Archive Page 3



Hermitage, shmhermitage. You’re way too shiny with your fresh coat of paint. Bring on the dust and the rust. Here’s to the louche derelict old palaces, falling to bits with the melancholy charm and unhealthy fascination of a syphilitic harlot.





(This above photo has to be one of my favourites ever…)











There’s more to St Petersburg’s Art Nouveau than the Singer and Elisseyev buildings.

Rectilinear on the Fontanka river quays

Can't tell what it looks like on the inside, but it's obviously air-conditioned...

This is seriously minimalist for the capital of bling

A daring pistachio coloured specimen

Hmm, a great big McLogo on the side of a well-preserved 1900 building. I'm not lovin' it.

Fantastic corner door straight from a Fantasy set

A door near the Five Corners

Dull metallic glint



what are the chances?

You may remember me mentioning a funny little local superstition, about checking the 6 numbers on bus, tram and trolleybus tickets: if the 3 numbers on the right add up to the same number as the 3 on the left, you can expect some serious bit of good luck coming your way. I don’t normally get to waste my time doing this as I use monthly tickets. However my last one has run out and I’m waiting until payday to renew it. So yesterday I paid for my rides on board -I LOVE that we can still do that here. Anyone who’s been refused boarding on a bus under the pouring rain while already late because “you can’t buy tickets on board, it’s pre-pay only in this zone” will understand the joy. (Transport For London, my contempt for you knows no limits. The Russians with their clapped-out services can best you with their eyes closed. Bring back conductors, give people jobs, and actually be a service not an inconvenience for your extravagantly-paying customers. Thank you.)

Anyway, have a look at my tickets:

Left: morning bus ticket, double 8. Right: evening trolleybus ticket, double 9!! I'm convinced I get some extra luck points because the two numbers actually follow each other in ascending order.

I love the trolleybuses. I like the huge network of cables criss-crossing above the streets, the noise they make, and the comedy when the spokes that link the car to the electric cables ping off, usually mid-bend at a busy junction, and the driver has to climb on top to replace them, probably risking death by 200 000 volts in the process. Or by poisonous stares from maniacal drivers stuck behind the wreck.

And, did I get lucky, you may ask? Not telling!



The strange fascination of the gigantic housing system.

Facing the Baltic: to the right

To the left


Ship, stranded

Lost in concrete

Minas Tirith

Minas Morgul

Human scale


notes from underground*

*This is the title of a Dostoeivsky book I’m reading at the moment, I recommend itю

But this post has nothing to do with Russian literature, and everything to do with another variety of local art: the Moscow Metro. I was SO excited to finally see it for myself when I visited the capital for the first time last month (that’s right, a month ago, and I’m only publishing the photos now). It’s even better than I thought it would be. The St Petersburg network isn’t bad either, but Moscow’s…This is just a little taste.

A typically understated entrance

Funky pagoda: entrance to Arbatskaya station. That's neither here nor there, but "pagoda" means "weather" in Russian. Bet you're glad you know that.

If this looks like a mad jumble of buildings of all styles, cars, signs, and the odd onion dome, good: that’s my overall impression of Moscow. I like a mad mess of a city.

Let’s go inside:

Арбатская. Christmas cake, with icing: inside Arbatskaya

Yes I’m writing the names in Russian too. I just got my Cyrillic alphabet unlocked on my computer and I am a kid with a new toy. Plus I love the look of Cyrillic and I think it really adds something to see names written in the original language!

Киевская. Kievskaya. Note the Lenin portrait. I think there are more portraits and statues of Lenin than there are people in Russia.

I don't feel the bloke in red adds much to the photo, but he plonked himself in front of me and wouldn't budge, and as I liked this perspective from under the pillars, neither did I.

My plan is going wrong already, as I can’t remember where this is. Should have jotted down the names as I went.

Another forgotten name. Teatralny Ploshad? Very famous one anyway, where each side of each pillar carries a statue representing people at work, in the true Commie spirit. This one is a soldier, and you're meant to rub his gun for luck. Obviously I didn't want to miss out.

