I’ve had to move all the breakable things in my flat in anticipation of some long awaited repair work, and the act of having to take things of the shelves and wrap them up to store on top of the kitchen cupboards for a couple of weeks, has forced me to look at them. They are part of my every day environment, my eyes pass over them every time I walk through the front door, but it’s an age since I actually looked at them. And I’ve got to admit, I’ve got some pretty strange stuff sitting there gathering a layer of dust.
Why exactly do I have this piece of classic Russian kitsch? It manages to encompass pretty much all the clichés you can think of, the stove. the woman in a headscarf beside her balalaika playing man in his woven wooden shoes; there’s a samovar, a pitchfork, a scythe and herbs drying in bunches. If you look hard enough you’ll see the cat on the chimney and I’m sure there must me some mushrooms about somewhere.
I bought it a month or so before I left Moscow at the end of my years of working there. Until then I’d bought very little of the ubiquitous Russian handicrafts and knick knacks. I had some paintings I’d bought to brighten up my flat, and I’d some blue and white Gzhel pottery because I’d needed a vase and a teapot, but apart from that I’d avoided all the folk art shopping opportunities There would always be time to do that later…. until I realised I would be leaving soon.
I undertook a major expedition to the Ismailovsky market with some friends to act as advisers. I got back home after an afternoon of shopping with enough stuff to start my own stall. I’m fairly sure they told me that someone would love this as a gift. I have yet to identify that person. It’s lived on several different shelves over the last 15 years, latterly high up on the bookshelves in the hallway, and each time I move it, I wonder why I don’t just give it away to a charity shop, but looking at it now, it immediately brings to mind that day of shopping, and knowing that my time in Russia was coming to an end, and I had no idea what I was going to do next.
It could amount to its reprieve