Mathes Missive From Moscow #3 – Wednesday: First Real Day

Mathes Missive From Moscow #3 – Wednesday: First Real Day

Greetings, Fellow Travelers,

 I don’t know about you, but I’m not much interested in hearing about the standard tourist bits from people’s trips.  What fascinates me is the differences in how people actually live.  Like what’s the deal with those funny German toilets?  Moscow3 Julia Long Hair

 Of course, one of the first things one has to cope with in a strange land is strange money.  Rubles are pretty strange, partly because the ratio to dollars is so weird that it takes a while to figure out what things cost.  Like breakfast yesterday.  I had scouted out a little hot chocolate shop in which to eat this morning where I could get some kind of pastry for the equivalent of a few dollars.  Unhappily nobody cooperated  with my quest for an umbrella yesterday.  Jane said I didn’t need an umbrella because all she needed was her rain hat (Jane’s logic works this way).  Probably the only optimistic Russian in captivity, Julia said, “Maybe it will not rain.”  Of course she brought along an umbrella from the friend she is staying with. 

Moscow3 Phone StoreAnyhow, it is pouring this morning so I am eating the complimentary fruit left in my room and have made myself a pot of coffee, which is just as well because this quiet time gives me a chance to write this missive and settle my brain.  I congratulated myself too soon about sleeping twelve hours yesterday, because last night I didn’t sleep much at all.  I am hoping that my brain will soon average the times out and I will be able to have more regular nights in the future.

 I just noticed that I had an umbrella here, after all.  Apparently I stole Julia’s last night.

 But I was speaking about money.  We’ve gotten some money from ATM machines, which seem to work the same as ATM machines in the US.  One thing the Russians have and we don’t however, are other machines into which you put a ten or twenty dollar (or Euro) bill (or presumably a stack of hundreds), which can identify and count your cash and dispense the equivalent in Rubles.  If you trust it to, and if, of course, you can read the directions in Cyrillic.  Another strange thing — at least strange to a New Yorker — is the unwillingness of many, many places to accept credit cards.  For instance, we had to pay cash to the phone store, where we have become regulars.  This is not some minor kiosk, it is the equivalent of an ATT or Verizon outlet.  (Notice the young man sitting the corner, by the way.  There are young men sitting in the corners of most stores, restaurants and hotels, presumably to deter trouble.  Most are much bigger, beefier and meaner-looking than this fellow.  There are also young women with Asian features [Julia says they are all from Turkmenistan, and other such old Soviet republics] who continually mop.  It is a sexist country, but clean.  I don’t know about how safe.) 

 Also strange is the fact that we have seen virtually no traffic lights.  The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the grand boulevards is unimpeded by crossing pedestrians, who have to go through underground passages to get across the street.  These underground passages are chocked full of guys who look like thugs and hooligans.  So are the streets.  Happily not all Russians are so menacing — since apparently many of the aforementioned  throng are soccer fans from England here for the finals — and clogging the hotels to such an extent that they can all double their room prices.

 So, after another two hours rearranging phone service (we ultimately had to buy Russian phones – cash only), off we went in search of lunch.  By this time it was nearly three o’clock.  Actually maybe it only seemed like two hours in the phone shop.  Anyway, it calmed Jane down to know that we can all communicate (even though the buttons and menus on the phones are in Cyrillic).  We even got a phone for our mystery visitor, who will not appear until next Tuesday. 

 Moscow3 Space Resaturant1Before we were able to settle on a restaurant, however, Julia coaxed Jane into purchasing tickets for the evening performance of the Georgian National Dance Troup.  More about this later (the ticket booth — the Moscow equivalent of Moscow3 Space Restaurant2Ticketron — would not take credit cards, cash only).  Up above is a nice picture of Julia and Jane.  Julia has hair down, as my father used to say, to her pipick.  I’m sure this is very useful if you are a masked gypsy belly dancer.  Jane has a backpack, which Jane insists is very useful despite it looking like a good place to stash a bomb (see below).

 The restaurant we finally chose — Julia knew it from her last trip — was probably as representative of the new Moscow as any: it was decorated like a giant space ship, and featured what looked like a giant Egyptian mummy in a space suit.  You can see it here just behind Jane and me.  Julia took this picture — she likes to hold the camera diagonally.  Maybe because she  is Russian.  Or maybe it’s because she is a dancer.  Her hair may also be throwing her off balance. 

 Russian wait staff are very creative, even though they appear totally disinterested.  None of us got food at the same time, several orders came back wrong and by the time we escaped, several hours had passed.  Very amusing.  The food was tasty, however.  And they did take credit cards.  The check came with a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum (label in English, perhaps a relic from the Cold War).

 So by this time there was just enough time to go back to the phone shop yet again (we had to leave the phones there for them to program), and dash off to the theatre, which we did by subway.  The Moscow subway is suitably famous, quite grand and perhaps the only reasonably priced thing in the city.  It would have helped if the clerk had given Julia better directions, since we got off a stop too soon — but making the 7:00 pm curtain was going to be a stretch anyway.  Russia is presently having certain… problems… with Georgia, so the security around the theatre was pretty intense.  As in — the entire Red Army.  Jane was directed by armed guards to check her backpack.  Ever the spitfire, she actually tried to talk them out of this.  Too bad (or perhaps lucky) for her, they didn’t understand a word of English. 

 Moscow3 State Theatre Coat RoomI didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about, but it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t some nice little folk dance troupe, it was a major Big Deal.  Observe the coat room of the State Kremlin Palace theatre where the Georgian dancers were performing.  This joint makes Lincoln Center seem cozy.  The show was spectacular, with guys leaping through the air clashing swords and women gliding across the stage in their long gowns as if they were on wheels (reminds of Arlene, who in her childhood was subjected to nuns in long habits and didn’t realize  for many years that they actually legs).

 Anyway, it was a grand evening, which we ended with Planet Sushi (quite good, in fact) and the subway home.  Below are some more pix of the day.  Off now to meet Jane, who has promised to program all our telephones, but says she has just a few more questions for the girl at the phone shop.  Moscow3 Georgian Dance Moscow3-State Theatre Moscow3-4 Moscow3-3 Moscow3-2 Moscow3-1 Moscow3 State Theatre










Moscow3 Julia 

Mathes Missive From Moscow #4 – Thursday: First Sight of the Venue

Mathes Missive From Moscow #4 – Thursday: First Sight of the Venue

Greetings, Americanskis,

 It’s becoming pretty clear that keeping up the pace on these missives is going to present a problem, in that I’ve been leaving the room early in the morning and not getting back until late at night — not much room for both thoughtful composition and sleep.

 But here’s the news until I break down.  Speaking of news, how about this story in the English-Language Russian newspaper?  Says something about the new Russia in an even more direct way than the definitely-not-poisoned Institute Director.  “Corporate Raiders are ‘Scourge’ of Economy,” reads the headline and then goes on to reveal that the term “corporate raider” has a different meaning here: “In Russia, raiders use their links to corrupt government or law enforcement officials to seize businesses illegally.”  Note the last irrelevant word here; if nobody can do anything about this, what do you need laws for?  “The raiders often include former intelligence personnel, security service or police officers, lawyers or people with close ties to well-placed individuals.  Through their control over judges, prosecutors and bureaucrats at all levels, they are Moscow4-Manege2able to order searches and inspections of businesses, gather background information about the owner, and falsify whatever documents  are needed to take over.”

 Apparently this is a huge problem and even more so outside of Moscow where businesspeople know even less about how to defend themselves from such tactics (perhaps this is why Mikhail, our driver from the first day, had that baseball bat on the floor of his car).  But of course, this is why bringing to Russia a billion dollars worth of art and jewelry (the total from last year according to the Moscow Fine Art Fair pr) is so much fun.

 Well, anyway, enoughMoscow4 of small talk.  I’m not going to bore you with with rain  or my poor choices in today’s lunch (but don’t chose shishkabob in the mall) or the details of the bad cold I am still trying to recover from.  Nor will I go into all of Jane’s phone adventures of the day.  Let’s cut directly to the chase — or rather the Manege.  This was a 19th century indoor riding academy.  As I think I mentioned, it was mysteriously gutted by fire a few  years ago, but miraculously workmen showed up the next day with detailed plans for a new reconstruction — presumably including underground parking.  The Manege is where the art fair will take place, and it is the art fair, after all, that we are here for and about which these missives are really to be about.  The Manege is directly across the street from the Kremlin, and it’s hard to get a feel for how big and grand it is.  Perhaps these pictures of the exterior will be a good place to start.  

Some interior shots of the Manege will be equally sobering.  This place is enormous, and right now — as you will see below — its vast interior has been filled with the rough shapes of booth construction.   Hard to believe that in a few days this will be the most elegant art fair in the world. Moscow4-Int4 Moscow4-Int3 Moscow4-Int2 Moscow4-Int1

 Some of the crews setting up the fair are French, but the Russian crews are for the most part the ones that built the booths (the French art handlers cost four or five times what the Russians ones do – I think because the French dealers can’t speak Russian so are ripe to be taken advantage of.  But we have Julia, who can speak Russian so we are going to go with the locals.)

 Unlike all of the other art fairs we’ve done, the booths here are constrained into very regular boxes — some of the very formal Parisian fairs operate like this; the Russians always liked things Classical and symmetric — hence the columns and arches — which leads me to my funny story of the day. 

Too bad I can’t show a picture of Jane working out the ground plan and elevations of our booth — it would be pretty funny  with all that smoke coming out of her head.  Jane is a positive genius for booth design, but it doesn’t come easy.  She does it the old fashioned way — with a pencil and reams of that old fashioned graph paper with little Moscow4-Int8 Moscow4-Int7 Moscow4-Int6 Moscow4-Int5boxes, each representing one foot (or some other measurement that will drive her insane).  It takes hours upon hours for her to work out exact placement of everything we will bring — and I mean down to the inch.  Her planning for this fair was the most difficult she had ever attempted, with Jane having to convert feet to inches to centimeters to square yards to who knows what?  Not only steam came out of her ears — I believe there was a significant quantity of radioactive waste.  But she survived and the result is a brilliant floor plan — which I hope you will see realized in photos herein over the next few days.  Unless we self-destruct first and run howling off over the steppes, always a real possibility.