The same goes for the muzzle of the dogs on nearby statues.

And, thanks to a steady supply of British tourists, the cocks that adorn the “Farmers” statues have been enthusiastically rubbed to a high shine.

Маяковская. Mayakovskaya, the very Art Deco stainless steel and mosaics station. Obviously a personal favourite.

It was used as an air-raid shelter during WW2. In each of the lit recesses you can see in the ceiling, there’s a mosaic representing one of the “24 hours of a Soviet sky”, where you can see the glorious future unfold: zeppelins, planes, skyscrapers…

Patriot Seagulls

Чкаловская. Tchkalovskaya, or "1984". This is pure Soviet Sci-Fi madness, I love it. The corridors are in a similar style, with low arched ceilings, muted panel lighting and metal plaques with these Big Brother eyes, watching you.

Комсомолская. Komsomolskaya, named in honour of the members of the Communist Youth Union who helped build the first Metro line. It has two levels to channel large crowds as it's a station that serves three major railway stations.

Back to the surface: the hallway at Arbatskaya. I've seen crummier ballrooms.

And finally, an anecdote that is obviously complete and utter balls, but that I love regardless:

It’s presentation day for the engineers who were saddled with the tasks of designing the Moscow Metro. They’re submitting their plans, including a map showing the whole network, to Stalin himself. Think about that next time you’re nervous about a job interview or a PowerPoint in front of your boss. It’s glory or Siberia. They reckon they’ve done a good job, but they’re not 100% satisfied without being able to pinpoint why. Anyway, they manage not to wet themselves, and explain everything to the Man of Steel, who, in passing, quit seminar school at 16, which means in my opinion that all that techie-talk flew right over his head. Stalin listens attentively, sipping coffee, but says nothing. Eventually he puts his cup down, gets up, and walks off, still without comment. Our two engineers don’t know whether that’s good or bad, and after sitting tight for five minutes in case Stalin comes back, they decide to pack up their plans and go. And, behold, when they lift the abandoned coffee cup off the network map, this is what they see:

The circle line: 100% arabica

Stalin’s cup has left a mark that neatly circles the centre of the city, and allows the lines to connect together! Genius! That is precisely what the engineers felt was missing! Without words, the great leader had managed to raise the work of trained transports specialists to another level.

Isn’t it brilliant? Of all the many, many jokes and stories about the Communist era, this might be my favourite. It could be told in a slavishly adoring or heavily sarcastic manner, depending on the audience or on the suicidal tendencies of the raconteur.

Hope you enjoyed the journey underground. Да свидания!


new post: old post

…or whatever you want to call that thing poking out of the frozen river.

As good as Waterloo Sunset at least...

After my rusty boats photo-post, I have been informed that several of you share my strange obsession with rusty crumbling old stuff. As if I needed encouragement to seek out these things. I’m going to have a look at the port and docks soon, sounds good doesn’t it?

This also caters to my new obsession with ice formations:

I’m enjoying them while they last, as despite the temperature never being high enough for my liking, it is certainly high enough to make everything melt at double quick speed, including the massively thick layer of ice on the Neva.


desperately seeking spring/ mixed bag 5

People, I am so effing sick of this neverending winter, you have no idea. Right now I’m having severe UK withdrawal symptoms, to the point where I think I could even put up with Chris Moyles doing Comic Relief, or “severe delays on the Victoria Line due to leaves on the tracks”. I’m not bored with Russia, how could I be, but even as I realize I only have less than 2 and a half months here, and will never get around to seeing all the things I have on my to-do list, I have snow-fatigue, ice-fatigue, and especially, cold-fatigue. It’s been really sunny all week, with highs of…5 degrees. I am tired of wearing a feather and down parka. I have persistent hallucinations involving the sunny terrace behind my parent’s house -Mum tells me it was 20 degrees last weekend and they had lunch outside. Hate. Funny how I expected to react badly to the extreme cold, or the very short days, but never imagined that what would really get to me would be how long it takes to move on from winter.

