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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Living Here

Kutuzovsky Prospekt : Avenue of Power
By Vernon Howell


Running from the Garden Ring to the northwestern outskirts of the city, Kutuzovsky Prospekt is huge, grandiose and very, very noisy - that is to say, quintessentially Moscow. Every minute of the day and night thousands of cars speed down this grand boulevard, past an enormous park, important museums, theaters, restaurants and hundreds of shops. For over fifty years it has been one of the most prestigious streets in the city and thus it remains, where a two-room flat in a luxurious Stalin-era apartment can go for as much as $7,000 a month. Kutuzovsky may not be for those who favor quiet, homey neighborhoods, but for people who like to be in the thick of the action this street is one of the cityís main arteries, pulsing with power, wealth, and glamour.

Letís start our tour of Kutuzovsky at the beginning, in the Hotel Ukraine. This magnificent building is one of the famed íSeven Sisters,í the atmospheric Stalinist skyscrapers that dot the city skyline. Completed in 1957, the Ukraine was the last to be built. By that time, however, not only was Stalin dead, but the hotelís original architect, Boris Iofan had also fallen out of favor with the regime, leaving one of his students to work from the masterís sketches and plans to finish the project.

The Ukraineís first guests were delegates at the enormous 1957 World Festival of Students and Youth, where Khrushchev delivered a famous speech declaring the forthcoming victory of communism over capitalism. He couldnít guess that 47 years later, the Ukraine would be popular with  Western tourists, for whom the Soviet Union lives on only in amusingly kitsch souvenirs. At four stars, itís not a bad hotel and has a beautiful lobby, resplendent in marble with a glorious Stalinist fresco in the center of the ceiling. The main drawback is its distance from the metro -- about 15 minutes by foot.

Step away from the hotel and onto Kutuzovsky proper and you immediately stumble upon Ö nothing in particular. The buildings on this part of the street date from the Khrushchev era, and although they are good by the dismal standards of the time, they are nothing special, and not prestigious in any way. Kutuzovsky, in fact, was built in several sections over almost 20 years. The middle stretch was built first, and itís this section that holds most of the treasures. Apart from the Ukraine, the only significant address on the Khrushchev section of the street is No. 7 Kutuzovsky. In the Soviet period, this brick complex was home to much of Moscowís foreign diplomatic corps, and one of few buildings where foreigners were permitted to live. A large contingent of policemen, in plain clothes and otherwise, patrolled outside to make sure no ordinary citizens got in.

At this point itís a good idea to get on a bus and travel away from the center on the even side of the prospekt for two stops, getting off at Kutuzovsky 16. Here there is a clear stylistic break in the streetís architecture. Next door to the glass box at No. 16 is an ornate neoclassical Stalinist apartment. We are now on the original part of the street, built between the late 1930s and early 1940s. Some of the finest examples of Russiaís Stalinist architecture are to be found here, and thereís good reason for this: Kutuzovsky Prospekt was the road Stalin took to work every morning. Of course, the general secretary of the Communist Party didnít want to see any hovels or cramped kommunalkas, so a team of top architects put together a set of tall, proud, beautiful buildings to please his eye. The facades of these homes are replete with columns, porticos, and striking plasterwork. Itís also worth remembering that in Stalinís day, too, there were very few cars in the city, so the six lanes of the road were his alone to enjoy as he admired the astonishing progress and beauty of the worldís first Communist society. Today it is the road Putin takes to work -- so he can admire it too.

Of course, these fine homes werenít given to just anyone. Great artists and scientists and high-ranking members of the nomenklatura lived on this street, among them Alexander Dovzhenko, the Ukrainian director of the silent classic "Earth," considered by some critics to be one of the greatest films of all time. Dovzhenko, however, was small fry compared to the superstar tenant at Kutuzovsky 25: Mr. General Secretary himself, Leonid Brezhnev.