 The funny part today was when we arrived and found that the booth didn’t look quite right — the entire center section seemed to be a foot off, which would throw everything out of whack. Tapestries that had been calculated to the millimeter wouldn’t have enough room to fit; paintings suddenly had more space than they were supposed to.  Jane got the French supervisor to get down on his hands and knees and measure each wall.  Two walls that were supposed to jut out a foot apart from one another were somehow perfectly in line.  How had this happened?

 It took a while, but the culprit was ultimately revealed — it was the Russian technicians who built the walls.  They had looked at Jane’s plan with two walls not quite aligned and figured she had made a mistake — what she had meant to make was a nice, even, perfectly matched doorway — not the irregular opening that was the keystone to the entire booth.  Why would anyone make walls that were not symmetrical?  So they considerately corrected the situation for her!  Luckily there is enough time for them to move and rebuild the walls, or somebody might have had to die.  By the time Jane had finished throttling people, it was time again to eat (which we do as often as possible).  Shunning all fast food choices at the mall, we ended up for the second time at Planet Sushi.  Hard to believe that you can get great sushi in Moscow, but there it was and there you are.

Moscow4-ArtTheatre3 Moscow4-ArtTheatre2 Moscow4-ArtTheatre1Jane refused to go back to the subway, so we had a leisurely stumble in the rain up Tverskaya.  Julia, ever looking out for our interest, summoned a friend to meet us at a coffee shop where we all ate again.  i had chicken soup and a bloody mary and tried not to cough (it doesn’t help that everyone in every restaurant is smoking cigarettes).  In the drizzle on the final leg back to the hotel (there are no taxis in Moscow for all practical purposes, alas) we passed this funny non-descript little building that you see in various views, including with me and the two umbrellas I have borrowed from the hotel.  The last is me and Julia inside this building.  Only the few of you involved in the theatre will care,  but this is Stansislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre!  Note that it’s still light here after 10 pm.

  No day would be complete with a final forage for breakfast.  Here’s a joint called Yeliseyevsky.  Built three or four years before the 1917 revolution when everybody here was cuckoo for Rococo.  Fantastic looking food here, let me tell you, and the wackiest rococo stage set I have ever seen. Best croissant in town!  why did i ever order that shishkabob in the mall when great food is everywhere in this city?

Seems I forgot to sign off on the last message.  So Good Night and Good Luck from Moscow — I will now collapse into a heap.

Moscow4-Yeliseyevsky4 Moscow4-Yeliseyevsky3 Moscow4-Yeliseyevsky2 Moscow4-Yeliseyevsky1








Mathes Missive From Moscow #5 – Friday: False Start

Mathes Missive From Moscow #5 – Friday: False Start

Hello dere from Russia,

 Today, Jane somehow got into her head, was the day that we would supervise the uncrating of our artwork and begin to arrange the booth, maybe even hang some tapestries.  This impression had something to do with someone saying something about our needing to be around for customs inspection at 10:00, so we dutifully got our Armenian driver Marat (the only words of English he seems to know are “Armenia!  Armenia!” which he shouts happily every few minutes) to take us and our suitcases full of tools and books Moscow5-1over to the Manege.  Today the fare was 400 rubles rather the the 600 we paid yesterday.  Unfortunately stern faced storm troopers (I call these the Nyet Police and they are everywhere in Moscow) wouldn’t allow us Marat to drop us of anywhere near the building so we had to schlep through the rain. 

 Inside nothing at all had changed, except for the presence of dozens of security men.  Maybe hundreds.  Each was dressed in black, wore jackboots, stood at least 7 feet tall and apparently was instructed never to smile on pain of death.  I considered taking pictures but didn’t think they would understand.  I tried to persuade Julia to take pictures — perhaps wiggle her hair at them as a distraction. Moscow5-2 She didn’t think this was a good idea either.  So no pictures, but trust me, they all look like killers and they were everywhere, which is very funny considering what we usually get.  At most American art fairs (especially in Los Angeles and Miami) security consists of a small team of short guys with pimples who look like their real jobs are at McDonalds and who won’t search your bag even if you have a bazooka sticking out of it (they have metal detectors everywhere here).  I guess in America everybody knows how stupid it would be to steal art — just ask any dealer how difficult the stuff is to sell! 

 It soon became clear that we weren’t going to get anything done today.  We could only hope that the art will eventually come and be cleared through customs — there is a special customs clearance right there at the Manege so the boxes don’t get opened (and perhaps looted) en route.  So we stashed our three hundred pound bag of tools and books (which we had to hand carry on the plane because you’re not allowed to ship in books or tools and, yes, I may be slightly exaggerating about the weight but the damn thing is heavy if you have to carry it yourself) with the French construction crew and explored the building, wondering what to do for the rest of the day.  If I didn’t convey how big this joint is, take a look at the basement — same size as our floor at ground level, and complete with its own balcony.  Here every jeweler from Harry Winston to Bulgari will display their Moscow5-3trinkets (hey, do you think maybe all those security guards are for them?  All kidding aside, here, I think, there is a real possibility that a clever squad of 20 heavily armed men could storm the fair and steal several hundred million dollars worth of jewelry — this probably isn’t a possibility in America.  you get the sense that it could be here.)

 We quickly developed our strategy for the day: when in doubt, eat.  We figured we would get a crumpet on the way to the famous Pushkin Museum, which we have a special interest in — more about this later.  Unfortunately there are not crumpets on every street corner in Moscow the way there are in New York.  And it had begun to rain.  Luckily I had the umbrella I had borrowed from the hotel yesterday (the second umbrella was actually for Jane, who made me return it: “Charles, why in the world would I ever carry an umbrella; I have my rain hat!”

 Here is Julia trying to argue with Jane about the value of umbrellas and losing (I learned better years ago.)  Dialogue accompanying this picture (taken verbatim from life) should read: “Julia, do you honestly believe that your umbrella will keep you drier than my hat?”Moscow5-4


Anyway, we set off at a fast clip for the Pushkin.  About twenty minute later we reached an impasse.  What is wrong with this picture to the left?  Only if you walk around in cities regularly will you notice that there are no traffic lights and no place to cross the street — in this case the usual eight lane highway (cars do not stop for pedestrians — in fact pedestrians do not stop either; people bump into you all over the place; some crumb even goosed Julia on the street our first day and was gone before any of us could deck him).  We had been walking for twenty minutes and there had been no place to cross the street.  The majestic architecture of Moscow was partly designed by the Soviets to glorify the masses, so grand boulevards were de rigeur.  Of course there are underground tunnels that will allow you to cross, but in the center of the city these tunnels basically correspond to subway stops.  In other words, you have to walk to the next subway stop to get across the  street.  Forty minutes later, having retraced our steps and marched a few miles through the rain, Jane wanted to just call a cab and go home — forget about the Pushkin.  But of course you cannot call a cab.  This is why everybody travels by subway, which Jane still did not want to do.  As fearless as she is, Jane doesn’t like going down the long, steep (nearly horizontal) escalators deep into the ground, and then walking the endless tunnels and climbing the millions of steps that comprise this glorious system.  Vertigo.  Bad knees.  Faintness from hunger.

It was still before noon but we had be walking for hours (it seemed) by the time Julia delivered us to a street that had restaurants; unfortunately none were open, except one that looked to me like a beer garden called 3/9. 

 “It’s amazing, I’m not wet at all,” said Jane, happily, wringing out her vest.

Moscow5-5 The restaurant’s name actually refers to quite a charming tradition in Russian fairy tales.  Ours begin with “Once Upon A Time.”  Russian children hear “In the 39th Kingdom, in the 39th State…”  The dishes were all named (I think) after fairy tales.  Warily I ordered “Kurachka-Ryaba” — some fairy tale about a chicken.  The dish turned out to be delicious as did everything else, including the service (once Julia made the waitress understand  that we were okay — just crazy Americans.)  Here’s an idea of what Russian restaurants look like:



Suitably revived, we set out to find a subway — by this point Jane decided that walking who knows how many more miles to the Pushkin was less onerous than taking the subway.  And at least the worst of the rain had subsided.  Julia, however, found that her pants were  still wet.  “I think I sat on my hair, “she confided.Moscow5-7

If you haven’t heard about how grand the Moscow subway is, you should look it up.  Here are some pictures of our experience (the only problem is that you have to go down that three mile escalator and then walk two miles of underground passages to get to the train.  But at least it’s dry.

   Moscow5-Subway4 Moscow5-Subway3 Moscow5-Subway2 Moscow5-Subway1The reason why we had headed for the Pushkin — a trek that Jane at several points was ready to abandon, for very good reasons — was professional.  Out gallery deals in modern tapestries and we had learned that the painting on which a very important Fernand Leger tapestry of ours was based belonged to the Pushkin.  By the time we got to the Museum we were pretty  worn down, and they wouldn’t even let us see the painting as a professional courtesy, though Julia tried to make the case with a female Nyet Policeman and Jane flashed her press pass (julia did get in for 30 rubles as a native, while we had to pay 300 as tourists).

But the journey was not in vain, for as we climbed up the grand stairway (there was no elevator for Jane’s knees) to the top of the building, we saw through the center t o the great Moscow5-Pushkin Leger1gallery, our painting.  Leger’s Constructeurs a L’Aloe.  To our amazement we also found two Leger tapestries across from it — including one, a copy of which we have in New York and were going to bring to Russia until we substituted something else at the last minute.  

Having this kind of connection to important art in a Russian museum is exactly the kind of thing that will give us credibility an d help us sell to this audience.  At least that’s what we like to think.  Our plan now is to hang is small repro of the other tapestry and have Julia translate something to the effect of “We didn’t bring this tapestry to Russia because we knew you could see another copy at the Pushkin. The only difference is that theirs is number 3 (of 6) and ours is number 4.  We then proceeded to track down one of the curators in the textile department and give her passes to show.  This is the exactly the sort of personal relationship we like to cultivate and our next stop was another.

Marat our Armenian driver had been called to rescue us from the rain, but alas, he was apparently at some other Pushkin (Pushkin train station?  Pushkin Boulevard?).  Luckily a “real” cab was sitting there and we jumped right in and had him drive us to Bloomberg News, Moscow branch.  Of course there was no meter and he gave us the price only after he sped away from the curb.  We were so happy not to have to take the subway again, we didn’t care.Moscow5-Pushkin Leger2

John, the Russian art reporter for Bloomberg, had actually tracked  us down and asked for an interview.  This kind of thing really is our pleasure, and he turned out to be a lovely fellow and very smart (note pix of Julia eating the candy he started us with), born in Brooklyn, family moved to Belgium, graduated from Cornell.  The Bloomberg offices were modernity itself, and we are quite partial to all things Bloomberg from the get go, being New Yorkers (Mayor Bloomberg actually lives a few blocks from our gallery).  here are some pictures.  What we said is confidential (because I can’t remember anything about it) but we did talk for about two and a half hours.  If they don’t throw you out after ten minutes, by my book it was a success!

