Mathes Missive From Moscow #6 – Sunday: Set Up Part Two
Greetings, again, and now it is Sunday,
Although with the help of the miraculous French art team we had hung nearly everything in the booth yesterday, we were still far from finished when Marat picked us up on Sunday morning and drove through the rain to the Manege.
First, we had to get Christophe and Tintin to place the few remaining odds and ends. The biggest challenge of the day was the lighting, one of the most important aspects of our entire exhibition. Without proper light, a great booth is a wretched one. Our lighting situation today was perilous. Last night at 9:30 as we were about to leave a guy came by, staring at our ceiling.
“You have the wrong lights,” he said.
“That’s very nice,” said Jane, packing her knapsack. We often get people (actually we call them morons), who come up to you while you’re racing against the clock on some vital tasks and think it might be a nice time to say hello have a chat. It isn’t.
“Yes, they are all wrong,” the man said again.
We tried to ignore him, but he kept muttering in a French accent about lights (he was actually Russian).
“Yes, I am a lighting person,” he said modestly.
“Are you a lighting person with the fair?” said Jane smiling politely, but giving me the familiar look that she wanted to kill this person.
Well, it turned out that not only was he a lighting person with the fair, he was THE lighting person, the guy who was responsible for all the lights of all the booths. And in fact we did have all the wrong lights. Jane had ordered them when she was in Paris from the French transport company. Unfortunately the French have nothing to do with the lights, there was no catalogue to look at, and Jane had just ordered what they seemed to suggest were the right fixtures.
The modest Russian lighting man — his name was Nicola — now explained why we had the wrong fixtures. Jane had to spend half an hour with him, but by the time we left on Saturday night for Cafe Babai, modest Nicola understood exactly what we required, and was going to change all the lights. Jane also saw that she needed numerous additional fixtures; we are very particular about how each item is lit. Besides his modesty, Nicola seemed supremely intelligent and experienced. In his totally laid-back way (he made Californians look tense), he said he would meet us in the booth at noon and focus everything to our satisfaction (meaning that you have to place the beam of the light exactly where you want it on the painting or tapestry — and perhaps add one or more additional fixtures so that the work is completely lit. Sometimes you want even lighting, sometimes separate “hot” spots where beams are focused, thus giving a more dramatic effect. A person looking at an artwork usually is totally unaware of the lighting considerations, but it can make all the difference in how good a painting looks). We were very impressed with Nicola and felt in good hands. Even the wrong lights were much better than the bulbs in cans we usually got at fairs; these were real, focusable theatrical lighting fixtures.
So Jane and I were at the Manege shortly after ten on Sunday morning again, always figuring to err on the side of caution. We let Julia sleep late – her mission for the day was to have copies made of the Russian translation she had made of a fifty page brochure we had created to explain modern tapestries. We figured it would be easier to print Julia’s translations of this brochure in Moscow, rather than schlep a hundred or more copies in our suitcases, which already had weighed two tons, what with all our books, handtools and clothes for two weeks. True to his word, Nicola had replaced all the lights with the proper fixtures. Expecting him to arrive at noon to focus the beams and add whatever extra fixtures were necessary, we spent several hours finalizing the booth with the French handlers, and fine-tuned. We also put up the labels, which it turned out wouldn’t stick to the walls because the walls are sheathed in linen. The Russians solved this with staplers.
Nicola, however, didn’t appear at noon. Nor at two. Nor at four. Every time Jane chased him down and he promised to come right over, he was apparently promising the same thing to every other exhibitor in the fair. We had hoped to be finished early and to be able to go back to the hotel and rest or let Julia show us around the Kremlin, across the street (in the rain), but basically we sat around doing nothing for most of the afternoon. Julia showed up with the translated brochures shortly after five.
“I really think that you will enjoy the Gypsy Dance Concert tonight,” she said with a big smile.
Happily we didn’t need to make up any excuses about why we couldn’t go (curtain was a 6:15 and we still had several hours worth of work). We told Julia to buy herself a ticket on the gallery and have a great time.
By the time Jane finally physically dragged Nicola to the booth it was after six. He started focusing lights, but every few minutes he calmly took a phone call (from another irate exhibitor.) Exhibitors stood around our booth like vultures, ready to spirit him away if we dropped our guard for a second. Jane kept yelling up to him on the ladder, “Can I see your phone a minute, please?” Nicola just continued to take calls, and never gave her the phone. Somehow he understood that if he did, Jane wouldn’t give it back until the job was done. It took several more hours but we finally got it all finished except for one additional fixture and a power outlet at our desk so we could use our computers, which Nicola promised to put in overnight (at one point in the evening he had to go get additional fixtures — Jane went with him so he wouldn’t get away; two dealers followed, ready to steal him if Jane looked away for even an instant).
Here is a visual diary of the day, including some general pictures of the rest of the building:
A little before 8:00 pm Julia called . We had just finished — finally. It was intermission at the Gypsy dance concert. She wanted to see how were doing and to check about what time she should come tomorrow. After we hung up, Jane and I hobbled to door where we looked out into the rain and suddenly wondered how the hell we were going to get home. A French dealer whom we knew was standing in the crowd at the door, smoking cigarettes (inside the Manege is one of the few places in the city where smoking isn’t allowed) with a Russian colleague.
“Are there any cabs around here?” Jane asked. The Frenchman and the Russian laughed. Fat chance. It looked like we were going to have to walk. Luckily I had an umbrella. Jane and I sized one another up, wondering which of us would have to carry the other if worse came to worst.
“Just out of curiosity, how much should a cab cost from here back to the Sheraton Palace?” Jane asked the Russian, an older fellow with that mildly cynical, you-would-be-cynical-too-if-you-had-seen-all-i’ve-seen smile that many older Russians have.
“Hundred fifty rubles, two hundred tops,” said the Russian with a Russian shrug. “But you will not find one.”
We walked toward the subway, but just as we got to the main street we saw Marat, opening the door of his car and smiling. We had bargained Marat down to 400 roubles for a one-way trip. A bargain.
“Armenia! Armenia!” said Marat.
“It’s a miracle!” Jane exclaimed.
“Julia,” said Marat, holding a mimed telephone to his ear.
It wasn’t a miracle. Our Julia, the genius, had called him during intermission. Marat turned on the radio and the sounds of Julio Iglesias filled the car.
“Julio!” screamed Jane. I hadn’t even known he was still alive, but there are billboards of Julio up all over town. He’s singing somewhere around here pretty soon, and Jane is a big fan. Her eyes rolled back into her head. Jane was already in heaven, but there was no mystery where else we wanted to go.
“Cafe Babai?” asked Marat,
“Cafe Babai,” Jane and I both answered together. What a great place!
Tomorrow — the Gala Charity Preview.