Brezhnev lived here between 1948 and 1981, in an eight-room apartment on the fifth floor. Conveniently, right next door at No. 23 was the Central Medical Research Center of the Ministry of Health, the most prestigious clinic in the Soviet Union. Thus, in the latter stages of his regime, when Brezhnev was little more than a mummy with eyebrows, he could be wheeled next door, or better yet, have a doctor come round immediately to inject him with whatever serum it was that kept him breathing. Today, his grandson, Andrei Brezhnev, lives in the apartment. The younger Brezhnev, who shares his predecessorís eyebrows and not much else, has tried on numerous occasions to capitalize on his famous name. A few years back he ran for mayor of Moscow on the pledge that he would restore the city to the glory days known under his illustrious grandfather. With this promise he managed to capture about 1 percent of the vote.

Leonid Brezhnev was not the only Communist giant in the building. Living directly above him on the sixth floor was longtime head of the KGB and Brezhnevís eventual successor as general secretary, Yuri Andropov. Andropov was a rather sinister figure, who, upon coming into office, immediately cracked down on corruption, going so far as to order the arrest and execution of the director of the Yeliseyevsky store on Tverskaya (then Gorky Street) for caviar smuggling. Andropov died 18 months after taking office, however, and thus was unable to make any lasting mark on history.

Two years ago, the owners of Andropovís apartment put it up for sale. It was surprisingly modest, consisting of only four rooms. Realtors made the most of its previous ownerís notoriety by showing prospective buyers an intriguing alcove in the study and claiming that Andropov had filled it with equipment with which he could listen to everyone in the building.

At this point you should get back on the bus and ride it for another two stops, past the newly constructed third ring road to the statue of a man on horseback -- Marshal Kutuzov, the Napoleonic general leader from whom the street gets its name. 

This great military leader masterminded the defeat of Napoleon. After the Russian armyís disastrous defeat at Borodino, where more than 50 percent of the nationís troops were lost, Kutuzov ordered the evacuation of Moscow. At first, the marshal was vilified for his decision, and as the citizens of Moscow marched away from their homes they spat in the faces of his soldiers for their cowardice. But Kutuzov was soon vindicated. After Napoleonís forces entered Moscow, they lost all discipline and embarked on an orgy of rioting and looting, starting a fire that destroyed the city. Surrounded by ruins, they starved. Meanwhile, the Russian army regrouped and soon retook Moscow before pursuing Napoleon all the way to France.

Following the October Revolution, Kutuzovís name was forgotten for several decades. The marshal had committed the cardinal sin of winning a victory that contradicted Marxís íscientificí laws of historical development. According to Marx, capitalist France should have defeated feudal Russia. Ever the pragmatist, however, Stalin resurrected the legend of Kutuzov as a great patriot for propaganda purposes in World War II. Medals were issued in his name, and he got his own street and monument.

Master Classes: The Fomenko Theater

Enthusiasts for the theater with a good grasp of Russian might want to check out the Pyotr Fomenko studio, located not far from Brezhnevís apartment. A well-known professor of theater in Soviet times, in the early 1990s Fomenko gathered his best students and set up his own studio to produce drama exactly the way he thought it ought to be done. Located in a former cinema at 30/32 Kutuzovsky, the Masterskaya P. Fomenko is now one of the most respected theatrical venues in the city.

Fomenko is a traditionalist who eschews experimentation and flashy tricks in favor of literary adaptations and solid interpretations of the classics. Included in the studioís repertoire are plays by authors such as Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Gumiliev, and Lev Tolstoy. One of the theaterís most recent productions, "War and Peace: Book 1," was a faithful four-hour adaptation of the first part of Tolstoyís masterpiece, chapter by chapter. The play received rave reviews, though perhaps only those expats who are very confident of their Russian should consider attending.

The star of the Fomenko theater is the marvelous Polina Kutiepova, but the entire troupe is noted for the life and energy it brings to each performance. The main problem the theater faces is a lack of seating. Their success has resulted in an ever-increasing demand for seats, forcing the company to perform regularly on other, larger stages around Moscow. Check city listings carefully to see exactly where Fomenko and his troupe are playing on a particular date.