   Moscow5-Bloomberg3 Moscow5-Bloomberg2 Moscow5-Bloomberg1 By this time it was after seven — time for dinner!  No cabs to be found, we braved the subway again for Julia, who led us to an Uzbekistan restaurant the name of which resembles something like Cafe Babai — in case you’re in Moscow and have a hankering for Uzbeki cuisine.  After my bad experience with shiskabob at the mall, I was a little wary — but I had been wrong about several Russian restaurants and let Julia help me order.  I stayed away from the horsemeat sausage, the fragrant sheep ribs and the slightly roasted lamb baby tongues with potatoes and pickles, though they sounded delicious, and went with Navruz — spring salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, herbs and what Julia says is Russian comfort food — Kavurma Lagman: noddles, lamb, fresh vegetables and spices. 

 It is easy to make fun of strange places and strange cuisine (Uzbekistan is not far from Boratville), but in reality the Uzbeki food was wonderful — fresh, beautifully prepared, delicious.  The service was gracious.  The people here were really and truly enjoying themselves in an atmosphere that one rarely finds in the United States.  Look over our should in the picture below at the table in corner.  A bunch of guys sat there for hours, talking, laughing, taking tokes of a Hookah on one end of the table and a bottle of Chivas Regal on the other.  These people truly know how to live.  Poor Jane looks tired, doesn’t she?  You should see me!

   Moscow5-Babai1 The check came under a little Uzbek hat with a stick of Wrigleys Spearmint Gum (sugar free).  Julia persuaded us that it is a tradition to be photographed in these hats.  I have the photographs of Jane, and will use it as a last resort if she tries anything foolish (the one of myself I will destroy).  But here’s the one of Julia, who had to take subway back (it was after 11:00 pm)

 Moscow5-Uzbec-Babai2 Tomorrow we have to begin the art fair in earnest — and hang the booth.  I’m actually writing this tomorrow — Saturday night, and we have survived, but barely.  Jane and I left the hotel at 10:00 am and didn’t get out for dinner until nearly 10:00 pm (Marat found us, thankfully, so we didn’t have to walk).  We went back to the Uzbeki restaurant (what, we’re going to go looking for a new place after a 12 hour day)?  It’s now after 2;00 in the morning.  I’ll consolidate Saturday and Sunday into the next email — if we survive. 

 Jane and Cafe Babai wish you a good evening.  Charles












Mathes Missive From Moscow #6 – Saturday: Set Up Part One

Mathes Missive From Moscow #6 – Saturday: Set Up Part One

Greetings from Moscow,

 It’s not surprising that normal people have no idea what an art fair is, or what the art business is about.  Most people have no real idea what it means to be a dentist, or a real estate broker, or a roofer, either.  Within every specialty there are all kinds of characters, all kinds of stories, all kinds of craziness.  Art is a “glamour” business, however, like fashion, entertainment, music and publishing.  Glamour businesses basically are those that have acquired that special aura of sexy exclusivity which allows them to get away with exploiting idealistic young people at slave wages and making a select few at the top of the pyramid rich beyond their sickest dreams.  This is why the artworld often comes across as snobby and intimidating; many dealers deliberately cultivate the mystique that their lives, opinions and wares are somehow on a higher level than other people’s — if you want to buy something, buddy, you’ll have to prove to us that your money is as worthy as the more important money we usually pocket. 

 Moscow6-1I suppose that what I’ve just said are secrets.  I told you at the outset that the art world is built on secrets, and that I couldn’t reveal any.  But snobbery, intimidation and exploitation are not any secrets of ours, so you can have them.  We make our money the old-fashioned way.  Exactly what that old-fashioned way is, of course, I cannot say (it is a secret).  But you’re welcome to follow us around and glean what you can.  Let’s begin on Saturday at 10:00 am., our first real day of set-up for the Moscow Art Fair.  I have just enjoyed a hearty five hours of sleep, having finished the last missive at 2:30 in the morning. 

 Marat picks us up at 10:00 am and drops us at the Manege.  We meet Natalia, the Russian customs agent.  She has a list of the items that we have declared are in the boxes we have shipped to Russia and which are now being opened.  As each box is opened, Natalia compares the name of the item on the label (each label is printed with all the information and a small picture) with the name and picture on her list –Julia translates.  Jane, holding our copy of the same list, checks off that item as having arrived (usually our registrar or other employee does this, but here in Moscow there is nobody but Jane and me).  The two different shippers that we have used to get the artwork from New York to Geneva, and from Geneva to Moscow have lists of their own.  Actually everybody’s list is a little different depending upon their own specific needs.  It took our idealistic young staff working at slave wages several weeks to create all this paperwork (actually they’re well paid for the art business – they would just be making a hell of a lot more if they had listened to their mothers and gone to law school). 

 As the shippers open each crate, remove the cardboard boxes within and then unwrap each scrupulously wrapped item with each box (hey, this stuff has to make it in one piece  across several thousand miles) Jane, Natalia and Julia get on with their work.  Since this will take four hours, let’s take this opportunity to look at what the Manege looks like at this point.

Moscow6-2 Moscow6-3 Moscow6-4 Moscow6-5 Our booth!

 Since the French art handlers are more expensive to hire in Russia than are white shoe lawyers in New York, our plan is to have the Russian art handlers, who are vastly cheaper, hang everything with help and direction from us.  The way this usually works is for the handlers to hold up painting and tapestries in the approximate places on Jane’s plan.  Jane and I then judge when the height and placement are correct.  Good handlers can even help suggest alternatives if our intended placement doesn’t work.  Then the handlers put in nails or screws or velcro and hang the art.  When the Russians show up, however, they don’t seem to have any idea of what we want them to do.  They don’t even have tools.  

 We have tried to anticipate any situation and have brought an abbreviated collection of tools in our luggage, just in case: staple gun, hammer, picture  hooks (we simply could not carry a real toolchest as we do to other fairs).  However, the Russians will not even take responsibility to use these tools, though they will be happy to move anything we want.  After half an hour, we have hung one small painting and are trying to figure out the logistics of hanging something larger.  Our staple gun somehow was D.O.A.  We may not have enough hooks.  The Russian handlers are looking very unhappy. 

 The following is a good lesson in why people have problems overseas — the inability to communicate, as well as cultural differences  even when you can make yourself understood, can add up to disaster.  Many Americans in this situation would start thinking the Russians were pretty stupid.  Julia at this point explained to me that the problem was that they weren’t stupid at all.  They were highly trained and very educated.  Standing around, unable to contribute anything, they felt frustrated.  They didn’t want to waste their time or ours, but basically there was nothing really for them to do until we were ready to have them hold up a painting to check a height level — pretty stupid work for two smart guys.  These were the folks who had gotten all these hundreds of boxes into the Manege, distributed, opened, sealed, stored away.  The Russian technicians had also built all the structures.

I had Julia explain that they were doing a very important job — they were like firemen.  Firemen also have to around and do nothing, but when the bell rings they are available to save the day.  (By the way, in case you were wondering what I do at the gallery — I am the chief fireman).   One of the Russians wasn’t impressed with this argument and went off to get a replacement.   He returned with a young guy from Ghana who spoke English (English apparently is the native language of Ghanians.  There are many Africans working here and studying in universities.  I thanked the Russian worker and said that thanks to Julia, I understood how he felt.  In fact, I said, it was noble.  He responded by making an unhappy face, clasping the shoulder of the Ghanian and giving him a big hug, then making a little speech in Russian and storming off.

Moscow6-Planet Sushi Moscow The Ghahian was very charming, but the whole idea of our hanging the show with Russian help was hopeless. These were not art handlers at all as we had been told: they were moving men and construction workers.  We were going to have to hire the French handlers, whatever the cost.  But it was already after three o’clock and we were faint from hunger.  Time for lunch at Planet Sushi, again.  It was still raining — it had been raining since our arrival — and there are no other comfortable restaurants anywhere within walking distance (Jane draws the line at eating at McDonalds or Sbarro. Sbarros are all over the place here for some reason.)  Planet Sushi is staffed by young women with Asian features, dressed in kimonos, but they are not Japanese.  They resemble Koreans or Mongolians more than they do Japanese or Chinese, but they are in fact from the Southern Russian republics near Afghanistan: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the others.  Note the ubiquitous guard at the front door — even restaurants all have guards.  There is also a ubiquitous cleaner — usually a woman from the same geographic area.  An expert in judging bathtub rings, Jane confided to me that one is likely to end the day here significantly less spotless than one begins, so I guess these cleaners are as necessary as the guards.

 It was at Planet Sushi that Julia explained to me that by saying he was noble, the Russian worker thought I was making a distinction between him and the Ghanian.  The Russian had given his colleague a hug to show that he was not “noble” (he had apparently thought I was making a class distinction, that he and the Ghanian were equals — and his speech was to tell me so in no uncertain terms.  By noble I had meant admirable — as a writer (and a dope) I often say things in too obscure a fashion, Arlene tells me.  Boy, was that ever the case here.  But I’m glad it happened now to open my eyes — in just a few days we were going to have to sell complex, expensive art in a situation where the subtlest nuance of language, even language perfectly translated by Julia, could plunge us into an abyss of cultural misunderstandings.  Yikes!

 Meanwhile Julia herself is feeling frustrated because Jane doesn’t really want to hear her suggestions or discuss the finer points of art.  On several occasions Jane gets to the pre-meltdown stage, and I have to take Julia for a walk so Jane can be alone to think about what to do with the booth.  When you are very competent and very nervous you want to do everything yourself so you can be sure it will be exactly as you want it.  It is part of my job to recognize such situations with Jane and clear the area so that she doesn’t have to be rMoscow6-7ude.  Jane really doesn’t like to be rude to anyone.  Even morons.

