Sunday, August 26, 2007

I hate matrioshki!

People are always giving me Russian gewgaws, thingamajigs, junke, and bricabrac. I hate the stuff.

A friend of mine sent me a postcard from 'The Museum of Communism' in Prague, Czech Republic with this hilarious image. The Czechs are generally considered to have the best sense of humor in all of Europe... Pretty girls, great beer. That's all I remember from my trip there back when I was 22. I studied Czech for two years, so one day I hope to get back there and appreciate the other, finer points of Czech culture.

Matrioshka dolls (матрёшки) aren't actually particularly authentic bits of Russian culture. A Russian painter/folk enthusiast named Maliutin made the first 'real' matrioshka at the end of the 19th century, imitating a long-established Japanese tradition of nesting wooden dolls. (Other accounts have it that the matrioshka appeared in Russia after the Japanese-Russian War of 1905.)

Maliutin had a workshop at Abramtsevo, a lovely estate not too far from Moscow -- I've visited there several times, and think it's a must-see for anyone in Moscow. There's also a Museum of the Matrioshka (Музей матрёшки) in Moscow, though I've never been. Maybe I'll try to convince one of our students studying abroad in Moscow to visit it and send me back some pictures...

Anyway, I do have one matrioshka that I love -- it depicts the literary greats of Russia -- Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Pushkin and Gogol. It's really quite lovely and tasteful, unlike most...

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