The Pyotr Fomenko Studio is at 30/32 Kutuzovsky Prospekt, Tel. 249 1136, http://fomenko.theatre.ru.

However, the Kutuzov sculpture mixes myth with truth, in suggesting that Kutuzov could actually sit on a horse. At the time of his battle with Napoleon, Kutuzov was an old, rheumatic man who could barely walk. Arranged around the base of the statue, however, are lifelike portraits of soldiers, partisans, and generals: these were copied from studies of real fighters done after the 1812 victory. Behind the sculpture is the humble hut where Kutuzov assembled all his generals to announce the evacuation of Moscow. This shack is now all that remains of the village of Fili, which at the time was located outside Moscow.

This final stretch of historical Kutuzovsky, in fact, is entirely martial in flavor. Located next door to the Kutuzov monument is one of Russiaís best military museums, the Borodino panorama. The interior contains a huge painting of the famous battle wrapped around the walls of a circular hall. Ironically, it was painted by a Frenchman, France Rubot, in 1912 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war. After the Revolution it disappeared from sight for a few decades but was eventually restored to public viewing in 1962, on the 150th anniversary of the battle.

Further up the street stands the Triumphal Arch. This, in fact, is Moscowís third. The first, made of wood, was erected rather hastily on Tverskaya in time for the victorious return of Russiaís army from France in 1812. The second, made of stone, stood at the same site, near what is Belorusskaya train station today, but was blown up early in the Soviet era. Following Kutuzovís rehabilitation, however, the arch was rebuilt at its current site, which is perhaps more appropriate. It was on this hill that Napoleon spent five hours gloating over the fall of Moscow, savoring his short-lived victory.

Finally, just beyond the arch and on the other side of the road stands the pinnacle of this walk, the huge Victory Park complex -- the largest war memorial in a country full of large war memorials. This complex is noteworthy for many reasons: it contains not only the impressive museum of the Great Patriotic War but also the first new church built in Russia after the revolution. It is also full of Zurab Tsereteliís controversial sculptures, including a moving Holocaust memorial of tall, emaciated figures, which is generally thought much better than his garish mural in the Park Pobedi metro station where one of Kutuzovís generals bears a marked resemblance to Tsereteliís great patron, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.  Elsewhere in the complex stands an open-air museum of Soviet hardware, ranging from tanks to parts of submarines - not to be missed for weaponry and military history enthusiasts.

Victory Park is a good place to end this tour. Though it is the grandest and most monumental creation on a very monumental street, you can still find distinctly human touches. Away from luxury apartments and Putinís speeding motorcade, kids on roller blades make use of its broad alleys and squares in ways its architects never dreamed of. And perhaps this is one of the most optimistic images of Russia: of ordinary people finding new ways around the daunting size and scope of their country, locating the familiar in the shadows of the towering projects of their political leaders.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Baan Thai - Classic Thai food served noon to midnight.
11 Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya,
Tel. 240 0597.

Cafe del Sol - Mediterranean cuisine in a Southern resort atmosphere. Summer terrace. Open until 11pm.
4/2 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 243 2369.

Chanel - Moscowís home to the French perfume-maker.
31 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 933 3035.

Green - Catalonian offerings, fresh seafood.
12 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 243 6407.

Fendi - Another Italian bou tique.
31 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 249 1763.

Pinocchio - Gourmet food by Italian chef and sommelier. Also have a Cuban cigarman. Summer terrace.
4/2 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 243 5688.

Red Bar - A red-themed restaurant and club 27 floors up at the Moskva-City Business Center.
23a Taras Shevchenko Embakment, Tel. 730 0808.

Riviere - Upscale French fare in a smart setting.
4 Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya, Tel. 234 4035.

Soviet Art Gallery - Regular exhibit of Soviet-era art and monthly auctions.
14 Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya, Tel. 234 4035.

Ukraine Hotel - Youíll find Soviet-style service at this super-sized hotel, but the top-floor suites have some of the best views in town.
2/1 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 933 5656.

Valentin Yudashkin Trade House - Designer clothing and accessories.
19 Kutuzovsky, Tel. 785 1051.







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