 After lunch we returned to the Manege.  The French art handlers soon appeared with tools and smiles.  Both handlers were named Christoph, so blonde Christoph is called TinTin.  They were altogether the best art handlers we have ever had — worth their weight in gold (literally, I’m afraid).  Together, and with occasional help from their colleagues (it took four men to hang the monumental Chagall tapestry that is the centerpiece of our booth, as well as one of the most important pieces in the entire fair).  Here follows a visual diary of the day from the time the French crew took over.  How we ever got the idea we could have done this ourselves with a few Russians and a few tools is mind-boggling.  The French handler’s tools are pictured above left.

 Scenes from the setup — note how it took four of the most competent art handlers in the world to get the Chagall tapestry up (we hang these tapestries by putting a piece of velcro on the wall — the sticky backing reinforced with staples.  Each tapestry has the matching velco sewn to the back and you just pop them right onto the wall). Moscow6-9Moscow6-10Moscow6-11Moscow6-12Moscow6-13Moscow6-14Moscow6-15Moscow6-16Moscow6-17Moscow6-18Moscow6-19Moscow6-20

 It was nearing ten pm before we finally had most of the booth hung and felt confident enough to leave for the night.  Julia said that there were many restaurants from different former republics by the rail station close to the hotel.  We could walk around and see what looked good. 

 For some reason, Jane was not ready to walk around in the pouring rain, looking for a restaurant at 10:00 pm after a twelve hour day (she’s much like Arlene in this regard).  She wished us well, but she was going to Cafe Babai.  I can’t say I disagreed.  Julia was disappointed, although she acknowledged that the food was very good at Cafe Babai.  Perhaps we could try a new restaurant tomorrow after the Gypsy Dance Concert, she said cheerfully.  Julia has been mentioning the Gypsy Dance Concert for several days now, suggesting that we will find it even more interesting than the Georgia National Dance Company.  Julia, of course, happens to be a Gypsy Dancer.  In fact she is delivering a paper on Gypsy Dance in Greece next month and has been staying up all night working on it.

 “Yes, maybe we can try a new restaurant tomorrow,” I say, humoring her.  Jane smiled.  After working together for so many years, Jane and I can communicate entirely by eyeball and mental telepathy.  This particular smile said, “Have fun at the Gypsy Dance Concert, but I’m not going anywhere tomorrow except maybe into a bubble bath.”

 Julia spoke to Marat earlier in the day and told him we would need to be picked up after seven.  Luckily he is still waiting outside the Manege in the rain.

 I know I said I would consolidate the two days of setup into one email, but this installment is getting pretty long, so stay tuned for Part II. 

< #5 MISSIVE      MISSIVE #6 Pt. 2 >



















Mathes Missive From Moscow #6 – Sunday: Set Up Part Two

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).

Moscow6.5 - Modest Lighting Man “Excuse me,” said Jane, in exasperation, “Are you a  lighting person?  I don’t want to be rude but we’ve had a very long day and perhaps we can have a nice discussion about lights tomorrow.”

 “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.

Moscow6.5-2 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 Moscow6.5-16Moscow6.5-17big 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.

< MISSIVE  (Pt. 1)     MISSIVE 7>


Mathes Missive From Moscow #7 – Monday: Gala Preview

Mathes Missive From Moscow #7 – Monday: Gala Preview

Greetings from Moscow,

 Though I’ve been working on French for nearly fifty years, I don’t speak any foreign languages.  However, I learned a lot about communication back in my theatre conservatory days.  We did this one exercise in acting class that I particularly remember: you sat across from your partner and said the first word that popped into your mind.


 “Mouth,” she responded.

 You kept repeating this word and let the scene develop as it would.  What happened was that you could express all kinds of things and they didn’t have anything to do with what words you were using.  At first the conversation was pretty random and meaningless, but after a few minutes you got a lot of control when you used your face and body instead of the word:

 “Mouth?” {“want to get a cup of coffee with me after class?”}

 “Mouth.”  {“Okay, I guess”}

 “Mouth?” {“Maybe want to come back to my place afterwards?”}

 “Mouth.” {“Maybe in your dreams, Charles.}

 I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that we would be entirely helpless here in Moscow without Julia.  In fact if we weren’t doing some pretty sophisticated selling, we could have a great time even though we don’t speak the language.  (Jane has amazing linguistic talent.  She is fluent in French and Hungarian and can make herself Moscow7understood in Spanish, Italian and a few other languages.  She’s been studying the Cyrillic alphabet and since we’ve been her she’s reading street signs and comparing notes with Marat — who by the way doesn’t even speak Russian, according to Julia, though that’s what she’s been speaking with him.  Apparently Julia’s Russian is closer to his Armenian than is our English or Jane’s phonetic Russian.)

But this morning is an illustration of the limitations you have when you don’t speak the language.  There’s a restaurant next door to the hotel that the concierge told us was very nice and which we thought to have lunch in today before going to the Manege.  Marat was picking us up at 1:15, so Jane and  I went over to the restaurant at noon.  The door was locked.  We hovered for a few moments, trying to figure out why the sign seemed to say open at 11:00 but the door was locked, when two guys in suits and a young fellow in a t-shirt saw us standing outside, came over and unlocked the door.

 “Open?” we asked (Mouth?)

 They nodded and ushered us to one of the tables, which were all empty.  We were alone in the restaurant.

“English?”  we asked (Mouth?)

 “Little,” said one guy (Mouth.)

 Then they all disappeared.  Jane and I sat at stared at one another.  There wasn’t much happening so I went to take her picture — we’re all dressed up for the opening tonight.

 “Stop, stop,” she ordered.  “From now on no pictures until I put on lipstick.”

 We’re from New York, so we expect when you go to a restaurant for someone to come over with a menu pretty quickly, but nobody was doing this.  Maybe the place didn’t open until 11:00 this evening and they had just let us in to wait.  Finally Jane caught the eye of the boy in the t-shirt.

 Moscow7-2“Are you open?  Can we get lunch?  Can we get a menu?” (Mouth?)

 “Lunch?  Menu?” he replied uncertainly.  (Mouth?)

 “Lunch.  We want to eat lunch,” said Jane.  (M-o-u-t-h.)

 “Lunch,” nodded the boy (Mouth) and departed.  He returned with a tall glass of something that looked like it might be either tea or Jack Daniels.  Jane blanched.  She is not a Jack Daniels person.

 “Apple,” he said to her relief. It was apple juice. Jane and I sat for a few minutes and stared at one another.  Nothing happened.

 “This is ridiculous,” said Jane, perhaps not earth’s most patient individual.  “I don’t think they understood.  I’m going to go over and get somebody to give us a menu.”

 “I think they did understand,” I said.  “We asked for lunch.  I think they’re going to bring us lunch.”

 Sure enough, I was right because the boy soon returned and placed lovely salads in front of us.  We supposed that this is just how they did things over here.  When we were finished he took away the plates and returned with a very nice soup.  This was followed by a cold-meat-and-potato-stew-type thing on a plate.  Not what Jane would have ordered, but a safe enough choice if you just serve one dish – lunch.  I wasn’t hungry anyway, being very nervous about the day.

 Somewhere during the meat course a group of six arrived and sat down at the next table.  Within a few minutes the boy brought them a menu.  Then lovely glass pots of tea and all kinds of interesting dishes.

 “Why did they get a menu and we didn’t?” Jane asked the boy. (Mouth?)

 “Menu.  Twenty minutes.” (Mouth.)  “Lunch.”

 “Maybe you have to wait twenty minutes if you want a menu,” I ventured.

 “They weren’t waiting here twenty minutes,” said Jane.  “Why did they get a menu and we didn’t?”  (Mouth.)

 Finally she couldn’t stand it any more.  When she discovered that one of the  party spoke English she asked what was going on.  Happily the man (an Austrian — this is one international town) explained or we would have never known.  Apparently they have a very nice menu.  One of the choices is a special business lunch, for people in a rush.  You’re in and out in twenty minutes.

 I can’t remember if I’ve already told you, but Julia the professional translator says that anytime you say two words in an unfamiliar language without correct sentence structure linking them, the person with whom you are talking may assume a much different link that you intend. 

 Having thus learned a valuable lesson in exactly this regard, off we went to the Manege, where naturally the promised additional lighting fixture and electrical outlet at the Moscow7-3desk had not appeared in our booth.  Jane tracked Nicola down and demanded action. 

“You made me stay two hours yesterday,” said Nicola in laid-back fashion.  “I am very busy.”  He promised to see to our problems right away.  Apparently everybody in the fair is angry with Nicola.   Things are looking a lot better in Manege, but there are still boxes everywhere.  At least our booth is correctly lit.

Julia arrives.  There is a press conference for Russian journalists at 3 o’clock. Nobody has told us what this entails but it turns out that they have a table set up upstairs.  Russians are asking questions of the Swiss organizers which is translated into French by somebody at the table.  The Swiss answer the question in English, and there is a simultaneous translator (probably not as good as Julia) in a booth who is furiously speaking the answers in Russian into a micMoscow7-4rophone.  None of the Russians, however, have the earpieces in their ears to hear the translation.

 We’re in our best clothes.  Jane, not knowing what to expect has three different layers so she can be more formal or less, depending on how the event tonight develops — nobody has explained anything to us about how it’s all going to work.  She doesn’t have pockets (which she needs for the three telephones and various other sundries she needs) but she has cleverly figured out how to turn her fanny pack around to her back so that it is not visible when she puts on her jacket (I hope this isn’t an art secret).  Jane never wears skirts, but she is wearing one tonight and having a lot of fun, spinning around, watching her it float up around her in the air.  There is a hole at the heel of her tights that she’s wondering what to do about.  Maybe Julia can buy her another pair.

 “Hold still,” I tell Jane in mid-spin.  “I can’t get a picture.”

 “And you never will,” she giggles.

 As we’re sitting around, hoping that some of the Russian press trickles down to the floor of the Manege so that we can answer their questions, we suddenly begin to wonder why nobody has taken the protective plastic wrapping from the carpet and cleaned up the booth, which is filthy from four days of people trekking through from out of the rain.  It is also littered with nails, wrapping papers, bent staples and other debris.  Usually (at least in the dozen other fairs we’ve done) the fair’s cleaning crew have tidied everything up by now and vacuumed the booths.  The gala preview is just hours away.

 Not one to wait around if there’s action to take, Jane puts on her jacket and goes to find out who’s in charge of booth cleaning so that we don’t have to wait any longer or get interrupted by vacuum cleaners when we’re trying to speak (through Julia) to Russian journalists .  She comes back to the booth after a few minutes wearing an expression that in our fifteen years together I have never seen on her face. 

