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Russian Winter

I drove my parents to the airport in the morning, and we are all by ourselves again. Time to get back to work, school and otherwise routine existence.

Time to resume our grand plan of Old World exploration, too. Upon returning from Switzerland, we did a few things with the parents (such as a narrated city bus tour, which Natasha had never taken before, and visiting the Royal Observatory in Greenwich), but otherwise, my mom and dad have done us better, with visits to places we had not gotten to yet, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Tower. Ok, Natasha and I have been to the latter, but not as part of the official programme.

Without further delay, we immediately set off for Trafalgar Square, where for a couple of years now, in early January, London holds the Russian Winter festival.

Forget the snow, it is still a true Russian winter!

The square is cordoned off and surrounded by kiosks and food stands, with signs almost exclusively in Russian. The food is of regular food-stand variety – sausages, kebabs and such – but with a Russian twist. You can get a cup of borsch, a portion of Beef Stroganoff, and kebabs are called шашлыки. The kiosks sell wooden toys and souvenirs (a fair cannot be called Russian unless матрёшки – matryoshkas – are sold in abundance, right?), but mostly they advertise travel to Russia and various UK-based Russian services. We picked up a few brochures, just in case…

There is also a pavilion dedicated to the candidacy of Sochi as the host of Winter Olympics in 2014. Nothing special, but we are told that several Russian sports champions will be around for autograph signing at some point later in the day. We are lukewarm to the idea, but we happen to walk near the pavilion again and literally bump into Евгений Плющенко (Pluschenko). As I am the only one in the family with enough cognitive memory to register the fact, it does not generate much excitement.

A large stage on the southern edge of the square is, throughout the day, home to performances by Russian pop and folk artists. The program is highlighted by Надежда Бабкина, Гарик Сукачёв and Дима Билан, but there are also a couple of ансамблей песни и пляски as well as the choir of the Danilov monastery in Moscow.

There are several thousand people mingling around the square. At the beginning of the day, many are not even Russian-speaking, attracted by exotic experience, loud music and giveaways (primarily, plastic bags with some logo and probably an advertising leaflet inside – anyone who’d ever gone to the New York Auto-Show in any given April should know the drill).

We arrived early enough in the day, and made our rounds of all the kiosks and pavilions (except, regretfully, the beer one – although the beer was obviously not free, anyway, and I am not paying for Балтика). Becky participated in and won a race on wooden block stilts, Kimmy cheered and some news cameraman (it was a big, professional camera, which is the only reason I say news – I have no specific knowledge which organization he might have been from) recorded her a bit. We then bought some kebabs and listened to Бабкина and her ensemble.

The weather was dry, but overcast and windy. The girls got tired from navigating the crowds, so we made an executive decision to effect a change of scenery and go to the National Gallery, which is right there, overlooking Trafalgar.

The gallery has a very nice collection of European paintings dating back to 13th century. It probably cannot compete with Louvre or Hermitage, but it does boast a nice assemblage, including Rembrandt, van Dyck, many other Dutch and Flemish painters, Raphael, Titian, Boticelli, Claude, Caravaggio, three rooms of Rubens, my favorite Canaletto… There is also Leonardo and Michelangelo, but we could not manage to cover the entire exposition.

I do not know how good the permanent impressionist collection at the gallery is (or whether one exists, to tell the truth), but there is a temporary exhibition through May of this year, that has a number of pieces by each of Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Seurat, Signac, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, and others (as well as a single Cezanne, on the account of separate Cezanne temporary exhibition that just ended a few days ago). Natasha and I are both impressionist-lovers – we were nothing short of enraptured. Surprisingly (for me, at least), the girls found some delight in Monet’s Water-lily Pond and Seurat’s Bathers as well.

Алекснадр Дольский has a song called Велосипед, which contains the following words: …Вот Синьяка оранжевый мыс… (Here’s Signac’s orange promontory). When I pointed out Signac’s Cape Canaille to Becky, she was quite amazed at the recognition.

We only spent maybe an hour and a half perusing the paintings. Another hour was devoted to drawing, as part of the scheduled children activity. About 30 kids gathered at Murillo’s Self-portrait, listened to a couple of docents talk about the painting and the art of expressing oneself, and then were given the task of drawing a sketch of their own that would follow the themes of the Murillo painting. Becky and Kimmy both had a lot of fun, and Natasha joined in too, especially since no one said that parents were prohibited from participating…

When we exited the gallery, the crowd in the square turned overwhelmingly Russian-speaking and young, well-lubricated with beer and prone to non-stop smoking and loud expressions of exuberance. The performers on stage were some atrocious teenage girls rock-band called Ранетки, followed by an equally talentless – but apparently quite hot these days – группа Токио. We waited for about half-hour for something agreeable, but eventually gave up and went home.

Still, an enjoyable experience.

I have installed Skype and a web-cam on my computer. It is primarily for the purposes of communicating with parents in New Jersey and Rostov. However, we will be more than happy to get on a video-call with anyone who would care.