georgian” with Juan Carlos: wild-vegetable soup and a bit of hot cheese. At night, we talk for a long time until he falls asleep and I go to my room.
Day 18. May 28 (Friday)
Alarm clocks at five thirty. Cold-water shower and leaving with JC towards the airport. The taxi waits for us at the door. I have taken the precaution of putting all metal objects in one suitcase, and in the other I have the icons wrapped among my clothing. In Moscow it is advisable to be in the airport three hours in advance, one never knows what could happen in the controls. JC says farewell after check-in, we promise to meet again soon. Amid the giant dirty old walls with squalid and antiquated decoration, the same story as the arrival: hundreds of persons in line to pass the two police cabins. I didn’t have any problems, if we leave out that I had a terrible urge to go to the restroom, and when I returned, I had to go to the end of the line again. I advise anyone who has flirted at some time with the communist doctrine that they don’t waste their time and come running to paradise, because the openness has not yet changed the roots of its former being and personality. I fly with LOT but they share the line with Aeroflot, I get an old Tupolev full of wrinkles and dents. ¡@GGRtt&XXT! I take Valium as I take my seat. Taking off, I am filled with happiness and an idea crosses my mind: I have managed to escape! ?? The flight, however, is great, no turbulence at all. The flight attendants, of course, although it seems incredible, do not speak English and the grunt something to me in Russian when I ask them for a bit of carbonated water. When I touch the ground in Warsaw, I am enormously grateful to be again in Europe.