There’s an advert on billboards here at the moment, for a brand of chocolates named -this is a joke for the francophones amongst you- “Komilfo”, a phonetical transcription of “Comme il faut”,  a very French concept that roughly means getting it just right fashion and manners-wise, in a prim and proper kind of way. The ad features a drawing of a blooming garden with the caption “Spring is in my soul”. Well, jolly good for you, and that sure is the only place it is right now, you tantalizing gits.

Talking about billboards, I have been amused/disturbed for months by those advertising upcoming gigs. Not by the boards themselves, I mean, but by who’s on them. If you ever wondered where ageing rock stars go to die, wonder no longer: they go to Russia and force their drained selves on the locals. Spotted through the months: ZZ Top, Mick Hucknall, Phil Collins, Megadeth, Asia (apparently a “supergroup” made up of ex, geriatric members of Yes, King Crimson and other 70’s bands I don’t even know the names of. Conjures up images of wrinkly old lizards in flared jeans and 8 minutes long guitar-wanking solos.) Well there’s also been some good bands. But it’s the dinosaurs that catch my eye, wedged in between the old Soviet glories. These are worth a gwap too: exclusively over 65, plastered with fake tan and make up (the men too) and disappearing under cataclysmic amounts of jewelry, fur-trims and rhinestones. I suppose they do sell tickets… As if the Russians didn’t have enough catastrophes to deal with. Reminds me of this old french joke in the 60’s about this french singer who used to tour the USSR extensively: “As Gilbert Becaud announces a 300-dates tour of the USSR, we register no official reaction from Moscow, where people are used to suffering in silence.”

Soyouz Idol: a more traditional entertainer. Whoever designs these poster deserves a long holiday in Siberia.

In other news, the craze about the upcoming royal wedding is sweeping across the russian media. That’s unsurprising, given the national love of bling and OTT-ness in general, but I thought I was safe here, goddammit. They certainly have as many vapid glossy celebmags as we do. They don’t bother me as I have not the faintest clue who the Russian nonentities that usually grace the covers are;  as for the articles about Beyonce, Brangelina or that Bieber nuisance, they don’t even register as these people’s images are such omnipresent memes, such print and digital wallpaper, you just see through them after a while. But I don’t mind telling you, the first appearance of Kate n’Wills on local TV and magazines has been a jarring blow. I don’t know why, I thought the saccharine-fest would be confined to the western world. I suppose it’s just another proof that the boundaries are blurring. The russian ideological change -I don’t want to call it a revolution- has, and will continue to be, televised. And radioed, and printed, and especially, digitalized.

I found a pair of cool see-through lace print wellies to deal with the ever-widening lakes of melting snow. Obviously a piece of news of paramount importance I had to share, I think you’ll agree. Not as hardwearing as my festival-proof Hunters, but they are quite Russabulous:

I refrained from buying the ones with high heels, favoured by 70% of the female population

To round things off, here come the universally loved Random Photos:

The roof of my neo-classical block, festooned with satellite dishes.

Sunset on the Neva by Lievtenant-Schmitta Bridge, with traffic light and old boat

The bridge is named after Piotr Petrovich Schmidt, a Russian naval officer of German descent who played a part in the 1905 revolution as one of the leaders of a popular uprising in Sevastopol. The German name russified by the possessive case ending sounds quite funny…I love the lamp-posts in the old centre, they line the avenues and seen at a slight angle, they give fantastic rhythm to a photo, if you can figure out what I mean by that. The tram and trolleybus cables have a similar effect, they add a geometrical structure to the image despite being so omnipresent as to become unobtrusive.

Maybe unobtrusive is exaggerated. It's just that you don't notice them after a while, and when I look at my photos, the effect always surprises me.

The golden spear of the Admiralty poking out from behind buildings. Love the little boat-shaped weathervane!

