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Report by Jelle Otten
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The Old Home Week in Moscow (Aug. 10th - Aug. 16th 2008)

Between Yolki-Palki and Cafe Pushkin
(Reminiscences to The Old Home Week in Moscow)

Thinking of the Old Home Week in Moscow, I could remember that "the only cook that has ever been discovered capable of pushing food into him [=Uncle Tom] without starting something like Old Home Week in Moscow under the third button is this uniquely gifted Anatole]. This is indeed a quote from Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 11, by P.G. Wodehouse. But there is now another Old Home Week in Moscow (=OHWM) viz. that marvellous event that took place in the Russian capital in August 2008. It was organised by The Russian Wodehouse Society under the glorious leadership of Masha Lebedeva and with help from Dima Pritykin and others.

The OHWM started with a welcome dinner at a nice restaurant at the Kuznetskiy Most Street in Moscow, called in Russian: Yolki-Palki (it means in English: My Goodness) and it ended after a week with a farewell dinner at Cafe Pushkin (named after the Great Russian Poet) at the Tverskoy Boulevard. The foreign participants at the OHWM had their headquarters in Hotel Budapest, which is situated just between both establishments.

The welcome dinner was indeed a nice introduction to the Russian cuisine with nice salads, red caviar and sour cream and of course with traditional Russian soft drinks Kvas (made from rye and yeast) and Mors (made from cranberries). All that served by waiters and waitresses, dressed in traditional Russian costumes. Quickly the Wodehousians from Russia and elsewhere fraternized with each other, because they are joined to each other in their love for the great humorist author P. G. Wodehouse. We were provided with extended information about practical matters varying from how to use your cell phone in Russia, how to handle with public transport in Moscow, with food and drinks, to a guide to browsing and sluicing in the Hotel Budapest area (and elsewhere) and what to see, if there was any time left. Certainly, every day there was time for dinner and the information about it was very useful for us. We discovered the Peter I restaurant, neighbouring to the Budapest Hotel, the exotic Uzbekistan restaurant with very good food and with live music and live belly dancing. We detected also another exotic restaurant: Shesh-Besh an Azerbaijani restaurant, and a very popular Russian "Bierhaus", called Durdin, not only with good food but also with the best beer, and the fast-food Mu-mu cafe in Russian style. Every day we could travel with the Moscow metro, which distinguished itself from the other numerous subways in the world for some of their palace-like metro stations. And what to say about lunch in soviet nostalgic style? It is possible in the House on the Embankment. Or what to say about lunch in style of modern times in a sports and entertainment centre in a town called Chekhov...

The foreign group (from countries as far away as France, United States and The Netherlands) could start with the program of the OHWM with indefatigable Masha at the head of us. Firstly the schedule provided a visit to the Moscow Kremlin. First lesson for the foreigner: The Kremlin in Moscow is NOT the only Kremlin in Russia, many other towns also have their own Kremlins. Second Lesson: The Moscow Kremlin is not only the centre of state power, but also a collection of museums, cathedrals palaces and (yes) government buildings. Our visit was limited to the Armoury Exposition of precious articles, made in Kremlin workshops, and gifts received from foreign embassies, kept by the Romanov royal family and Moscow's patriarchs, and the Cathedral of Assumption, where ceremonies of national significance took place. The interior of the cathedral is splendidly decorated with wall frescoes and iconostasis. After a visit to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (which is outside the Kremlin) we were regaled on a boat trip on the Moscow River. A guide on board told us in Russian what we could see during the trip. Luckily Dima translated the information immediately for us in English. He did a great job for us to do the same thing at other occasions! So we understood that we passed not only the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Kremlin, but also among others, the House of Music, the merchants' mansions, the House on Embankment (built for the Soviet elite) and the monument to Peter the Great. This monument is teaching us two things: Peter the Great liked the seagoing and the seamanship, and he was indeed a big man.

An excellent way to see famous buildings and places in Moscow is a bus tour. Not only the Red Square (which is actually meaning the Beautiful Square; which it is indeed the case), the Kremlin buildings, but also for example the Sparrow Hills, with the mass market of souvenirs (and the Moscow State University, of course), or the new Trade Centre, where the tallest building in Europe is under construction.

