Eisenhower Fellowship 2016 - Part 2

The second of two blog posts chronicling my travels to Spain and Russia as an Eisenhower fellow.

PART 2: RUSSIA

Prologue

Day after day I gasp, choke and cough up metaphorical blood at our political climate, discourse, disfunction, bigotry and lack of compassion for one another with leaders who are anything but ethical or just. The last few months have been colored for me by the lens of my Eisenhower Fellowship last November and December in Russia. I met so many kind, open, curious Russian citizens, doing their best to survive and to make their communities places where art serves to mirror society, to confront political ills which are ever-present and to digest the role that Russia was beginning to play globally, in relation with Ukraine, Syria, the U.S., the former Soviet states, China and a host of other fraught relationships that were popping up regularly in the news. My trip in Russia was not a diplomatic one. I am not a statesman nor a negotiator nor was I there for any advocacy or humanitarian purpose. I went knowing I could learn something from Russian theatre artists and that, perhaps, in forging some long-lasting relationships, I could build some small bridges between our two countries that are caught up in the most bizarre bromance/frenemy/cold war part 2. The Russians I met were concerned about the annexation of Crimea and the unwavering support of Syria. They were also concerned about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their isolation from NATO and their friends and partners in Europe. I left with one strong idea from an artist I met. I told him I admired Russians for making provocative, political work in the face of artistic censorship and even jail for some controversial artists. He said “Yes, this has become our tradition in many ways. But I long for a day when theatre can do other things, other than simply resist. We don’t have the opportunity nor the time for theatre to be simply beautiful, dreamlike, innocent, full of whimsy or decadence or to talk about other realms of human experience. Our theatre must push back because if we don’t do it, nobody will. But this is not the only thing theatre can do.”

Prologue Part 2

It might be easy to imagine the stark differences between visiting Spain in May and June and visiting Russia in November and December. Certainly, the long nights, bright blue skies and warmth of Spain was profoundly different than the short days, dim light, snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures of Russia. And no doubt the flavors of the Mediterranean - the fresh fish, the variety of pork products and the cheap but delicious wines - were nothing like the wild Siberian mushrooms, the frozen river fish, the warming borscht and the flavorful vodkas. Sun hats gave way to wool caps; a single layer of linen gave way to many layers of polar-tec, fleece, wool and silk to ward off the chilling winds. But my Fellowship in Russia put me in touch with many of the same types of institutions as I met in Spain, providing an interesting way of comparing and contrasting the cultural sectors, the systems of artistic support, the theatre traditions and the way in which theater specifically and the arts more generally are integrated into society as a whole.

Statues of Chekhov and Stanislavski
Chekhov and Stanislavsky in front of the Moscow Art Theatre

Russian theatre is large and robust to say the least. Artists are revered. Over the last 100 years, statues have been mounted and have been torn down. Apparently there are statue graveyards containing hundreds of Lenin and Stalin statues that the government no longer wants to see in town squares across the vastness of the nation. But statues of artists remain. Russians can agree that even as regimes change, writers, poets, architects, choreographers, directors and actors have helped to shape and create Russian identity. I spent a night in a train cabin with a lovely fellow, a 32-year old lawyer who works both in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He is from a medium-sized town in Siberia and spends his idle time skiing. But he could name at least a half-dozen theatre directors and could tell me about their work, about scandals they’ve been involved in, and about what their contributions have been to the artistic and intellectual life of the country. He knew of Stanislavski’s importance around the world and seemed genuinely interested in talking about the value of Russian literature to his life.

During my 15 days in Russia, I spent time in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinaburg and Tyumen (the last two are cities in Siberia).  I left the Fellowship, as with Spain, with impressions, stories, questions, ideas, needles in the haystack and rallying cries.  And my head continues to spin with notions about bringing some ideas I saw and experienced to my work in the U.S.

Impression

Russia spans 8 time zones! At the Western end is Kaliningrad and the eastern tip is somewhere in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Moscow is, indeed, the artistic and cultural capital of the country and is filled with many of the country’s major cultural institutions from the Bolshoi to the Moscow Art Theatre. St. Petersburg, artistically speaking, is considered more conservative than Moscow; though the Hermitage is one of the great museums of the world and has an artistic staff that welcomes new ideas. But the rest of the country is vast, diverse and, to me at least, a land of endless discovery, cultural curiosities and fraught history.