Well, there it is, you’ve been mix-bagged again, I know you like it (thanks to the nifty feature on my blog dashboard that counts the hits per article)…


a night at the opera

It’s about time I posted about one of my favourite things to do in St Petersburg: going to the Mariinsky theatre. Since I discovered that foreigners who study or work in Russia are eligible for the cheaper home rates, I’ve moved in. A very frustrating thing about London is that you can see everything, dance, theatre and any other shows…if your pockets are deep enough. Which mine usually aren’t. Here my wages go a much longer way, so I’ve been catching up on things I’ve wanted to see for ages. Last week I went to see an opera (Rigoletto by Verdi) for the first time, I’ve never been hugely attracted to them when I’m just listening not watching, and figured it might work better with the visuals. And at this price I could afford to risk disappointment. Needn’t have worried, it was very entertaining, the lung power on display was enough to keep me involved, and I discovered the acting and posturing that goes with it. They need a lot of skills aside from singing, and it was impressive.

Still what’s been drawing me back and again is my first love, dance, especially ballet, which as you might have heard the Russians do very well. To watch it at the Mariinsky is extra special, it’s a bit of a Mecca for anyone who’s into dance.

From the outside, a typical Petersburg layer cake.

Is this grand enough for you?

Waiting for curtain rise (it's all painted on, by the way, not real fabrics)

One thing I’ve discovered here in the importance of the orchestra conductor. They get as much applause as the dancers and come on stage to salute at the end. I’ve mostly been getting Parterre seats, you can see their arms and head windmilling away from there, and when they salute they turn around to face us; it’s always funny to see these disembodied smiling heads poking out of the fosse, level with our knees.

This is where the orchestra lives. Here, shown chatting during the intermission.

It’s well worth wandering around the corridors and up and down the stairs, there’s little cafes and bars hidden away in corners, there’s a little shop of course; the toilets are also well hidden, and there’s always someone who’s been smoking away inside a cubicle, it feels like being back in secondary school. They also have Ballrooms, Reception Rooms and Random Rooms (no discernible use, but there nevertheless). This is my favourite shot, I took it through a glass door so what you see is half the room beyond, half the staircase behind me. It looks like a Photoshopped landscape with ghost people, or some impossible space by Escher, where left is also right and downwards stairs leads up.

But back to the stage. Taking photos during performances is strictly prohibited, so of course everyone does it, when they’re not actually plonking a camcorder on the balcony ledge and recording the whole thing. As long as they don’t use flash, which might result in a twisted ankle for a dancer caught mid-leap, it seems to be generally accepted that people will ignore the rules. I haven’t taken pics at every performance I’ve been to, below are images from a Ballets Russes revival show (link at end of article for the people-who-don’t-know-what-that-is-and-should-be-ashamed-of-themselves) and Swan Lake; I’ve totally ticked one of the items on my Bucket List by seeing those here, danced by some of the best ballerinas in the world today. I’ve heard that quality is a bit uneven, and that the corps de ballet don’t always match the virtuosity of the soloists, but I can’t say I’ve seen evidence of that.

Ulyana Lopatkina (the best dancer you'll see for your coin anywhere now) saluting after a superlative Dying Swan.

Le Spectre de la Rose: yes, this is a bloke wearing a pink flowery leotard. He was being a rose. And he was amazing. I've just noticed it looks like he's giving the audience the finger, that makes it all even better.

Diana Vishnyeva as Scheherazade and Igor Zelensky as the golden slave. Her abs are fearsome.

Of course I have to mention that there's some gorgeous set design going on.

Swan Lake: I'd been wanting to see this for about 20 years and was, amazingly, not let down despite my high expectations.

Ridiculously pleased with this shot. Sums up the amazingness of Alina Somova as the Black Swan, with Vladimir Shklyarov being a great match as the Prince despite looking about 16. Hard not to be distracted by the deranged hats happening in the background, but try.

The evil Magician, danced with a ton of attack and menace by Ilya Kuznetsov, which can't be easy when you're dressed up as a big bird with feathers on your head and lots of sequins on your ass.

Final salute in front of the famous green curtain, after five deserved call-backs.

I'm becoming worryingly russified, shamelessly striking inspired poses in public places...I just couldn't resist the blingtastic gold balconies as a backdrop.

If you have been, do 25 plies and an arabesque. And point those toes, dammit, what are you, a swan or a bear?!