 It turns out that nobody is ever going to come to remove the plastic from the carpet, or vacuum and clean the booth.  The French are art handlers and this is not their job.  The Russian technicianMoscow7-10s are movers, and this is not their job.  There are women in red aprons who are sweeping up everywhere (including the men’s room, don’t ask), but they are not allowed to go into the booths.  Nobody wants to take responsibility of breaking anything.  No, the physical aspect of the booth, Jane has been told, is our responsibility.  Oh, and so are vacuum cleaners, which presumably we were expected to bring to Russia in our hand luggage.

 It would have been nice to have known this yesterday when we were sitting around for four hours in our dungaMoscow7-5rees doing nothing but waiting for Nicola.  Jane erupts, but the best she can accomplish is to get the Russians (who always say that the French are idiots, which is funny because the French say the same thing about the Russians) to take up the plastic from the floor.  Here are some scenes for your approval — it is only when plastic comes up that Jane realizes we have made a mistake choosing such a light color carpet.  It is filthy in various places where the plastic was torn.Moscow7-6

 “I don’t understand why we never had this kind of problem at other fairs,” she murmurs, accepting responsibility.  Because at other fairs they give everyone gray-colored carpet for a reason, Jane.  I am the one who finally steals a vacuum cleaner from the booth across the way.  Jane has taught me well.Moscow7-7Moscow7-9

 It is now time to track down Nicola in earnest and try to get the missing fixture and the power cord for the desk.  As Jane goes off to do this, I give an interview (through Julia) to Radio Svoboda (or something).  I am still a bit damp from vacuuming and hope it doesn’t show when I am later interviewed, on camera, for TV 5 in St. Petersburg.  God only (plus Julia and ten million Russians) knows what I said.

 At some point in the afternoon I turn to Julia and inquire if Jane is being too demanding — Jane is very a very powerful personality and for some people can perhaps be difficult to take full strength for long periods if they are not used to her.Moscow7-11

 “No, I have no problems with her,” Julia answers, a powerful personality herself in her quiet way.  “I even think I am falling in love with her.  She presents such an unusual palette.”

 “What do you mean?” I ask.  

 “Jane has so many different aspects of herself that she reveals,” interprets our interpreter.  “One minute she is screaming at the lighting man, and the next she is twirling around in her dress like a little girl.  She is very different than anyone I have known.” 

 Finally, at 6:00 pm, the Gala opening preview begins.  We are in our booths for the cocktail portion of the evening.  At 9:00 the Black Tie people who have paid 1000 Euros for a seat can have dinner for charity with Madame Medvedev, the wife of the new president.  After paying all the shipping, booth and art handling charges, we certainly can’t afford it.  It’s not really our crowd anyway.  We’re all dying of thirst — you can get free Macallan scotch, but nobody has water (by the way, did i tell you that nobody here drinks the tap water?  They boil it for tea or drink bottled). Here are some scenes from the gala.   

Moscow7-13Moscow7-14Moscow7-15Moscow7-16Moscow7-18The private dinner commences at 9:00 pm and we are free to go to a dinner of own.  Tonight, Julia has decreed it will be Georgian — a totally wacky Baroque-funhouse-looking building that we passed in the rain one day on our travels. Moscow7-19

Apparently Georgian food is similar to the Uzbek we liked so much at Cafe Babai (and which Jane would be happy to return to every night).  Marat is pleased.  This is a good place, as far as he is concerned. The interior of the restaurant was as wacky as the outside — a strange cavernous grotto, complete with a small stream with carp swimming through it and a water wheel.  The food is fabulous, and the big hit is the crazy cheese flats breads. 

“Pizza!” Jane declares as the first is brought out.  The waiter corrects her.  This is certainly not pizza, except that it is flat and comes in a pan.  The cheese is put into the inside and percolates up through the top surface.  It  and the other flatbreads (one with an egg on top that you dip into with pieces of bread you tear off the ends) are out of this world.  The Georgian diet is full of cheese and fresh meats.  They are the ones who live in the mountains to be 120 years old and also eat yoghurt.

No matter what we do we seem not be able to make it back to the hotel before midnight, and tonight is no exception.  We pay Marat extra to take Julia back to the apartment of her friend where she is crashing.  Moscow7-21Moscow7-22Moscow7-20Moscow7-23Natalie and her boyfriend have been away for the weekend, off at an American Civil War re-enactment (go figure) somewhere outside of the city.  It’s actually pre-Civil War as nearly as I can gather, Richmond 1860, but everybody still gets to have some fights with Indians — the Russians are big in martial arts.  Julia is sleeping with Natalie’s two cats in the cold apartment and wondered if it was a good idea to have left the window open.  She better not catch my cold, which has been gone for a week, only the hacking cough remains.

Stay tuned for the real opening night tomorrow.  In the meanwhile, John our friend from Bloomberg dropped by the booth tonight and mentioned that his article will hit the web on Wednesday if the editor approves.  He’s going to lead his story with a mention of us.  Bloomberg items are picked up by television and print outlets across America, so if you see any stories, please let me know. 

Good  Night.

< #6 (Pt 2) MISSIVE      MISSIVE #8 >














Mathes Missive From Moscow #8 – Tuesday: Opening Night

Mathes Missive From Moscow #8 – Tuesday: Opening Night

Greetings, again, from Moscow,

 Now that it’s finally stopped raining, I decided to explore Tverskaya — the avenue of our hotel (and the most expensive street in the world after Fifth Avenue and the Champs Elysee according to Jane, even though it looks like a dump) in the other direction.  We’ve been going crazy trying to figure out how to eat something for breakfast without breaking the bank.  Jane discovered if you sit in the cafe area outside the hotel’s restaurant you can order a la carte, and the croissants and coffee are not nearly as insanely expensive.  Just down the street, however, I discover a great little coffee shop/internet cafe, where I had two almond croissants and an espresso at a reasonable (for Moscow) price and began to feel like a human being.  Then I walked around a huge traffic circle that included a train station in the vast construction site that is the city.  Here are some scenes:

 Moscow8-1Moscow8-2Moscow8-3Moscow8-4Moscow8-5Moscow8-6 At 1:15 Marat picked us up and set off for the Savoy Hotel, where Jane’s daughter, Terri — our mystery guest of the week — will be staying.  Jane has assembled a little package for Terri, including her badge for the fair, directions to the Manege, and of course the telephone that Jane has procured for her daughter and programmed all our numbers into.  

 All mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and Jane and Terri have had their share of ups and downs.  Still, it is evident in the way that Jane is always bragging about her daughter that she loves her very much.  Terri, who does marketing for a New York hedge fund and is flying in from Prague, was some kind of infant prodigy — brilliant, beautiful and with world-class social instincts from the cradle.  Jane’s stories of what is was like to raise a precocious daughter in New York City will be familiar to every mother, though perhaps a bit more intense.  “When Terri was nine,” Jane will say, with a perfect mixture of horror and pride, “she snuck out of her room, rappelled down the side of the building, highjacked a police car; we only knew she was missing when we turned on the eleven o’clock news and saw her sitting on the lap of the second baseman of the New York Yankees at Studio 54.”   Or “When when she was thirteen I’m coming home from Zabars and see Terri driving off in a limousine sheMoscow8-7 had charged on my credit card.  As she sped off up West End Avenue she called out that she was just taking it to school, but we finally found her in St. Tropez!”

Terri is still beautiful, a world-class athlete who, Jane says, runs five miles every morning, a fixture at New York social events.  Getting the M.B.A. at Columbia University really helped straighten her out a lot.

After we dropped off the package for Terri, Marat drove us half way around the city on the way back to the Manege (because, as you now know, there’s hardly any place a car is allowed to turn), happily pointing out the sights along with way.  Kremlin.  Zum and Gum department stores.  Lubyanka Prison, headquarters of the old KGB.  Who knows what else — Jane doesn’t speak Armenian very well yet, though she’s told Marat all about Terri and about her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Gabriela, the soccer star.  It turns out that Marat was apparently a soccer player himself in his youth; I’m not sure what professional team (my Armenian is not so hot either), but apparently he played for the USSR team in the championships against Yugoslavia (or someplace similar, who knows?). Moscow8-8 

 As we enter the Manege we have to pass a gauntlet of Russian eye candy that the organizers have dressed the doorway with.  The girls are all tall, thin and beautiful.  Jane is outraged with their legs, which are all like matchsticks (they wear towering high heels to maximize the effect).  “It’s because they see women just as objects here – it’s ridiculous for women to have to make themselves into unnatural shapes just so they can serve as decoration, but they all buy into it!  They don’t know any better.” Because you’ve watched from the start as we’ve built our booth, I think now you might like to see how it turned out.  Remember, this is pretty much what Jane envisioned in her head months ago and set down on the graph paper with little squares.  It shows, I think, how good she really is.

Moscow8-9Moscow8-10Moscow8-11Moscow8-12Moscow8-12.2Moscow8-12.3Moscow8-12.4Yesterday was the press conference for the Russian media.  Today it is the English-speaking press that has been brought in at 3:00 pm.  The actual opening won’t be until 6:00 pm. 

 The fair organizers obviously have their weaknesses, but now their real strength is revealed.  In New York City you have dozens of art fairs competing with literally thousands of important events of every size, shape and color.  To get the city’s attention is virtually impossible unless you are the New York Mets and have just won the World Series.  The Moscow World Fine Art Fair, however, is the biggest event in fine arts of the entire year in probably a thousand square mile area.  There are journalists here from all over the world, but we are now amazed to learn that the fair organizers have actually junketed over fifteen or twenty writers from American art magazines.  I give interviews to German, English and American journalists.  Jane likes me to give these interviews because she thinks I am a better speaker than she (she’s a little shy, too, believe it or not), but I make her speak with Art & Auction, while I’m talking with Art & Antiques.  She does brilliantly.  Somewhere along the line I give an on-camera interview with Reuters — which could be picked up by any of the 500 television stations they sell to.

 It’s all really quite amazing. We had sent out press releases to these very same magazines ourselves over the past few months, but such publications get hundreds of releases.  When they fly you over to help you get the story, that’s different.  We will have more publicity in American because we came to Russia, probably, than we’ve been able to attract in a decade by all our best efforts.  

