From Russia With Love ….. Part 5: Hand in hand through their (parklife)
Tuesday already … day 2 of Two Brains conference has him free during the middle of the day and with enough time for us to jump a metro to Tsaritsyno which has been recommended to us as a place to visit by Yury, another of the clever boys who passed as a pre-doctoral student through the lab in Cambridge. Walking to Tverskaya we pass Ivan the Terribly nice waiter and he grins and nods as he did yesterday when he passed us at the exact same spot at the exact same time. I feel almost local.
The train takes about a half hour and we alight in the suburbs – it feels equivalent to Chiswick or Ealing in distance but what confronts us is quite different. A huge noisy messy street market littered with girls waiting for boys, boys eyeing up girls and men sidling up to other men with laptops or other electrical devices that they clearly want to ‘sell’. The air is thick with fast food smells and there are garish stalls selling everything and anything … colourful and chaotic this is quite another face of Moscow to the area we have called home for the past 5 days. We walk, crossing another multi-lane highway but this time without the aid of a subway – just a wish, a prayer and a zebra with lights. Through a turnstyle and we are in a sea of tranquility. This is the Tsaritsyno park. One of many that surround the outskirts of Moscow, they sprung up in the 18th and 19th Centuries as the suburban estates of Aristocrats. We stroll towards the water hoping to cross the graceful bridge but it is closed for cleaning. Two men are in power-washing frenzy as they prepare the park for the summer. In Moscow the fountains will be turned on May 1st for the summer. Any earlier and they do risk freezing over. The holiday season begins in May as the city heats up for a stifling summer. We wander onwards, called on by a house lurking high up behind a screen of trees. Stopping to say hello to a duck and then to a Russian Crow – they that look as though they are wearing a thick coat over their normal black livery and we are entranced. Up through the woods, past a manicured lawn on which a bride, her groom and attendants are being photographed, and there is the house. To say the Russians didn’t do things by halves is a ludicrous understatement. This is not a royal palace and yet it’s scale would rival Buck House. It is enormous and quite quite stunning. It has been perfectly restored and is nothing short of breath-taking.
And all around are people just enjoying the place. A lady feeding a squirrel, several brides and their wedding parties being photographed – one has a choir of children to sing to her, others are just here for the photos. It is a relaxed, calm, peaceful place and the two hours we spend sitting, wandering and drinking it in no doubt erase stress with the ease of a knife through soft butter. It should be noted though that at some point we try to get ahead of the children’s choir who are by now stopping to sing at any and every strategic point the choir-mistress spots and it begins to resemble a farce as we walk faster and faster to escape being sung at A-GAIN.
Later that night we have the main social event of the Conference. A boat trip up the Moscow river. This is the 25th annual International Symposium on Space Terrahertz Technology. It does occur to me that if the boat sinks that’s an awful lot of brains on the river bed. By the end of the evening though, I do believe most of the brains had been murdered by wine, beer and vodka which was just as well since when we docked the hosts clearly felt coaches back to the hotel were un-necessary thus scattering the aforementioned 130 strong hoard of boffins on the quayside to fend for themselves. Russians are brave, that is all I can say.
PS: When we arrive back in Tverskaya, the street is closed and barriers separate the pedestrians from the road. A distant rumbling increases to a roar as the Russian military make their slow progress from Red Square where they have been rehearsing for the May 9th Victory Day Parade. In one sense this has to be the cliche that the West defines this country by, but for me it was an absolute privilige to get this sneaky peak and served to clear my head instantly.