Checking the condition of the paintings.

After what feels like a long day already I leave the museum in the afternoon to go to the opening of the Mondrian exhibition and it’s raining. It’s not a long walk across the bridge to the New Tretyakov Museum, but I feel my legs getting heavier and heavier each day because of the miles (or kilometres) I walk from one room to the other in the seven-story museum building. And now, outside in the Moscow autumn rain without an umbrella, I suddenly feel very tired. Luckily my hotel is on the way and they have an umbrella with their name in big letters on it in each room, so I only have to pick it up and go across the street to a coffee house (Кофе Хауз, the Russian Starbucks) where you can quickly get a double espresso. Once I called it ‘twin espresso’ in Russian and the waitress could not stop laughing. So now I know how to order a ‘double espresso’ in Russian. I follow an intensive course in the school of life…

What a marvellous drug coffee is! I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again! The umbrella does not fit in the song.

The second floor of the New Tretyakov (we would call it the first floor) is crowded with cultural people, politicians and diplomats gathered here because the Dutch minister Jet Bussemaker will open the exhibition. There is also the Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven who has just given a press conference on his oeuvre. A lot of Dutch people secretly glance at him, but the Russians have no idea who he is. Large tables filled with glasses of champagne form the golden frame of this cheerfully chatting company. The wine is getting hot and it’s loosing its bubbles because everyone has to refrain from drinking until the speeches are over. I see some people I know, but they are busy talking and I don’t want to talk. There is still some time to go upstairs and see the works in the collection on display on the fourth floor (yes: our third). It’s a large and beautiful collection of Russian and Soviet paintings and some sculptures from the end of the 19th century until the fifties / sixties of the last century. Each time I am in Moscow I go here to rehearse. Who has ever heard of Konchalovsky or Klutsis? There are so many surprising artworks here that we do not know in the West.

In the exhibition rooms upstairs I hear the start of the speeches under me and I quietly go on with my rehearsing walk. All speeches have to be translated, either from English to Russian or the other way round, so that may take some time. It means each speech will at least be twice as long. I think of the champagne that must be tepid and flat by then and I decide to skip it. It’s better for me not to drink now anyway because I still have to work and drinking will only make me tired again. I will just go and see the Mondrian exhibition, shake some hands and leave again.

 

Almost at the end of the speeches I go down to the second floor and on the stairs I am just in time to hear our minister state that she’s had constructive talks with her Russian colleague about gay rights, apparently forgetting for a moment that since a few weeks there is a law here that de facto bans public affection by LGBT people. As she has been able to establish there is a growing fear here that the situation will deteriorate. After this pearl of Dutch diplomacy I see the happy crowd rushing to the drinks and snacks. Instead of joining them I follow the Russian and Dutch ministers into the freshly opened exhibition that turns out to be surprisingly small, academic, but well done. Hello and goodbye to this and that person. We will see each other tonight (and say hello again…).