Wodehousian was our visit to the Shalyapin House-Museum. F.I. Shalyapin was a world famous bass singer during Wodehouse's time. In his book Bring on the Girls, ch 9, Wodehouse (and Guy Bolton, his co-author) tells about their meeting with the Great Russian. Shalyapin's House Museum gives a good idea in which way Shalyapin lived here. The museum is very trim and we were asked to put "special" shoes over our own shoes, for protection of the polished floors. Many other museums asked us to do the same thing.

A surprise for us was that we could hear him singing five songs on a record. The list of songs we heard was: Volga Boat Song, The Doubt, Along the Petersburg Road, Down the Volga and the unforgettable Dark Eyes. Quite! What a bass singer!

Another house-museum is Tolstoy's one. The name of his house is Khamovniki. It was here that the great man and his family lived from 1882 till 1901. Like Shalyapin, we could hear Tolstoy also on a record. He was not singing but was actually talking to us. It is amazing to learn that Tolstoy recorded himself on a machine, sent to him by nobody else than Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph!

Really Wodehousian was the minigolf tournament that the OHWM group played at Turchaninove lane in Moscow. Oldest Golf Member Dirk Wonnel (USA) instructed us like the Sage how to play golf in the most effective way on this course. His instructions yield profit: Golden Susan Brokaw (USA), Silver Elena Kirillova (Russia), Bronze Masha Lebedeva (Russia) and Special Marie Lasson (France) were on the prizewinners list.

Not in Moscow, but not far away from her in the northwest is the Serednikovo Country-Mansion. It is one of the most famous places in Russia and connected to the great Russian poet M.Y. Lermontov. Serednikovo inspired me to think that the mansion could be one source of inspiration to Wodehouse's Blandings Castle. Not only the building itself has reminiscences to, but above all the park and pond. The park invited the participants of the group to bring to life again one of Wodehouse's most "Russian" stories: The Clicking of Cuthbert. All parts, with the two narrators included, could be divided among the Old Home Weekers and Elena Ilaydinova, the guide of the group on this trip!

More far away in the south from Moscow is Melikhovo Museum reserve of Anton Chekhov, the great Russian storyteller and playwright. It is amazing to see that in his simple house not only an extended family was living, but also innumerable friends were staying. In the museum you can see how Russian everyday life was at the end of the nineteenth century.

Contrary to this simple estate is the terrific pompous estate of Catherine the Great in Tsaritsyno, southeast in Moscow. By some whim of fate the Empress of Russia had never lived in her Moscow residence, due to the fact that the palaces were completed only in the last few years of the twenty first century...

Alas, even the OHWM came to an end and it was at the Farewell Dinner in Cafe Pushkin. This is a literary cafe;-restaurant in a nineteenth century mansion. The whole interior of Cafe Pushkin appears to be genuine, but it is in reality artificially aged, as we could see, because the owner showed us around the whole building.

We were regaled with a fine Russian dinner a la Anatole. On the menu were: Salad Olivier, Petits Pates a la Russe and Veal Cutlet Pozharsky. The food was so delightful, that it was not possible that something started like the "OHWM" under the third button...

At the end of the dinner The Russian Wodehouse Society surprised us pleasantly with a unique farewell gift: The Old Home Week Calendar for the year 2009, designed by Raya Ivanovskaya.

Thinking of the The Old Home Week in Moscow I can now say it was a delightful event that will live on in my memory, thanks to you: Wodehousian Russians and Wodehousian friends from abroad1). In one word: Прекрасно!2)

Jelle Otten

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1) They are: Vladimir Lopatka, Raya Ivanovskaya, Andrey Isyemin, Natalie Karachevtseva with her son Venedikt, Irina Alexeeva, Masha Lebedeva, Lena Lebedeva, Anna Pritykina, Dima Pritykin, Marie Lasson, Hubert Lasson, Elena Kirillova, Susan Brokaw, Dirk Wonnel, Mikhail Kuzmenko, Anna Kuzmenko.

2) Splendidly!

Copyright Michel Kuzmenko (gmk), The Russian Wodehouse Society © 1996-2008. Established 04/04/1996.