Map of Russia

Rallying Cry

Inside the Hermitage
Inside the Hermitage

On a miserable, snowy day my two guides and I trudged to the Hermitage to spend a scant 2.5 hours in the museum. We bought tickets online, avoiding the hour-long line outside where hundreds were waiting, wet snow piling up on their hats and coats. We shed our layers in the immense coat room, handing it all off to a little old lady in exchange for a plastic number so we’d be unencumbered as we walked through the museum. We were there to soak in the grandeur of the place but also to see an exhibit by Jan Fabre who had been commissioned by the Hermitage to do an “intervention”. Quickly, we walked by Greek and Roman antiquities, Chinese pottery, Medieval weapons and top-tier works from nearly every era. We walked through rooms with gilded ceilings, marble columns, gold leaf pillars, royal red carpets leading to historic thrones. The opulence on display was memorable. Finally, we found the sign for Jan Fabre’s exhibit and began to meander through about 10 galleries that he had treated or bludgeoned or nourished depending on your point of view. Amazingly, the Hermitage had commissioned Fabre to do whatever he wanted with these 10 galleries as long as he left the art that was already on display intact. But he was allowed to add other works in and around the paintings, create sculptures for the middle of the gallery space, hang things from the ceiling and otherwise use the gallery and its contents to create something new. I read the book where patrons could write impressions at the end of the exhibit and it was clear that many people (certainly those who weren’t writing in cyrillic) thought this was blasphemy. But for me it was a revelation. At times he mocked the work on display, reminding a viewer that a gallery filled with portraits of the hunt with all its blood, violence and death is about destruction and has a vulgarity to it even if it hangs in an esteemed museum and, historically, symbolized some kind of triumph of humans over animals. Fabre made many sculptures out of desiccated beetle exoskeletons, a material that reminds one of death and decay, even when the sculpture presents an animal that appears every bit alive. He mixes the sacred and the profane, questioning Christianity and its morality. A favorite piece is a very life-like sculpture of a museum visitor with his nose pressed up against a painting, resting two millimeters away from the canvas. A pool of blood encircles the sculpture at its base and you realize the fellow is suffering from a nose bleed, so profound is his artistic revelation from the painting.

Jan Fabre exhibit at the Hermitage

Fabre is known as a provocateur, a madman who shakes up the establishment, who wants to tear things down in order to re-build things under different circumstances. The fact that this most-revered of establishment museums curated him and gave him free reign to re-make a part of the museum is a bold statement unto itself. In spending time there I saw the older works in a new way and I actually had a deeper appreciation for the classical works since I saw them, partly, through his lens. I think I would have held them at some distance had his work not been present. His work brought the themes to life in a fresh and contemporary way in a setting that is anything but contemporary. The museum, at least these 10 galleries, was alive in 2017 in a way that so many established museums are dead. Bravo to the Hermitage for risking blasphemy in seeking relevance.

This theme of mixing something old with something new is ever-present in the theatre world, too. Directors are famous for bringing new ideas to classic texts and audiences are hungry to see something familiar presented in a new and novel way. They might lack for truly original work but they more than make up for it in forcing the theatre to speak directly to today’s audiences.

Jan Fabre's work at the Hermitage

A Story

It was 11pm as we opened the door to a traditional Siberian restaurant, the best restaurant in Tyumen, the capital of Siberia. Our table already had a plate of forest meats and cured fish as my host had pre-ordered some of the delicacies. There was elk and reindeer, certainly, as well as wild boar, rabbit and horse. On the fish plate there was smoked fish from Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia, salted river fish from rivers close to the Arctic Circle and there was one fish, served frozen, which I later learned is the only river fish in the world that can be eaten raw. I would later eat a dozen other things including forest mushrooms marinated for several weeks in salt and served with cream and red onions, venison cooked at the table and served with berries, cloud berries in honey and a 100-layer cake. To drink, we had mashed cranberry juice and many different types of vodka, my favorite being a horseradish flavored vodka. We were in a teepee-style space with a wait staff that kept the food and drinks coming throughout the 3+ hour meal. 

Earlier that day I had taught a workshop to individuals from about 5 independent theatre companies in Tyumen and had given a lecture, broadcast on the radio, about Pig Iron and the history of Devised Theatre. I had also seen a contemporary dance performance inside Russia’s largest state theatre space. 

