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Gorky Park

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Today's Mission: Meet someone we don't know in a park we've never been to in a part of town we don't know.....

Having been away from home for 9 weeks now, it was time for Jimmy and I to get a haircut.   Now getting a haircut here can cost you an arm and a leg, so I enlisted the help of an unknown fellow English speaking blogger here in Moscow by the name of Jay (check out his blog on life in Moscow at http://www.englishdadinmoscow.com) who originally hails from London, who told me he could get me a haircut for 300 pyr, as opposed to the more regular 3,000 - 4,000 pyr ($NZ 12 as opposed to $NZ 120 +)

We arranged to meet at Patriarchy Ponds in Arbat a new part of Moscow for us at 10:00am on Saturday morning.   We hit the road leaving just enough time to get there, bus down the road to Metro, ride the metro till stop No. 8, change trains and jump off at the second station.   Well we should have known not to second guess conductor Jimmy, when he told us we were at the right station and we needed to get off, so we told him he was wrong, and rode on to the next station where we worked out along the way that he was in fact right, so jump of at next station cross the platform and catch the next train going back to where we came from.  Luckily over here there is a train going on any given line about every 2 1/4 minutes.   We jump off the train at the correct station and head out what I guess to be the best exit to make finding our way easy, and again get it wrong, so luckily someone can look at my map and understand my pointing and gesturing and send us in the right direction.   We finally find the French bakery on the corner, turn down there and see the park where the tall guy with short hair and glasses is waiting for us with his kid.   We meet and introduce ourselves to each other, swear on our lives that we will never disclose the location of the hair salon we are about to visit to any other soul and head off to the salon.  He took us down a dark hallway under some stairs in some dodgy looking building to his regular salon, but unfortunately it was shut, but never fear he knew of another one just around the corner.   Again entry was via a long skinny hallway, down some stairs, down another hall an upon opening a solid door which gave no real indication of what lay beyond we arrive in this huge beauty salon.   There were probably 20 cutting chairs or more plus nail technicians and other services that these places have.   We were whisked down to a vacant chair where, as is customary here, Jay negotiated the price (to make sure we weren't going to be ripped off, everyone's biggest fear here in Moscow...), only to find that they had their prices stuck on the mirror and they were even better than his regular salon (170 pyr, about $NZ 6.50...).   So 5 minutes later Jim and I were clean cut, and we just waited while they cut Jay's son's hair as well, which wasn't done as well as ours, so the poor little fella will have to wear his hat for the next few weeks as it grows back, lucky it is winter...).  We paid for the 3 haircuts and wandered back to the park where we said goodbye to Jay and looked forward to catching up again.

Next mission was to visit the Moscow Zoo, which was just down the road.   Jimmy had already been once before and enjoyed it, so again he was our tour guide, pointing out all the animals we had to see and where we needed to go to see certain animals.  (He has an amazing ability to remember places, spaces and directions, even if he has only been there briefly, so is a good backup if you are not 100% sure on where you are or where you need to go when you revisit a place).   The zoo is a classic example of the state of Moscow, it has that old fashioned zoo feel about it, which I suppose given that it is well over 100 years old is fair enough, but like so much here there seems to be no maintenance or pride in the zoo in general.   The buildings are much as they probably were 100 years ago, and many look as though nothing has been done to them in that time, tiles are falling off walls, many cages are empty and the animals are generally just in cages with concrete floors, none of the natural environments that we enjoy in our NZ and Australian zoos, where we can see the animals roaming in spacious enclosures.   Even the cages have this shambolic irony about them, in front of the birds there is an extra fence to keep you away from the cage, yet you can poke your fingers right into the cheetah's, foxes, wolves and sea lion's cages.   Even in the domestic animal section there is a rabbit in a cage right next door to a fox, now I am sure the fox must spend all day salivating over the rabbit, and the rabbit living in fear of the fox....   While for adults this is really quite a sad place to see animals, for young kids it is the animals they remember rather than the conditions they live in and at $NZ 16 for the whole family to get in you can't beat it for value for money.    Unfortunately while Russia may have been free of it's Soviet past for the last 20 odd years, there seems to be this reluctance to move some of these old state run institutions into the 21st century.  I am sure they could double their ticket prices without affecting the number of visitors they get and reinvest some of the increased revenue into upgrading the zoo, and making it more of an attraction.
Gorky Park from bridge, yes that is an old Buren Space Shuttle sitting there.

Garage Center for Contemporary Culture's, Gorky Park
Sunday was a more relaxed day, where we mucked around home for the morning, before I took the kids down to Gorky Park.    We had called in the weekend previously but only briefly and afterwards I realised that there was a temporary building in there designed by Starchitect du jour, Shigeru Ban, who has also designed the temporary Christchurch Cathedral to be built out of cardboard tubes.   Luckily the kids are interested in buildings as well, so was easy enough to convince them that when we got to the park that we would check out the building and the exhibition in it, then we would wander the park wherever they wanted to go.  Well the exhibition (Temporary Structures in Gorky Park: from Melnikov to Ban) was rather interesting and full of old photos, sketches, and blueprints of buildings from a 1923 exhibition held in the park as well as some pretty clever interactive activites which kept us occupied for quite a while, then once out of the actual exhibition space there was a free workshop where kids could build models of buildings out of a whole lot of materials that were provided.   We joined in and luckily one of the staff spoke English so could explain the workshop to us, which involved the kids designing a building for human or animal habitation and then going about building it from the materials that were provided.   So for the next couple of hours we cut and stuck, and experimented, and made models of towers (for some reason both kids have a fascination with the Sky Tower, so when asked to design a building they sketched up similar buildings, although Molly's sketch had a more Sci-Fi feel about it than Jim's).

Jim's Sky Tower
These sort of activities really highlight the differences between Russian kids and Kiwi kids and the two different educational approaches they are subjected to, which just goes to show how well our education system is doing (so about time we all stopped knocking it and really started believing in it....)   The Russian way of doing this sort of thing is very structured, "You do it like this ..." and they are either guided or it is done for them by their parents.   They also seem to lack the ability to see one thing as something else, and would waste hundreds of metres of cling film to get to the tube so you could use that as the cylindrical base for your tower rather than take a flat sheet of card, roll it up and tape it together....   While I helped Jimmy realise his model, Molly worked away on her own, sticking straws together to make her base long enough, tapping them together to form a cylinder (which had the supervisors baffled as, why wasn't she just stick the straws to the base with modelling clay like they were trying to show her ???), then creating the living platform, and in what was a revelation she took a scouring pad, unraveled it and placed it around the structure, threading it with coloured thread to represent the coloured lights that would make it a feature.   By this stage the supervisors were starting to understand what it was she was trying to do and looked to be rather blown away by what she had created, and were equally impressed by Jim's tower as well.

Molly's Tower
I must say she really impressed me with the end result, and while we have long known that she is artistically talented and also seen her make 3D sketches using SketchUp which always gives this little hope that maybe one day she will follow me into architecture, this was like something of an epiphany, where she has revealed this true ability to conceptualise an idea, and work with it to create something stunning, and what better place to do it than in Shigeru Ban's exhibition centre.

By then it was 4:00pm, time enough to grab a cob of corn on the way out of the park, head back to the station and hope like hell that we were early enough to avoid the soccer crowds on the metro.   So I have been to Gorky Park twice now and am yet to see it...  oh well there is always next weekend....
Posing by the cardboard columns

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