 Somewhere before five Terri shows up.  As you will from the photos below, she is perfect in every way.  That’s John from Bloomberg in one of the pictures.  Terri is ready to help and we try to put her to work.  When she learns that we wrote to the director the Pushkin’s tapestry department to see if he might like to have one of the tapestries on loan  before the fair (we never received an answer, though we had had Julia translate the letter into Russian), Terri wonders why Jane didn’t just call him up when we arrived.  This is what Larry Gagosian would have done in a minute, says Terri.  Gagosian is probably the biggest art dealer in America.  Terri worked for him when she was just out of college.  She’s right, we suppose.  It’s hard for Jane to explain why we didn’t.  She’s feeling uncomfortable, physically as well as psychologically — it’s been a stressful week.  She can’t turn her head more than a few degrees in either direction for some reason.  Julia says it is from carrying her heavy bag with all the fair materials all day for the past week.  Julia herself has a headache.Moscow8-13Moscow8-14Moscow8-15Moscow8-16 

The crowds (about 8,000 people are expected tonight, though there could be a few thousand more) begin coming at 6:00 pm, and I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures because I was too busy trying to deal with all the people, all the questions, all the complexities that make up a  Night At The Art Fair (sounds like the title of a Marx Brothers movie, doesn’t it?  Like A Night At The Circus.  A lot like, maybe.) 

 Toward the end of the evening Julia and  I get into a little tiff.  She thinks I could have explained certain aspects of the relationship between the artists and these tapestries which are after their images.  I try to defend myself, but this is not the time to have an argument.  Besides, she’s here to be a translator, not a critic.  Selling at a venue like this is a kind of performance.  You can’t tell an actor that he should have spoken his last few lines better as he is waiting in wings to go onstage again.  Julia will not let it go.  I learned the other day that this whole week she’s felt much like the Russian construction worker — that she had much to contribute, but didn’t feel fully utilized.  We keeping beating dead horses, and I start criticizing her for not being supportive. Terri tries not to pay attention, but it is clear she thinks this is peculiar.   

 Julia’s ear is stopped up for some reason. Her headache is getting worse.  Jane can’t turn her head.  I’m feeling all deflated, even though the guy that Julia and I were arguing about will probably come back — I just wanted him to read the complete explanation of tapestry in the brochure Julia translated.  Julia thought I should have made the points better in our personal exchange. Am I beating a dead horse again?

 People finally start leaving, and we escape, too, at about 9:30. 

 Moscow8-17Tonight Julia has decreed that we will continue to explore the former republics, turning now to the Ukraine.  We are supposed  to go to Taras Bulba (as in the old Yul Brynner/Tony Curtis movie), but when we arrive there are no tables available.  Terri doesn’t like the look of the place, being used to three star Michelin restaurants. She doesn’t understand what we see in peasant food.  The management of Taras Bulba suggests another Ukrainian place.  Marat sets out to find it, but we soon get lost — or rather, not lost, but simply thwarted. Every street he tries to turn down is blocked off.  There’s no way to keep up with all the street realities, the city is changing too quickly.

 A few days ago, Julia told me a story about how she used to get terrible earaches when she was eight year old.  She became afraid to tell her family that her ears hurt because then invariably they would say, “Juuuuuuulia.  Why have you made yourself sick?”  So she would keep quiet until she started to cry, and only then would her trouble be revealed.  Now her ear is hurting in earnest.  It is all stuffed up, and it just won’t open.  She tells me that she is becoming frightened.  I try to get her to pull the plug on the evening, but she won’t hear of it.  She is starting to cough.

 We arrive at the suggested alternative Ukrainian restaurant.  None of us like the look of it, but it is getting very late now and we have to eat. Jane keeps bombarding Terri with tales of how much fun we’ve been having at ethnic restaurants.  Terri looks skeptically at the menu.  She keeps to an extremely healthful diet in between workouts.

 “I don’t think there’s anything here I can eat,” she says, wrinkling her perfect nose. 

 Moscow8-18Jane keeps on trying to get her to understand how wonderful ethnic food can be, but Terri has to make that faithful choice: Whom is she going to believe?  Her mother?  Or her eyes?

 “I mean, look at this menu,” she says with surprising tenderness, trying to keep her perfect smile from disintegrating.  “Smoked Lard.  Rolled Lard.  Lard with spices.”

 “What, ” I venture in amazement.  “You don’t like lard?”

 We all finally find things to order, but it isn’t easy.  Terri pushes away her salad — it is too salty.  Jane keeps chattering happily about how good all of other restaurants were this week, but she cannot turn her head.  Julia keeps opening and closing her mouth, trying to open up her ear, but not succeeding.  She tries to conceal it, but she is looking very scared.  She is worried about going back to the cold apartment.

 As we are leaving I pull Jane aside and tell her that Julia is in real distress and that we can’t let her go back to Natalia’s.  Jane was so focused on trying to show Terri a good time that she didn’t realize the situation was so bad.  She does now, in an instant.

“You’re coming back to the hotel with us,” Jane tells Julia.  Julia tries to protest for a moment, but she is too frightened and uncomfortable to make pretences.  She accepts with noticeable relief.  Terri does her best to be conciliatory, but she is tired and just wants to go back to her hotel and go to bed.  We drop her off, then head back to the Sheraton.  It is after midnight when Marat drops us off and departs for the night.  At the front desk, however, Jane is told that there are absolutely no other rooms available.  Moscow8-19There are no hotel rooms available anywhere in the city.

 “You’re going to stay with me in my room,” Jane tells Julia.  “There’s a big double bed in the room and a deep bathtub.  You’ll be fine.”

 “Yes, thank you,” said Julia.  It never occurred to her that Jane would get her a separate room of her own.  Of course this had been Jane’s intention, though it would have cost a fortune.

 “Are you all right?” I ask.  “I’m sorry if we argued earlier.  I’m horrified if I’ve given you my cold.”

 “No,” says Julia.  “I have had a problem for a long time, but I just don’t understand why my ear is plugged up and I cannot open it.  I don’t want to have an  earache.”  She stiffens her lip.

“I will do traditional Russian treatments.  I will take hot and cold baths and give myself a vodka compress.  I will be better soon.”

 Jane and Julia head to their room, and I to mine.  It is hard to determine who among us is the most worried.

< #7 MISSIVE      MISSIVE #9 >




































Mathes Missive from Moscow #9 – Wednesday: First Public Day

Mathes Missive from Moscow #9 – Wednesday: First Public Day

Greetings from Moscow, where our last installment ended with Julia tied to the railroad tracks and old Eighty Nine barreling toward her at high speed.

 “How’s Julia?” I ask as I anxiously slip into the restaurant booth next to Jane’s at around noon.  I had wanted to call all morning but wouldn’t have wanted to wake Julia if she were still sleeping.  In fact she still is.

 “She’s okay,” said Jane, who looked tired.  “We didn’t get to bed until two thirty in the morning.”

 Moscow9-1The fair runs most days from 2 in the afternoon until 9 or 9:30 at night (the fair organizers apparently are not sure, since printed hours differ).  After taking out a croissant this morning from my little coffee place at eight (as well as the folder the check came in, thinking it an advertisement), I had written for most of the morning, returned the stolen folder (“Sorry, stupid American,” I tell the waitress, who looked happy to see it), then headed to the overpriced coffee shop at the Sheraton Palace for lunch.  Yesterday I had actually forgotten about lunch for probably the first time in my life.  I had had to get by on a raspberry tart, the most substantial offering from the cafe next to our fair booth.  It was no time to go restaurant shopping now.  

 But at least Julia would live.  She had gone immediately to the bathtub and started a regimen of baths — first a hot one, then a cold one — to get her blood circulating.  She had been there for two and a half hours.

 “I didn’t want to disturb her,” Jane explained. “I had to put on my clothes and go down to the lobby to pee!”

 Jane has already ordered, but I can see she is “out of her plate” as Arlene (and the French) would say, though she insists Julia is no trouble — the bed is very large.  And she can turn her head a little better than last night.  We are the only people in the restaurant.  The lunch is very good, but my seared tuna salad comes before Jane’s soup.  And then my egg-wrapped pork arrives before her tilapia.

 “Excuse me,” Jane says, flagging down the waitress, clearly in need of some trouble to make in order to put herself to rights.  “Is it the restaurant’s policy to serve men first, instead of women?”

 “Please?” says the waitress with a smile (Mouth?).  

 “I’m not criticizing, you understand,” says Jane, “but I was here first and you served his meal before mine.  Is there an assumption that a man should be taken care of first because he’s here to do business, while it doesn’t matter to keep a woman waiting?”

 “Sorry?”  (Mouth?)

 “Maybe she doesn’t understand?” I said.

 “No, no, it’s okay,” said Jane, satisfied, letting the girl escape.  “It’s just that somebody has to start questioning how things are done here, put new ideas into their minds.”

 I suppose if anybody can turn around an entire foreign culture, it would be Jane.

 Moscow9-2From two until six are what the Fair calls “Public Hours,” and have paid admissions, as opposed to the nights, when only people who have been given VIP passes by galleries can get in.  Today is much less crowded than the opening last night, and that’s fine with us.  Julia is going to come when she’s ready.  Jane and I are relieved to see that while Julia is vital for some encounters, it is easier to deal with many clients without her.  Julia is so kind and polite that instinctively she wants to treat everything each person says as important.  Though she understands that we must focus on those who might actually buy something, extricating yourself in a polite fashion from people who glom onto you at a fair is an art that takes years of experience to develop. 

 Jane and I in fact have years of experience doing fairs, and not being able to speak the language turns out to be a wonderful way to handle certain types.  We always bend over backwards not to be rude to anyone.  Even when we have to throw somebody out of the booth, we try to do it in the nicest possible way.  But some people are impossible.  There’s always some artist who wants to show you his work or entrepreneur who wants to sell you something, and who somehow just cannot be persuaded that this is not the right time or place.  Several of these characters show up today.Moscow9-3  What a pleasure that we can just shrug politely at them as they try tell us how important they are, “Sorry, no speak Russian.  Why don’t you go over and bother that nice French dealer over there?”

 We are in fact very impressed with the caliber of the fair patrons, and many speak English or French.  Our best clients of the day, however, are an American couple, old clients of ours, who live also here in Russia and who want to send some of their important Russian friends to see us.  It’s nice to see friendly faces.

 Terri shows up, looking rested.  She’s gotten more sleep than she has in a week (must have been the lard with garlic which we all sampled on black bread last night), has worked out and has brought us sandwiches from one of the department stores, Zum or Gum, she’s not sure which.  She sets about making herself useful.  