Tyumen is an oil-rich city, 2 time zones away from Moscow and a 4 hour plane ride. It feels like a frontier town that has its own character, its own charm and its own sense of itself. Being an oil capital means that the city is well-heeled despite being isolated. But its culture is lacking because the main industry in the city is oil and it has never had the desire nor the funding to build a cultural sector. But that is beginning to change and my visit was part of an initiative organized by leaders from these half-dozen independent theatre companies to bring in artists from Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as from abroad to teach and bring in new ideas and forms so that these companies can have models about how to work. This initiative is just taking hold but my host has convinced the local Minister of Culture to invest a bunch of money in renovating an old movie theatre to turn it into 2 venues with rehearsal and office space for 8 young companies. This consortium runs a street theatre festival in the summer in Tyumen and has invited major companies from Europe to perform. The day I was leaving, a guest from Moscow was giving a day-long workshop on immersive theatre forms so members of these 8 companies could expand their own possibilities for performance. 

As we sat and dined and as I slightly drunkenly contemplated a late night invitation to have a truly Russian experience of dunking in the river and then warming up in a sauna, I began to be tremendously grateful for venturing away from the big cities to see a place like Tyumen and to meet the young artists who are forging an independent path – writing their own rules, negotiating their own futures – in a country where the only path that has been trod upon is the state-sponsored path. I hope to return one day to Tyumen, perhaps with a Pig Iron show or to continue helping these young artists to develop their unique voice and the region’s culture.

Food in Tyumen

Rallying Cry

During my 15 days in Russia, I saw about 13 productions. They were rarely less than 3 hours. One work, performed by the Masterskaya Theatre in St. Petersburg, directed by Grigory Kozlov and based on a 19th century Ostrovsky play, was 8 hours and I was disappointed to have had to leave in the middle to head off to see another play that night. The most memorable work I saw was at St. Petersburg’s Alexandrinski Theatre, a national theatre with two stages. This piece, EARTH, based on a 1930’s film of the same name by Alexander Davchenko, inspired by an Eisenstein film that was never completed, was directed by Maxim Didenko and has been in the repertory for 2 years now. Staged in an alley theatre format, the performance is set on a raised basketball court. Two teams enter, one red and one blue, to play a collegial game of basketball. Nearly wordless throughout the 90 minutes, the piece is a tight choreography (it was choreographed by a member of Nederlans Dans Theatre) that starts with movements inspired by basketball but quickly the friendly match takes a turn and the two sides compete with more ferocity. The basketballs are buried under the stage and they now play hockey. Hockey eventually turns into boxing and the stakes escalate between the two sides.  It ends in all out war with border fences built out of the floorboards, daring escapes from one side to the other, romance brewing across the fence and later murder, burial and ongoing trauma for both teams. The film on which the piece is based looked at the land grab by Russia in Ukraine and the collectivization of land in the 1930’s. In 2016, audiences gasped when seeing a red team (Russia) and a blue team (Ukraine) competing against one another with the red team as the clear aggressor from start to finish. Using this old film as a template, the piece is starkly critical of the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s role in throwing its muscle and influence around in countless independent countries that border Russia. My guide mentioned to me that he’d seen the premiere of the piece several years ago and he couldn’t believe someone would dare to make a piece like this, especially in such an esteemed national theatre. After the premiere, apparently, audiences gave the piece a 10-minute standing ovation. When I saw it, two years later, it received a standing ovation again (maybe for 3 minutes). Audiences crave work that risks so much. The performances are incredible, the movements are riveting, the score is pounding and just the right mix of aggression and tragedy. But people are responding to its risk and to its clear metaphor.

A scene from Didenko's EARTH.

I found this to be the most inspiring event of my trip. Sure, I might have a bias for work that is critical of Russia and so the piece certainly appealed to my artistic sensibilities and my global view on Russian politics. But even more impressive was the way in which Didenko dared to make such a work in a climate where dissidence and political critique can come with immense consequences. I felt, though, like he was working in a long Russian artistic tradition that, in some ways, has kept Russian art and certainly Russian theatre so strong and so vital for so long. The government must choose its battles. And were they to wage cultural war with Didenko and Alexandrinsky, they risk alienating these audiences who give the piece a 10-minute standing ovation. By making a piece of performance that is formally stunning and thematically daring, in one of the most highly respected theatres, he manages to sit on the knife’s edge and audiences know this and defend the work publicly. It reminded me of some of the risks taken by The Living Theatre in the 1950’s and 1960’s and, perhaps, the Wooster Group in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Didenko certainly set the bar very high and nudged me, in the most intense political moment in the U.S., to risk everything while making work of great consequence with a sure hand.