Link for Ballets Russes:


goth cake

A post dedicated to the improbable Chesmeskaya Church.

Built by Cahterine the Great to celebrate a victory over the Turkish army at Chesme Bay, it’s well away from the centre as she wanted it built right on the spot where she was when she heard the happy news. I guess at the time it was surrounded by fields and woods. Today it’s surrounded by Stalin-era blocks of flats. They’re very well built, sought after and quite expensive, with high ceilings, parquet floors, good insulation and plumbing, but boy do they look grey and forbidding and sad from the outside.

It only serves to increase the strangeness and odd beauty of this very bijou church, part spiky wedding cake, part UFO. Possibly not at its best on a cloudy February afternoon, but wait.

I have just never seen anything as delirious, architecturally speaking. There probably are odder buildings out there, but their builders usually set out to make them that way. This is the brain-child of an unsung genius who very seriously decided to mix the Gothic, Orthodox and Neo-Classical styles and then put some topspin on the result by making it a barrel shape and painting it a simply divine raspberry red. Personally, I’m a fan.

Having wandered around it, I decided to peek inside. It really is tiny. While I was trying to look like a good Russian church-goer and ogling the babushkas kneeling in front of holy books or icons, and then kissing them three times (so this is how colds and flu epidemics start!), more and more people were filing in. And suddenly the doors of the iconostasis opened, and I experienced a real “Oh shit!” moment as three priests came out swinging massive incense burners or holding up more icons, and started marching around us and chanting. By the way, there are no seats in Orthodox churches, people stand and are quite free to roam around during certain parts of mass, for  instance to go kiss the icon of a saint their have a special thing for, or light a candle. Anyway, before things got too iffy and I found myself supposed to sing vespers in old Russian, I discreetly creeped away, but couldn’t resist taking a cheeky pic of the inside as I went. I’m pretty certain it’s forbidden. Not a very good photo but I was slowly opening the front door behind me as I took it, to enable a quick getaway just in case the outraged faithful started lobbing candelabra at me.

It was twilight outside and all of a sudden the grim blocks around disappeared and a star was born.

“Dracula: The Fabulous Years”

It’s the Dame Edna of churches!

“Stay classy, St Petersburg”:  like a beacon of amazingness, watching over you.


mixed bag, 4

First and foremost, Happy Women’s Day, ladies. It’s a pretty big thing over here, and before anyone starts kvetching, yes there’s a Men’s Day as well, it was February 23rd, originally Day of the Defenders of the Motherland.

Moving on to random news of my life. I’m absolutely fuming right now, as I’ve done myself out of a bit of a treat this morning. I went to Yubileiny Ice Rink with my friend Sheila from the kindergarten, as two of her pupils were taking part in some small figure skating competition. That was brilliant. The kids were age 4-7, and not particularly advanced. We saw a lot of flailing arms, a lot of ill-fitting velvet and illusion mesh dresses, a lot of shaky one-foot glides, we heard some horrendous music edits; one girl managed to fall on her ass twice, right on the beat, unfortunately these were the only occasions she was on time with her music. We did not see the next Oksana Baiul. All in all, a true kitsch-tastic figure skating show. All that was missing were sobbing mums and coaches contesting the marks, I guess even the Russians save this kind of histrionics for the bigger stage.

By the time we reached the adults group -some of which I could have out-skated with a fractured ankle- I decided to go buy the wellies I desperately need to walk even 10 yards outside my front door through the Olympic-size puddles. It soon became apparent that I was being an ass once again, forgetting that holidays in Russia are much more widely observed than at home and that all the shops were closed. As I realized I’d been trudging in slush and mud for nothing, my phone rang. It was Sheila, who’d stayed on at the rink so she could skate after the competition. “Murielle, you’ll never believe who I’m watching skate right now! Evgeny Plushenko and Johnny Weir!” I’m well aware these names mean less than nothing for most of you, Philistines that you are, so to sum things up, they’re world class skaters and among my absolute favourites. Turns out today is the birthday of Alexei Mishin, legendary Russian skating coach, and that they’d put on a show for him with performances from top skaters. Sheila got to see the warm-up for free, and these tend to be way more entertaining than the actual shows as no-one is on their best behaviour and you get to hear all the bitching and watch some seriously intense one-up(wo)manship. Not to mention some awesome skills are people are less nervous than at actual showtime. I considered going back but they’d have been off the ice by the time I got there so I went home and seethed instead.