Moscow9-4Through no fault of her own Terri has been introduced into this  narrative in an unsympathetic role.  I mean, here we have three characters straight from Characterville — Julia, Jane and me.  And now poor flawless Terri shows up.  How could  she not come across (especially in the hands of someone like me who can’t resist shooting  fish in a barrel) as the villainous interloper who is crashing our intimate little party?  But Terri is a real person, not a caricature.  The fact that she is here is more important to her mother than Terri can imagine.  Plus Terri offers us a lot of good suggestions from her different world.  She really does belong to the high-powered contemporary art scene, knows all the real players, understands how things are done in the places that matter.  Is it Terri’s fault that she’s embarrassed by her mother?  Don’t mothers exist partly to embarrass their children?

 “If you want to be a dealer like Larry Gagosian and have that kind of success, you have to start thinking in a different way,” Terri tells Jane, and of course she is right.  What she doesn’t seem to understand is that her mother doesn’t want to be a dealer like Larry Gagosian.

 There aren’t real crowds today, though a steady stream of people come through the booth.  We’re pleased to see Marat, our Armenian driver, to whom Julia has given a pass.  He’s a real member of our team and is concerned about Julia.  Nor is he the gonif he might appear.  He came to Moscow to give his daughters a chance to get a better education. 

 “You see who a man is,” says Jane, “when he wants to educate his children, but especially if they are girls.”

 Marat had invested all of his savings in a little grocery store.  He was doing well until he became the victim of what is apparently the Russian version of urban renewal.  The government appeared one day and condemned the building his store was in.  Not only was he thrown out, all of his inventory somehow disappeared.  So now he is driving a cab.    

 Moscow9-5It is well after four when Julia finally appears, looking no worse for wear.  What a relief! 

 “I can see you’re feeling a lot better,” I say. 

 “Not really,” she replies sadly.  “This is my problem.  Even when I am a wreck I still look very nice.”

 “Poor Julia!”  The sympathy seems to perk her up.

 Julia’s ear is still blocked, but she is confident that with baths and vodka compresses she can make herself better.  We discuss the merits of other traditional remedies including mustard plasters, on which Arlene is very high.  Jane looks on, baffled.

 The big event of the day, of course, is reading John from Bloomberg’s story about the Fair, which hit the web first thing today.  John had told us that he was leading with our gallery, and we had hoped it would be more than one sentence.  In fact, he has generously given us a several paragraphs and featured a visual of our most important Chagall tapestry, maybe because we are the only purely American gallery at the fair.  We’re walking on air.

 The show seems to wind to a close shortly after 9:00 pm, and we head for the doors.  Tonight we’re going to try a restaurant that Marat had pointed out on our wild goose chase last night to Lardville.  Putin and Medvedev, the new president, eat at this place, according to Marat.  It is a kitschy palace called “Sun of the Desert,” themed, according to Julia on the first Russian movie western.  Julia tries to recount the plot, but it is hopeless. 

 We order according to our usual fashion – numerous appetizers and breads for the table and main dishes, which we will all share.  The wine is a Chilean from the Maipo valley, a Rothschild venture, and a successful one.  Julia has a traditional grog in addition to her wine.  The conversation is easier tonight and interesting.  The food is more like what Moscow9-6we have been used to (in fact we order mostly from the Uzbek section of the menu — no need to tell veterans of Cafe Babai that this is great cuisine).  Everything is fresh and flavorful.  Even Terri is impressed.  We’re not so impressed with the belly dancers, who spin through the room periodically, having seen Julia in action. 

 “I’m the happiest creature on the face of the earth,” says Jane, nibbling on a herring.  

 Terri rolls her eyes.  The problems between mothers and daughters are certainly not lost on Julia, whom Jane seems to think of as a spiritual daughter.

 “Why do you think I live in New York and my mother lives in Ryazan?” says Julia.  In fact her mother is coming to the fair tomorrow.

 The conversation turns serious.  Julia has mentioned several times that she is wondering if still makes sense for her to stay in America and is seriously considering moving back to Russia.  Jane has been trying like crazy to make the case that she should stay in New York.  Terri sees Julia’s point.  The two of them are getting along surprisingly nicely.

 “If you want the past, stay in the US,” says Terri.  “If you want the future, it may be here in Russia.”

 Jane disagrees vehemently, but it’s really hard to argue with the excitement, energy and sense of new possibilities that we have all experienced for ourselves here in Moscow.

 The check comes with sticks of Wrigleys Doublemint Gum for one and all.Moscow9-7Moscow9-8Moscow9-9Moscow9-10Moscow9-11

< #8 MISSIVE    MISSIVE #10 >



















Mathes Missive from Moscow #10 – Thursday: VIP Night Owls

Mathes Missive from Moscow #10 – Thursday: VIP Night Owls

Good morning from Moscow,

 The rhythm of the day here is much different than in the U.S. or, Jane says, in Europe.  Since we arrived we’ve been working until about 10:00 pm, but it’s still quite light outside at that hour and many other people are going to dinner.  We rarely get back to our rooms at the Sheraton before midnight, whereupon I work on these missives until after two.  Now that the regular hours of the fair have commenced (2:00 pm until about 9:30 pm, as opposed to 10:00 am to 10:00 pm when we were setting up), I can write in the morning from the time I  get up at 7:30 until noon.  At that point we have to eat and get ready to leave for the fair.  Marat picks us up at 1:15.  I generally polish the previous day’s missive each night, polish it again the next morning (what, you thought maybe they popped out full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus?) and then start another.  In this way, I can generally stay a day ahead.  We now have an internet connection at the fair, so I don’t have to purchase an internet card at the hotel ($28 for 24 hours WIFI — no discount for longer amounts of time).  This is why you haven’t been hearing about the usual tourist spots.  When in this schedule is there time for us to tour the Kremlin?

 As I write this Missive #10, which will cover Thursday’s events, it is now Friday morning.  I have just finished polishing Missive #9, which actually was what happened Wednesday.  Got it?Moscow10-1

 Anyway, we can almost slip into a routine on Thursday, except that this is the “VIP Night Owls” night, when the Fair will be open from the usual 2:00 pm until 11:00 o’clock in the evening.  The rational for this seems to be to accommodate some kind of round table discussion tonight from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm by the auction houses, which have set up booths at the front of the Manege.  As in America, people here don’t like to go somewhere just before closing.  In New York the fairs stay open until at least seven or seven thirty, so that folks will come at 6:00 pm after work.  Here the organizers seem to think of the dealers rather as animals in the zoo, to be paraded out and left on display for the convenience of the public for any length of time.  And if it will lead to a sale, that’s really fine by us (the fact that there’s nowhere in the Manege where a person can get something simple to eat or even a bottle of water — Julia says that nobody drinks from the tap — is something else)..

 Moscow10-2Of course, I’m not going to tell you about our sales, one way or another.  

There are many reasons for this — most of which are secret, as you know.  When people (and especially other dealers or journalists) ask how we’ve done we always say that we’ve met a lot of interesting people.  This is actually always true.  Some of these encounters may lead to sales, though the time frame is sometimes measured in years.  You can seem to do badly at a fair, but in the long  run it may turn out brilliantly.  Conversely, some successes can be costly in ways that are not immediately apparent.  You can sell hundred million dollars worth of stuff (well, maybe Larry Gagosian can), but what does it mean if the stuff cost you ninety five million dollars and you’ve incurred ten million dollars worth of expenses?  Moscow is an incredible gamble for us, and we’ve known from the outset that it will probably take years to understand what it has really meant for the gallery.  Jane has more than just courage to have brought us here.  She has vision.  (Early on, I suggested that in addition to her other sterling qualities Jane perhaps also possessed “perhaps just the teensiest bit of lunacy.”   I’ve shared all of these missives with her from the outset.  That was the only thing she’s objected to.  “I am insulted,” she said, “why only a little bit of lunacy, why not a whole lot?  I don’t like to do things half way.”)

 Anyway, after another lunch at the hotel coffee shop (Jane did not feel the need to  torment any waitresses today), Marat drove us over to Manege and for half an hour Jane and I finally were able to do what both of us enjoy the most at work: staring off into space.

 Here are some views of the wood-paneled booth is our neighbor, Steinitz, one of the biggest Parisian antique dealers — remember all of his crates blocking the aisle outside our booth at the setup?  There’s probably 20 million dollars worth of stuff there (the million dollar price tag on the paneling includes shipment and installation).  The chandeliers must have  been a whole lot of fun to pack and ship, don’t you think?Moscow10-3  Moscow10-4  Moscow10-5  Moscow10-6  Moscow10-7  Moscow10-8

 Julia, still looking very nice but still not feeling very well, shows up with her mother and a passel of cousins from her home town of Ryazan, which she says is about a three hour trip from Moscow.  They have taken the train in, then the subway to the Manege — another twenty minutes or so.  They will go back later today, but don’t seem to have minded the commute.  Julia’s mother, though, knew there was something wrong from the moment she saw her from fifty feet away:

 “Juuuuuuulia!  Have you made yourself sick?”

 Julia’s mother is an electrical engineer.  Julia actually majored in physics in her education, which she says have been very valuable in her work as a personal trainer, simultaneous translator and gypsy dancer.  Julia’s mother seems like quite a different type of person than Julia.  Mother and daughter relationships are very complicated.  Moscow10-10    Moscow10-12  Moscow10-11  Moscow10-13

Terri comes by after three with sandwiches again (it was Zum, not Gum, where she bought them – both are department stores of the Harrods persuasion).   She has slept better.  Her hotel, the Savoy, is much closer to the Manege than ours and quite elegant.  However, on her first night here the people in the next room were entertaining loudly and kept her awake until five in the morning>  At breakfast there had been a man smoking a gigantic cigar right next to her. 

Today Terri is again full of helpful suggestions, wondering why we weren’t being more pro-active and pointing out that Larry Gagosian would have millions of people working the floor if he were here.  It is nice to see Jane and Terri having some mother-daughter time together; a few hours of quality bickering is always refreshing at events like these. Moscow10-14

Julia’s family finally departs for the long commute home.  Terri tries to help her mother see a better way of doing things (and fails).  In between speaking to clients, I try to figure out a way of getting some pictures of the crazy shoes women here are wearing.   We are talking heels as high as nine inches, I am certain. 

“Fashion has become decorative arts and comedy,” Jane declares.  “It used to be pure torture.”