Another image from Didenko's EARTH.

Impression

Theatre schools in Russia follow in the tradition of Stanislavsky in what appears to be an unbroken line lasting more than 100 years. “Masters” (typically theatre directors or esteemed actors with a national reputation) select a group of students – often young, right out of their equivalent of high school which could end at age 16 or 17 – and spend 4 years in rigorous training with that single group. Upon graduation, often, the Master will then select another group. Each subsequent group is referred to as a “generation”. Another Master at, say, the Moscow Art Theatre School, might select another class a year later so there can be multiple classes of students at once but their entire educational universe is guided, nurtured and structured by their Master. There is no set curriculum that might be in common between one Master and another; though because of Stanislavsky’s influence, it is very likely that many Masters will start Year 1 with silent performance, followed by a series of Etudes meant to understand life, action, objective, physical circumstances and character psychology. Later, it is likely there will be intense scene study followed by the creation of a repertory. I believe that some graduating classes have developed over 7 full length works that are performed in repertory in the final two years of the program. Masters spend months auditioning for each generation. It is a very significant relationship that is developed and they might criss-cross the country to find young actors with great potential from places as far afield as Novosibirsk, Vladivostok or Perm. Hundreds of applicants are eventually whittled down to a class of about 25. Typically, a state theatre school will have a subsidy to host, say, 20 students who will have their tuition and room and board paid by the government. The remaining students – perhaps one or two international students – need to pay their own way. Classes run Monday-Saturday from 9 or 10am-10 or 11pm. I stayed several times until the bitter end and each time, the security guards were summoned to coax the students to leave to go home to bed. Masters organize their own pedagogical team including faculty in movement, acting, theatre history, literature, acrobatics, among other classes.

Statues of Chekhov and Stanislavski
The Moscow Art Theatre School

One particularly interesting project that got my pedagogical wheels turning occurred at the Moscow Art Theatre School within Dmitry Bruznikin’s program. His entire group of 25 students plus 10 faculty plus a film crew and others from the School took a 2 week journey by train from the western most tip of Russia all the way to the Eastern most tip. They took the journey in February, sleeping in small train chambers with 6 bunks each. Their task was to eventually make a new work based on the experience and based on interviews along the way. “Verbatim Theatre” is a new genre in Russia that quite a number of folks are looking into. The students were tasked to meet the train’s staff as well as fellow travelers to learn about their lives, about their reasons for traveling across Russia. It was also a way to learn about Russia itself – its geography, vastness, and diversity. The piece, then, might look something like a portrait of the nation, as told through travelers. I never got a firm answer as to how they raised the funds to pull this off – 50 people traveling by train for 2 weeks with all meals offered onboard. A film crew followed along and made a one-hour documentary about the trip that aired on Russian TV. I watched a portion of it at a rehearsal for the production that was to premiere in late December 2016. You see young 18 year olds struggling to get the courage to ask someone to be interviewed. You see this young group of students on the adventure of a lifetime, in the dead of winter, with a tiny train cabin as their home and a ¼ mile stretch of train cars as the beginning and ending of their research. You see these actors learning about lives of nomads, lives of people who commute for two days for a job or who are heading home to take care of an ill family member. You see the students learning about the train conductors and caretakers for whom their home is in constant motion, whose bodies have adapted to a subtle rocking of the floor beneath them and who focus on landscapes that pass by as opposed to landscapes that stand still.

Idea

Bring this idea to the U.S. In our climate of coasts and middles, wouldn’t it be illuminating to send a group of theatre devisers on a train for a few days from the coast to the middle with the intention of absorbing, interviewing, empathizing, learning, listening, mimicking, and carefully observing the people and spaces that are unfamiliar?

A Model

A few days before my departure, I was back in Moscow with an agenda that was somewhat improvised based on what had happened in the previous days and what felt important to know while still in country. I spent more time at the Moscow Art Theatre School, looking at more classes, observing different Masters. I hung out with some like-minded independent artists who work out of the Meyerhold Center. In fact, I saw a terrific circus-inspired performance that sprang out of Meyerhold’s complex and tragic biography. I learned about Liquid Theatre, a loose affiliation of artists who work in found spaces, on the street and make site-specific original works that are risky and highly physical.

