I try to lose myself strolling in the city. Russia is a singular country, unlike any other. We all come here with stereotypes in our head which the city takes pleasure in disproving. When I am lost I ask for directions from passers-by. Whether they speak English or not, they all stop to help. I note that young kids and those under thirty generally have sufficient English for us to communicate. Moscow is not an easy place for walking about. The sheer scale discourages you. The little lane with the charming houses may suddenly lead you to a huge avenue, as wide as an ocean and as difficult to cross. Although new underpasses have been built in recent years to help pedestrians, there are still places where walking is not feasible. Then again, some parts such as Pokrovka St., filled with dainty cafes, boutiques, upmarket bars and restaurants, or the Chistoprudny boulevard by the Clean Ponds, are a pleasure to walk about. I look at the street numbers on the walls—Dmitrakov 6/13—and think that this may be where J K Rowling got her idea about Platform 9 ¾ for the legendary Hogwarts train.
Lunch with Max at the wine and crab restaurant. “Wine in restaurants is generally very expensive, even in a glass; always check the prices before you order”, Svetlana had advised me that first night. Yet Max assures me that here we can try some good Russian wines at reasonable prices. The restaurant only serves crabs, cooked in a thousand ways, and wine. I am thrilled because I love both. We order a 2016 Viognier de Gaϊ-Kodzor. The wine is good and the crabs wonderful. On the way out I fall in love with a big red crab with sad eyes, waiting in his tank for certain death. I try to tell myself that the crab forms part of the decor and will not end up on a plate. I dare not ask Max about it.
An evening at the Bolshoi is like saying an evening in dreamland. Girls in flimsy gowns, at a temperature of -20C, arrive smiling, supported by their escorts as they balance on their high heels. We watch an incredible performance of Adolphe Adam’s Le Corsaire. A classic, spectacular ballet. A wealth of sets and costumes, hosts of dancers on stage. I cannot think when I had last seen such a rich spectacle. Once out into the frozen Moscow night, we are greeted by the first snowfall. It comes down lightly, as dainty as the dance of the odalisques at Le jardin animé we just saw. Yet another present! The Bolshoi, I am thinking, is trying to be the guardian of romanticism, despite the scandals that afflict it now and then. In its lavish productions from the classical repertory it persists with the simple, fairytale version of good and evil in a world that’s increasingly complex, increasingly cruel. This may well be where its problem lies; on the other hand, all this helps preserve the myth, and probably explains why the theatre is full every night.
Lina Stefanou is a real flâneur, in the Baudelairean sense. She wanders around every city NOMAS visits in order to comprehend it. Her diary is the result of her wanderings. (NOMAS, Moscow, p. 109)