I think the pendulum is swinging back again.  But how can I take pictures of women’s feet without getting slugged (or worse)?  Julia again to the rescue.  Some girls from the one of the jewelry booths downstairs wander through and Julia somehow manages to find the words (in Russian) that will make a shoe pose inoffensive.  These heels aren’t nearly as high as many, but you get the idea (they insisted that I take another shot to show how well the legs went with the shoes).  The shoes at the end, of course, are Julia’s.Moscow10-15Moscow10-16Moscow10-17Finally it is eleven o’clock, pretty late to go looking for a new ethnic restaurant.  We return to our old standby, Planet Sushi, which is open 24 hours.  It is the perfect place and even Terri is pleased, though she has to send back the yellowtail (it is suspiciously yellow and smells fishy).  “Are you sick?”Terri asks Jane, who tries to place a piece of caterpillar roll on her daughter’s plate.  Julia and I share an identical cough (though Julia insists that this has been coming on her for a long time).  Typhoid Charlie strikes again!

It’s half past midnight by the time we’re ready to leave, and we have to play hide and seek to find Marat.  He was waiting outside the Manege.  When we came looking for him, he was at Planet Sushi looking for us. 

“Armenia, Armenia,” he says happily when we finally rendezvous.  Jane has begun to call him “our magic carpet.”


< #9 MISSIVE      MISSIVE #11 >












Mathes Missive from Moscow #11 – Friday: Just Another Day at the Fair

Mathes Missive from Moscow #11 – Friday: Just Another Day at the Fair

Good morning, Americans,

Here were are in Moscow, the 14th dirtiest city in the world (even New Delhi is cleaner), where a few nights ago according the newspaper police arrested a man leading a stolen horse through the city on a drunken rampage (probably it was the man who was drinking, not the horse), where the official inflation rate is approaching 15 percent (so you know it must be higher) and where our merry little band is ready for another day and another dollar (coming in for a change, one hopes, as opposed to going out).

We are beginning to settle into a routine, inasmuch as one can establish a routine in a situation like this.  But any bit of structure helps when you need to focus all of your energy for an unpredictable day.  You don’t want to worry about where to eat lunch after you write for four hours then have to dash off and deal with oligarchs all day.  The only thing different I attempt this morning is to replace my bottle of evil-tasting cough syrup at the pharmacy down the street.  You can tell they’re pharmacies because the signs say something like Anteka  — maybe these are very old-fashioned medicines?  Antiques?  (The cough syrup is Greek, but probably not ancient.)  Jane, in dog withdrawal, has been looking for small creatures to photograph and finally finds a stray.  You don’t see strays in any other major European capital.  Here the only dogs you see are strays.

Jane spends most of the afternoon trying to call Terri on the Russian telephone she has procured for her daughter.  Recall all those happy hours we spent at the phone shop?  Jane is very high on phones (cMoscow11-1ounting her own Russian telephone, she herself is now carrying four).   But Terri doesn’t answer.  Nor does she answer her American telephone.  Jane finally resorts to sending emails.  “Call Mom.  Bring sandwiches.”

 Julia still looks very nice and still isn’t feeling herself, despite another two hours of hot and cold baths last night in Jane’s room. 

 “I will have to find a Russian bathhouse where they beat you,” she declares.

 I have this vague recollection of my brother Gary telling me how they used to do something like this to you at the Schvitz in Cleveland, the traditional Jewish version of what Julia has in mind.  Hard to fit Julia in with the images I have of old farts kibitzing in the steam, while guys whack them on the back with bundles of twigs.   

 “They beat you with brooms?”


 Poor Julia!

 It’s a slow day and a relatively uneventful one (anything that actually did happen, art-wise, would of course be a secret).  Here are some scenes of what the rest of the fair looks like.

 Moscow11-6  Moscow11-5Moscow11-10Moscow11-2Moscow11-3Moscow11-4Moscow11-7Moscow11-8During the afternoon several friends of Julia’s come by — she has given out many passes — and she has a good time showing them around the floor.  At some point a Russian comes in with a question we can’t understand, and we need Julia.  Jane calls her on my Russian telephone (Jane’s own Russian phone has now stopped working) but of course Julia has left her phone in the booth.  Just as well; she had forgotten to charge it anyway.   

 Jane has been insisting that sharing her hotel room with Julia is no trouble (“She’s just like a daughter, there are towels on the floor all over the place”), but at the same time has been working overtime trying to get Julia a room of her own in the hotel.  Finally the hotel manager has been able to accomplish this, but only for over the weekend.  The room rate is excellent, and he even gives us all a good discount for the weekend and free breakfasts — but on Monday all bets will be off again.  Moscow is 100% full. 

Moscow11-12Terri shows up at last, close to six o’clock.  She has brought strawberries this time.  From Zum. The berries are smaller and not as red as the ones you can get in any American supermarket, but like most of the food we’ve had here, they somehow taste better.  In fact Terri says they are the best strawberries she has ever eaten.  Terri’s American telephone doesn’t work because she has brought the wrong charger.  Jane demands to see her daughter’s Russian telephone and eventually figures out that Terri has somehow turned it off.  This is why Jane’s telephone didn’t work either – she had turned hers off, too.  (My phone works great, but I have no one to call.)

 After a few more invigorating hours of mother-daughter combat, staring off into space, and secret art doings (we did meet some interesting people, however), it is nine o’clock and a voice over the loudspeaker announces that the fair is now over for the night.  Apparently they have decided upon a closing time.  Immediately guards spread out and order everyone (including us) to leave.

 Oh, did I mention that at eight o’clock this Friday night, the French technical person came by our booth with a bill for the electrics?  Just the kind of thing you want to deal with over the weekend.  And it is so a la carte as to boggle the mind.  They’re even charging for the wooden struts (I think there are something like 59 of them) that are stretched across the top of the booth, above the fabric ceiling, to which the lighting tracks are attached.  It’s like being billed for every spoon, fork, plate and napkin you’ve used in a restaurant — to say nothing about the number of flakes of pepper and grains of salt!  Oh, and unless you have spent the funds on a new car, the bill must be paid in full by Monday.  Your art will be held hostage until the funds clear. 

 Marat cannot meet us tonight — he has to pick up his aunt from the airport.  Julia and I want to walk to the Cafe Pushkin, where we will be having dinner with John from Bloomberg, but Jane and Terri prefer to be driven.  Julia, who once got stopped by the police for trying to hitchhike through Queens (“We don’t do that kind of thing here, honey,”) flags down a gypsy cab, plenty of which cruise the Moscow streets (if you think you can just stick out your hand and hail a regular cab here the way we do in New York, you’re going to be sadly disappointed).  The driver is from Kazakhstan or some such place and takes us to Pushkin something-or-other, but not Cafe Pushkin (maybe this is where Marat was the other day, when we were waiting at the Pushkin Museum.)  We then spend the next half hour tooling around central Moscow trying to find the restaurant — it doesn’t help that if you guess the wrong street you can’t make a turn for six miles.

Moscow11-13Moscow11-14 Finally we arrive.  Terri has selected Cafe Pushkin because the magazine for American  Express Platinum Card holders has mentioned it as being one of THE places to go in Moscow.  Terri goes to all the IN places.  It is a beautiful old building and the 18th century Rococo interior inside looks sparkling, authentic, 100% old Russia.  If John, who meets us at the bar, hadn’t told us it is all in fact 100% brand new, built within the last few years (at phenomenal expense) to look old, we would never have known.

 It’s not hard to understand why John is so successful as an art writer here in Russia.  He freelances for a number of different publications and from the stories of his we’ve seen — including the piece featuring us on Bloomberg — it’s clear that he’s a talented writer.  But John seems to be something more.  He’s a quiet, lovely guy with an open mind, a happy heart and apparently no axes to grind.  We don’t understand why he’s been so nice to us — he now says that he’s even influenced the folks at Reuters where he used to work to give us more coverage — but it’s certainly a pleasure to have the chance to be nice to him.  John has wonderful stories to tell, and — as if you couldn’t guess the secret of being a good writer — he is a very good listener. 

Moscow11-16 As we wait at the bar for a table, Terri, herself a good talker, zeroes in and starts chatting him up.  Sitting in a Ukrainian restaurant in front of a plate of lard, Terri perhaps seemed a trifle ridiculous .  Here in this glittering setting among Moscow’s beautiful people, everything about her suddenly makes perfect sense.  This is her natural habitat.  Not that Jane or I or Julia don’t like Cafe Pushkin.  We can swim in these waters, too; we’re all good swimmers.  But I for one prefer Cafe Babai.  Interestingly enough, John from Bloomberg when we told him that we were coming here didn’t think of it as the best place in Moscow — sort of like the Tavern on the Green in Manhattan.  “Definitely you have to go once if you haven’t been there, but there are probably a lot of better places if what you want is good food.”

 Terri, though, could probably eat here every night.  She warns me to take some caviar fast, or she’s going to appropriate it all (how could we come to Moscow and not have caviar?  And who better to share it with than John?).  

 I let Julia help me select an entree as usual, but it would be hard to make a real mistake.  The food, needless to say, is rather rich. Moscow11-18Moscow11-15Moscow11-17Moscow11-19Moscow11-20Moscow11-21Moscow11-22Moscow11-23Moscow11-24

  It is nearing one thirty in the morning when we finally finish dinner.  Marat is waiting outside, all dressed up from seeing his aunt, and happy to see us.  We offer John a lift, but he prefers to walk.  We had been told that Moscow was a dangerous city, but I guess it’s like New York — any of us wouldn’t be afraid to walk around at night in New York.  We live there.  We know where to go and where not to go.    

 As we drop Terri off at the Savoy, she announces that she has changed her plane reservation and is leaving tomorrow morning, not Sunday as planned. She wants to have a day to decompress in New York before going back to work.  Terri and Julia had made plans to go to a design fair elsewhere in the city tomorrow morning, but I guess that’s out now.  Jane was anticipating another happy day of butting heads (at one point Jane announces that if Terri rolls her eyes one more time, she’s going to get throttled).  But Terri is Terri; she’s sampled all she needs to sample in Moscow and is ready to move on.  Marat agrees to pick her up tomorrow at 6:30 a.m., even though he won’t get home tonight until very late indeed — what a mensch. 

 An instant later Terri waves goodbye and disappears into the grand lobby of her hotel.  Our time together is over.  Funny, I think we might actually miss her.

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