2013-04-12 13.14.00I’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

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  1. On my visit to Moscow 1989 we were restricted to the Beriozka Shops and Gum was all but empty. I returned with a pair of Birch bark circular boxes, carved bear toy, carved bone hair clasp and a wonderful head scarf, fine cream wool with roses…garish orange & purple. Before the trip my father gifted me a collection of Communist badges, which I added to…the rest of my collection came from UK Charity shops, large Birch bark box, Fishing Bear toy, aluminium bust of Lenin, brooch & box lacquered & painted with onion domes & hunting scenes.
    The plastic bottle of Vodka bought on the plane as we approached Moscow was stored in a huge refrigerator in our room in Hotel Cosmos, a quick nip to warm us up as we returned from our wintry exploration…a small bottle, only half finished, came back on the plane with us and placed in the deep freeze, the icy liquid reminding us of the Moscow snow.

    Троекратное ура для водки и благотворительных магазинах!

  2. Rowena, Rowena, Rowena, I am gobsmacked! If I had to identify a possible owner for this item from a list of every single person I had ever met, online or not, you would not have featured. But it certainly is cheerful and colourful and, as you say, carries significant memories. I guess I have a few kitschy things myself, come to think of it. 🙂

    • Ha. Glad to know I can still surprise! I have some other bits too but this is definitely the most extreme on the kitsch-o-meter.

  3. Rowena, I love this little story! I’ve just returned from a long trip myself and I know how lovely it is to be reminded of these adventures we get to experience, especially years on. it’s such a hilarious ornament, but to me it speaks of how different parts of us are unleashed when we are not in our usual territory.

    • Thanks Gabriela. It is definitely the odder bits and pieces that I’ve accumulated over time that bring back the stories of my travels to me – I’ve still got several really silly things that have been given to me as ‘change’ when the person from whom I was buying something claimed not to have enough cash/coins…and every time I look at them it reminds me of a story. I hope you brought some good stuff back with you from your travels!


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