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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Peredelkino, a Peaceful Respite
Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen

The Pasternak house and museum

he village of Peredelkino is well known, it is so close to Moscow both geographically and culturally, that it can be considered to part of the Moscow experience. Many people live there all the year round, including a few foreigners; however if you arent that lucky, you might want to visit.

The first mention of Peredelkino in fiction was made back in the 1920s by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novel Master and Margarita'. Bulgakov called the place Perelygino and installed one of the novel's characters, the critic Berlioz there. Both writers and critics received dachas in Peredelkino from the government. One of Boris Pasternak's neighbors, for example, was a Marxist critic Ivan Bespalov and another an original prose-writer Boris Pilnyak.

If you travel by train, as soon as you get out of the station, you'll see a grove of pine-trees on your right and if you walk along the road going up to it, you will come across the wonderful Transfiguration Church whose interior was created in the Art Noveau style. This is one of Patriarch Alexei's residences.

Further down the road, you'll see the famous Peredelkino cemetery on your right, where Pasternak and other famous writers found their last refuge. Step back onto the road and cross over a bridge crossing the Setun River. The Dom Tvorchestva (the Writers Recreation Center) is on the left. Past this building to the right is Pasternak's Alley. The poet's house, #3, is architecturally unusual; a two-storey semi-circular veranda going sharply forward makes it resemble a ship floating out of the woods.

Inside the house, which is now a museum, a cozy, hospitable, dining-room is decorated by fine paintings and graphic works. The poet's father, Leonid Pasternak, was a well-known artist of the 1920s. One of his most famous commissions was a series of illustrations for Leo Tolstoy's novels. Tolstoy used to visit Pasternak's Moscow apartment and legend has it that they became acquainted when the poet was 3 or 4 years old.

The K. Chukovskii house and museum

The poet's study on the second floor is decorated in sharp contrast to the decor of the first floor rooms. Everything is simple and ascetic there. Just the most necessary furniture, not very many books, an empty desk and an old office bureau, at which Pasternak used to write.

A simple iron bed is covered by a grey woolen blanket. In the corner stand the poet's boots, which he wore working in his vegetable garden. He used to grow potatoes, potatoes which supported the family during the difficult years.

There is a wonderful view from the window, which there should be, given the poet's intense communication with nature. It was in this house that Pasternak received the news of his Noble Prize award for the novel Doctor Zhivago'. It was in this house where he was left in isolation by the official literary circles later. It was in this house where the poet died on May 30, 1960.

Leaving Pasternak's house, you can walk down to a natural spring from where all the locals take drinking water, including the Patriarch himself, so the legend goes.

After quenching your thirst you might go back to the road and onto Serafimovicha Street. The house on your right, #3, belonged to Korney Chukovsky writer, critic and translator of Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and other English-language writers. You'll see a Wonder Tree. This is a tree from one of Chukovsky's fairy-tales on which children's shoes grow. This house, now a museum, was Chukovsky's home and dacha from 1938 until 1969.

Although a very serious critic and a brilliant fiction translator, Chukovsky is most famous as a children's writer. He started writing books for children when his son Kolya fell ill and the author simply wanted to entertain him. One of his most famous characters is Crocodile. You'll see a Crocodile image alongside Chukovsky's other characters on the fence across from his dacha these were painted by children as were the other images inside the house. His house is a museum you can go into it. Nearby is the Dom Tvorchestva also open to the public.

Chukovsky's scholarly writings earned him an honorary doctorate at Oxford University. When he was awarded this he danced around and leapt wearing a doctorate robe saying: That's the son of a cook for you. The son of a cook." There was some truth in that. Chukovsky was a self-made man and learnt English by himself, his teachers being hunger and thirst for knowledge. Chukovsky and his family had a wide circle of famous friends. Alexander Solzhenistyn used to stay with the Chukovskys at this house during tricky times of KGB censorship, when he was writing his The Gulag Archipelago'. Anna Akhmatova's banned poetry was hidden in a cupboard for safety. Did Chukovsky and others at Peredelkino have some kind of immunity from the KGB? None. On the contrary they were controlled by the KGB more carefully. One of the reasons why Peredelkino was allowed to exist in the first place was to get all the writers together. It was Chukovsky's daughter, Lidia Korneyevna, who wrote the famous Notes about Anna Akhmatova'.

B. Okudzhavas house and museum

Chukovsky died in 1969 at the age of 87. After his death the house was turned into a museum, and it contains rare photos connected with his biography, drawings by poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, paintings by famous artist Ilya Repin and Konstantin Korovin, and 19th century prints. The books lining the walls reflect Chukovsky's multi-sided literary ties and tastes.

The writers' village Peredelkino was created in the middle of the 1930s, according to a general plan and concept devised by Gorky. The basic idea was to give writers who lived there the opportunity to meet each other frequently, read each others' manuscripts and discuss them.

The first inhabitants of Peredelkino were: A. Serafimovich, Vsevolod Ivanov, Leonid Leonov, Isaak Babel, Ilya Erenburg, Valentin Katayev, Leo Kassil, Konstantin Fedin, Boris Pilnyak, Nikolay Pogodin, Vera Inber and others. For some of them life in Peredelkino did not turn out to be long-term; many were arrested in 1937-1938.

After World War II the village (which is otherwise called the writers' town') grew. Among others Nikolai Zabolostky and Konstantin Paustovsky settled there. Alexander Fadeyev, Nazym Khikmet, Konstantin Simonov, Maria Petrovykh and later Yevgeny Evtushenko, Andrey Voznesensky, Bulat Okudzhava, Bella Akhmadulina and Anatoly Rybakov all moved here.

This list of poets and writers is far from being complete. It shows just how closely Peredelkino was connected with the history of Russian literature of the 1930s-1990s.

The  Transfiguration Church

The present situation is the same as in other elite country settlements. The rich buy property and land, and some of the methods used to acquire properties are not always honorable. Sometimes they threaten the writers, showing them false purchasing documents of their houses as if they have been already sold out. For example, the house in Serafimovicha Street (most Streets in Peredelkino bear names of famous writes), which used to be the dacha of Chakovsky, the editor of Novy Mir journal, is now the house of a new Russian. Such houses can be identified by their size and glamour.

If you have enough energy after Pasternak and Chukovsky's houses, you can visit Okudzhava's house, turned into a museum when the famous poet and bard-singer died in 1997. You can always stay the night at Peredelkino, at the Dom Tvorscvhestva.

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