The one meeting that was planned during these last days of the Fellowship was with the executive director and deputy director of the Theater Union. The Theater Union is an organization, housed in Moscow, which serves to support and nurture the entire field throughout the country. They have 77 regional affiliates and conduct projects all around Russia. They run a Sumer School for young professionals in a retreat center about an hour away from Moscow. The program is highly competitive to enter but once selected participants train with Master teachers and create 4 original works that are toured to Moscow in the middle of the summer. Some of those summer institute productions have become part of the repertory of Moscow-based theatres. The Theater Union also run the national Golden Mask awards. They archive theatre work and support theatre artists on trips abroad – to places like the Prague Quadrennial for designers and to support tours to international festivals. They have publications and a host of other platforms that serve to promote Russian theatre domestically and internationally. A lot of what they do supports emerging artists who are 3 - 10 years into their professional lives.

One platform that sounded exemplary gathered about 50 young theatre leaders from across the country for several multi-day workshops in Moscow over the course of several years. These leaders were directors, actors, designers, theatre managers, producers and playwrights. They were given professional development but also important chances to network with one another. They were formed into cross-disciplinary groups early on in the program and told to make a performance piece that represented “Theatre Utopia”. They spent a frenzied 3 days talking about what utopia might look like in the theatre and then creating a piece that represented it. They performed the pieces for one another as well as a panel of mentors who built on this theme through further workshop trying to guide them to be ambitious in their dreaming to achieve some form of the utopia they had created. The participants bonded and now, several years later, still rely on this affiliation in their professional lives. The producers get on the phone with the actors to pitch projects. The directors partner with the managers for new works, etc. If a question arises, this network is invaluable. The Theater Union captured these individuals at the perfect moment in their careers when such a program would have the most impact. It is clear that young leaders would benefit most when they are in that moment where they have been out working long enough to know how the ecosystem functions but not so long that they are set in their ways. They have now run this program several times. Participants are not paid to participate in the program but those from outside of Moscow have their transportation and housing covered. The costs for such a program are not enormous when you factor in how much is generated from bringing this group together in such a program. In the U.S., the closest equivalent is the Theater Communications Group. TCG has many different programs and believes in many of the same ideals. Their annual conference helps to link the whole country and highlights many of the unique and interesting regional qualities while recognizing many of the national challenges. What I found interesting about the Russian program was that it linked people who all have a stake in the future of the field. Not every actor thinks about that. But those that do should know producers who care about this and directors who care about this. Those like minds can help envision and then create a brighter future if they know one another and have the ability to actually work together.

The various workshops I taught while in RussiaPhotos from various workshops

A Needle in the Haystack

Nikolai Kolyada is an artistic force of nature. He runs a truly independent company in Yekaterinburg that lies on the other side of the Ural Mountains from Moscow on the edge of Siberia. Yekaterinburg was a closed city in Soviet times. This meant that no foreigners could enter and it might not appear on national maps. There were different levels of these closed cities. In some, locals couldn’t leave. It was a way for the government to protect its secrets. Yekaterinburg did not have this level of secrecy but it was a home base of the KGB and if you are high enough in the city to look down on it (I was fortunate to be staying on the 46th floor of the tallest building in town), you can see that there are perfect examples of Constructivist architecture in the shape of a hammer and sicle. The constructivists put forth a utopian ideal through their building design that valued community over individuality. Apartments had no kitchens and almost no common space. Apartments consisted of bedrooms and bathrooms. In the basement were the cantines where meals were served and eaten communally. This was thought to be both efficient and it also put forth a notion that men and women should all work and neither should also be responsible for the cooking and cleaning. Some in society would have as a job the duty to cook for others as opposed to a society where females did unpaid domestic work. It was quite a concept that ultimately cracked apart and was wholly rejected by Stalin who took things in the opposite direction, fearing group gatherings and collective power.

