I took my daughter to see Bulgakov’s Apartment. We took pictures next to the bloated cat, Behemoth, then we went in to the strange museum. On our way to Patriarchs’ Pond I tried to explain why Bulgakov, and his novel Master and Margarita, were so culturally important. We walked toward the city centre. Hungry, we read the café and restaurant signs.
“It says ‘best khinkeli in the city’,” I said.
“What’s khinkeli?, she asked.
“I dunno,” I said.
(We had already eaten khinkeli on our first day, but we didn’t know it. It is a giant meat perogie.)
We walked through the neighbourhoods between Tverskaya and the Arbat. My daughter asked a reasonable question about national history, “surely Lenin and the Bolsheviks meant well…?” I said “ok, we’re going to have to back up a bit”. And my daughter and I talked Russian history, and economics, and revolution, and justice, and fairness, and decency. Then we stopped in the Arbat for a coffee and a Danish.
Our waitress spoke to us in English. I tried to answer her in Russian. I later learned that answering in Russian is rude, it implies that their English is no good.
We bought tourist crap on the Arbat. It was hot and we got thirsty. My daughter looked over my shoulder and said “there is the Kremlin, we can walk down and have a lemonade.” I looked at her and thought, ‘wow, you have only been in Moscow for 4 days.”
(Earlier, she had pointed out that ‘Kremlin’ sounds like a dessert.)
We walked back down to Red Square and then to GUM, where we had lemonades and listened to the weird Italian opera. We took the Moscow metro back to our wonderful hosts on Tatarskaya. There, we lay on a futon, behind a Japanese door watching Soviet sit-coms and retro-thrillers. I worked on my Russian listening skills while my daughter sent pictures out on social media; everyone at home would get to see Behemoth, the bloated cat, and to yearn for a nibble of our khinkeli.
This was one of the best days of my life.
*Behemoth or бегемот translates also as hippopotamus. Bulgakov calling his cat “behemoth” has an echo of Melville calling his whale “leviathan”.