Немного о Пушкине
(‘A little about Pushkin’)
Today I visited Pushkin’s last apartment (Russ. Музей-квартира А. С. Пушкина), which has since been turned into a museum. Of course, I have loved and respected Pushkin and his works for a long time. I expected the tour to be interesting, but did not anticipate that I would love the museum as much as I did. When you approach the building, it is a beautiful golden color. On a rare sunny day like today, it is quite stunning against the blue sky. You enter a gate into the courtyard, which looks like a small park with a statue of Pushkin in the center. I have seen many a двор (the Russian word for ‘courtyard’) and so many Pushkin statues that this did not faze me. We entered the building, checked our coats*, and put on some бахилы (plastic shoe covers)* before meeting our tour guide in the lobby.
Within the first five minutes of the tour’s start, I could tell that it was going to be a good one because when our guide spoke, her grey blue eyes lit up with pride as if she were speaking about her own child**. We entered the first section of the museum to see a room filled with beautiful 19th-century portraits of figures related to Pushkin’s life; original 19th-century furniture and other trinkets; and— my favorite part of all— many drafts of Pushkin’s works.
The Russian word for a rough draft is черновик, probably derived from the word чёрный (‘black’). I found this fitting as I examined Pushkin’s drafts. In beautiful black inks, he wrote and scribbled out words in his calligraphic script, and all over drew lovely little sketches of characters, objects, and whatever little features he was attempting to convey in his writings. The sketches were simple, but I found myself quite taken by them— partially because they closely resembled the way that I write and sketch. :) Seeing his actual handwriting and the expressive black lines of his sketches made me feel that he was not just a name at the end of a poem. He was a person who lived, who made mistakes, who stained his fingers with ink while pouring his heart out onto the page. I felt more inspired and in awe than I have felt in a long time.
After seeing the sketches, the rest of the museum seemed even more fascinating to me. The second part of the tour went through Pushkin’s actual apartment. As the tour guide took us through the different rooms, she regaled different stories of Pushkin’s life and death, and explained the significance of each place. Most lovely of all, though, was Pushkin’s study. It was there that he composed so many of his poems, and it was also there that he spent the final hours of his life after being shot in a duel for the sake of his wife’s honor. Although most of the objects and furniture were not Pushkin’s, the few objects that did belong to him were quite interesting. I won’t go into detail; suffice to say, you should see it for yourself.
Reflecting back, it seems silly that I should have expected the museum to be anything less than breathtaking. I’ve always loved the line from David Lean’s 1965 adaptation of Doctor Zhivago: “Nobody loves poetry like a Russian.” It’s true; of any single person living or dead, I don’t think Russians revere anyone more than Pushkin. On parting, the tour guide told us, “Пушкин — наш все,” (‘Pushkin is ALL of ours.’)— that is, he is not just a Russian treasure, but also a world treasure. This phrase meant a lot to me, knowing how much Russia loves Pushkin, and how integral he and his works are to Russian culture. In January when I visited the Tretyakovskaya Gallery (Russ. Третьяковская галерея) in Moscow, I realized that so much of Russia’s artwork and its other great cultural treasures are found within the country itself. Russian culture has not permeated the rest of the world as other cultures have; it’s a pity. Russia has such a rich culture that deserves to be shared with the world. We could stand to learn so much from each other, if only we would listen.
*I don’t think I’ve previously mentioned these two notable features of Russian museums. First, I have had yet to encounter a single Russian museum without a coat check. Actually, most public buildings in general — from restaurants to my university — have coat checks. I love this and wish that the US would follow suit. Second, many (but not all) of the museums also make you wear bakhili, which are basically plastic covers for your shoes. Russians are obsessed with keeping the dirt/germs of shoes out of buildings, which is also why tapochki are regularly worn at home. I have to admit, I also like this practice and have become a bit obsessed about this factor myself.
**A few weeks ago in our discussion course, our professor, Mikhail Arkeidevich, asked us which Americans we were ‘proud’ of. It seemed like such a strange question; of course, there are Americans whose achievements I admire, but I do not feel personally proud of them. Mikhail Arkeidevich was shocked, and explained to us that he feels proud of all Russians who have great achievements because in a way, being from the same nation is like being from the same family. I thought this was an interesting reflection of the difference between individualistic and collectivist mindsets.)