Kolyada Theatre
Kolyada Theatre

So in the midst of this setup, we find this one-of-a-kind theatre company, helmed by playwright/designer/director/usher/house manager/finance director Nikolai Kolyada. Without any state support, his theatre has 60 actors on salary and an additional 60 technicians, administrators, and others to keep the place running. He has over 40 productions in repertory and tends to add 5 or so per year. His company tours quite a bit, largely to make extra money to keep the theatre running. He is a well-known Russian playwright. Royalties from his plays being produced elsewhere in the country and reinvested into his theatre. He has bought 11 apartments over the years which he uses to house some of his actors. I had seen two Kolyada shows in Poland at the Festival Konfrontaje in 2009 and was eager to see his theatre in person as the plays had a unique world to them and his young actors were tremendously committed to the work and to the company. His production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD was stunning. His aesthetics run towards the folksy with traditional Ukrainian costumes and Russian and Ukrainian folk songs peppered throughout his pieces.

His theatre takes this aesthetic to some extremes. You walk in and feel like you’re in a Russian grandmother’s apartment. There are woven doilies on everything and tchatchkas on every surface in the lobby. The company has a bunch of animals, some caged, some just running around the lobby. Kolyada told me that in addition to all his other duties, he takes care of the rabbits, the turtle, the cats and the snakes. Most have appeared in a show or two. He wants his audience to feel at home, like entering an old cluttered space where old stories are natural. This is not a glass and chrome, sleek line, minimalist aesthetic. The performances are highly physical and his work with his ensemble is exemplary.

I asked Kolyada why he maintains the company’s independence and if he’s ever wanted to become a state theatre. He said no. Long ago he worked within a state theatre and found it creatively stifling and found that in a situation where things had a high level of stability, it created little “cancers” where people began fighting internally about nearly everything. His team doesn’t fight; they are too busy. They perform 7 nights a week. During the day, they rehearse new pieces, they take workshops, they prepare for tours, they train together. There is a lot of hustle that is evident within the culture of the company. They are not static and this keeps them on edge, focused on what is next as opposed to other concerns that can become contagious in a large state institution: jealousies, battles over resources, laziness, apathy, sabotage, etc. For all of this, his constant need to fill the house and to be reliant on box office and earned revenue is worth it. Many believe strongly in the support of the state but Kolyada is one who likes the directness of ticket sales and touring fees funding the 120 people on salary at the theatre. I spent a long day at his theatre – I watched a morning rehearsal, taught an afternoon workshop, watched a 3 hour play in the evening and then spent 2 hours chatting with Kolyada at the end of everything. I watched as he personally counted the evening’s financial haul and I watched as he divvied up everyone’s performance fees. He was really at the center of the circus ring with a hand in it all.

Kolyada

Epilogue

There were many things I saw and a few things I didn’t see.

I only met one female director and I suspect that women have yet to carve out or be nurtured into leadership positions on the same level as men.

Stanislavsky is both revered and reviled. No one can escape his influence, even as the tradition mixes other influences. Stanislvaski remains the main reference point in training spaces and in professional circles.

Literature is very important to Russians and there is a common vocabulary among many, many citizens that spans classical and modern writers, artists, composers, and choreographers. Audiences arrive at the theatre very educated in both theatre traditions as well as the literary reference points so the theatre does not have “elitism” as a core brand as it does in many other countries.

Young theatre directors and actors are hungry for new ideas, new influences and new forms. I saw this in every city I visited and in nearly every encounter I had.

Movement is not a strong theatrical language and many actors I watched had unfortunate “parasite” movements - a sniffle, touching hair excessively, hand wringing - that spoke of a highly disciplined vocal and dramaturgical approach but not a physical approach to acting. There were a few exceptions, notably the work of Didenko whose performers were some of the best I have seen on any continent.

Several hundred people will show up on a Wednesday afternoon for a 3-hour open rehearsal to witness a part of an artistic process.

Every theatre has a cafe, bar and/or restaurant. Being at the theatre is an important social gathering spot and audiences ALWAYS had a mixture of young, old and middle aged.

There are no advertisements on the endless (several minute) ride down the escalator into the subway. 2 minutes of travel into the depths of the city and no advertisements. No advertisements in the below-ground stations and none in the subway cars themselves. To me, this left a profound impression. This part of one’s life - the liminal time between here and there - is, in my experiences, filled with noise and with posters yelping at you about this or that product or TV show. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, this was time for other things. This was time to be bored, for one’s mind to wander in any direction. It was time to look at people and to dream. One might think of this as being quite drab, but I found the tranquility it brought to be refreshing and even necessary for real imagination to take hold without pre-determined images or thoughts to appear. This is not an idea I know how to bring back to the U.S. but one that, in my opinion, would change things significantly if it were to take hold.