Take Kutuzovsky Prospect - a ten-lane, traffic-choked boulevard - about 10 miles out of Moscow, hang a left, and you'll find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of a forest, surrounded by dachas (Russian summer cottages).
You're in the Peredelkino writers' colony.
I'm not sure how many writers actually live and work there these days, but back in the last century it was home to several famous writers, and that's why we made the short trek out there last weekend.
Our first stop was the Pasternak dacha, home to Boris Pasternak (known to most Americans as the writer of Doctor Zhivago). If you're a fan of Russian literature, you absolutely must make a stop here.
It was a neat little house. Pasternak lived there in the 1950s - he died there in 1960 and was buried in a cemetery just down the road. The house was left pretty much just as it looked when he died, right down to the ancient (still working) refrigerator and an old Soviet tube television set.
He has kind of a sad little history. He was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 - there is a photograph in the dining room showing him as he received the news and was giving a toast - but he was forced by the Soviet government to turn down the prize. He fell in love and began a relationship with Olga Ivinskaya while he was married to Zinaida Pasternak (his second wife). The guide talked of their great love for one another but that, quite frankly, depressed me a little bit. I mean, nobody mentioned the wife, who was stuck with him until he died even though he was in love with somebody else. His lover spent quite a few years in a prison camp because of her relationship with him - the government saw her as a way to get to him.
All quite depressing really.
But the house was beautiful. Quiet, simple, unadorned. When we visit the house-museums of Russian writers, I always like to see the desks where the writers worked, just to get a sense of their personalities. His office was austere, but I liked it.
|The view of the dacha from the main road.|
|... and up close.|
|The office where Pasternak worked.|
|Soviet tube television. Our guide said she'd had one of these as a girl. Apparently you fill up the glass front with water to make the image on the screen appear bigger.|
|Pasternak's death mask.|
|Smiling. They survived the tour, with all of the talk of Soviet repression, and prison camps, and awards turned down, and cancer, and death.|
All Russians know Kornei Chukovsky from childhood. I guess he's sort of their version of Dr. Seuss. There were bunches of kids at his dacha, taking tours and running around on the grounds. The vibe was totally different from Pasternak's place. It wasn't pristine and quiet. It was a bit chaotic, eclectic, books everywhere, children's toys, fun decorations.
|That's the shoe tree behind the kids, in front of the dacha. The idea of the shoe tree comes from one of Chukovsky's famous stories. As I recall, it's a tree upon which grow shoes, not fruit.|
|Shoe tree up close.|
|Running in the yard behind the house.|
|A lamp in his office, painted with images from his stories.|
|Chukovsky's work space.|
|"What's that?" A wanted to know. "A telephone? But? How does it work?"|
From there we went to the nearby church complex housing the Patriarch's dacha for some tea and a quick look around.
And finally, we stopped at the cemetery next to the church, where both Pasternak and Chukovsky are buried. It was quiet - we were the only visitors, perhaps because everyone else knew the paths were covered in slick sheets of ice. Really treacherous in places.
|Pasternak's simple tombstone, which is said to change in appearance as the light changes during the day. His wife is buried to the right. No idea where his mistress ended up.|
|Tombstones for Chukovsky and his wife. One of their daughters, Lydia, herself a famous writer, is buried right next to them.|