Anyway, more mixed bag items. As my avid fans might be aware of, I’ve recently been to Moscow (and not written a post about it yet) and had an awesome time, which is maybe why I’ve let such a backlog of posts build up. We had the last show of the year at the KG as well, that, as always, has mobilized way more energy than it warrants. We had the Autumn Show, the Christmas Show, and this one was the Spring/Mother’s Day Show. For the occasion, I asked my colleague Anna to try and “do something” with my hair, she’s super skilled at complicated hairdos and managed this with my short messy bob:

While we’re on the subject of hair: walking back to the Metro after work the other day, I noticed an unusual advertisement on the traffic lights post:

It says that, on March 11 at 35, Nalitchnaya Street, they will be buying hair. Hair. You bring yourself and your hair, and you get shorn for money. I knew that a lot of wig-makers get their raw material from Russia, but I thought it was women in prisons who sold their hair to buy fags and nail polish with. Maybe there’s been a severe lack of willing suppliers, and they’ve had to advertise…

While I took a photo, I realized I was standing by a fresh looking car wreck, which led me to identify the source of a lot of beeping that had been going on. While the bumpee had been shunted/pushed to the kerb, the bumper stood in the middle of the junction, stalled, and was being given hell by the other drivers, all of them raring to go and mash up their own cars in some other part of the city.

I took the photo during a brief respite in traffic. It was snowing a bit that day, but going by the fairly even dusting on the bumpee car, I’d say the guilty party (visible in the background) had been stuck there getting shouted at for a good long while. Tee-hee. Minor and major accidents like this happen constantly, Russian drivers could hold their own in a contest with their French and Italian counterparts. I’d been looking for a suitable wreck (ie not too scary and lethal) to put up on the blog and was selfishly glad when I saw this one!

Another random pic: the unvoluntarily funny statue of the Firemen on Vassilievski Ostrov. It stands in front of an old fire station and makes me laugh every time I see it. I get it that the artist wanted to represent them in action, climbing up ladders, wielding axes and holding up hoses, but making them do it all at once wasn’t the best idea. It wound up looking more like the Keystone Cops trying to put out a fire.


Russia’s burning, Fetch the engines!

If the guys who were in charge of putting out the forest fires this summer were anything like this lot, I understand why it took so long.

The mixed bag is very very mixed today, for here’s another totally unrelated item. I was randomly annoyed by this advert for a D&G perfume, which has been popping up all over town. I couldn’t identify the actor for a long time but thought I hated him, then I found out it was the slappable Matthew McConnauhgey and knew I hated him. The juice he’s hawking is called “The One Gentleman”, if you’re male and aspire to that title, you should be feeling sick right about now. The role model you’re being offered looks like a smug goose. And guys, do we really need him in triplicate? I have to walk past that shop often. Thanks.

To finish on a much more zen and inspiring note, I went for a walk on the Baltic yesterday. On it, yes, the shores are definitely frozen still, and covered with people skiing across from island to island. In keeping with my traditional hide and seek game with this sea, the sun went in as I got near it and came out as soon as I left. I’m not allowed to see it in full sunshine, apparently. But this dim and slightly oppressive polar haze works for me.

There was an equally pleasant pre-storm light going on as I got near home again, no storm followed, so who knows where that came from.


And finally, the ad break: for any wannabe TEFL people, I recommend a look at my friend Sian’s website, she’s been there-done that-got the T-shirt and has lots of good advice to offer. Plus if you don’t get enough of my nonsense here, I contributed an article about teaching in Russia. Links below.

I took a photo to illustrate the article, and as I notice I’ve not shown you what my classroom looks like, here it is. You can even see some of the gremlins playing in the background.


And that’s quite enough of that for today, so goodbye, and if you have been, go sort your head out.