My only visit to Moscow – so far – was in the summer of 1968.
Yes, I am old.
I was booked to return in June 2020. The trip was cancelled, obviously. I have vouchers from Aeroflot and S7 but will I be allowed to use them before they expire? That sentimental journey had been planned around re-creating a bit of the 1968 one – my Aeroflot flight from Rīga to Moscow.
I have been back to Russia since then, but only on a brief business outing to St Petersburg, and that was in the mid 90s. I was really looking forward to the combination of revisiting old haunts plus seeing all the changes.
A Gentleman in Moscow is set in Moscow, largely in the Metropol Hotel, close to the Kremlin and on the route you would take from there to the Bolshoi Theatre.
The narrative follows the existence of a Russian count in the years following the 1917 Revolution and how that event affects his life. A key fact is that he does actually have a life, having been spared the firing squad and sentenced to indefinite house arrest in the Metropol.
A gilded cage is still a cage.
“This, of course, is why the grand hotels of the world’s capitals all look alike. The Plaza in New York, the Ritz in Paris, Claridge’s in London, the Metropol in Moscow – built within fifteen years of each other, they too were kindred spirits, the first hotels in their cities with central heating, with hot water and telephones in the rooms, with international newspapers in the lobbies, international cuisine in the restaurants, and American bars off the lobby.”
I really enjoyed the book, and his knowledge of the setting is impressive. I do not know the Metropol, although it is still there and can now be added to my itinerary for when I can get back to Russia.
I have many vivid memories of my 1968 visit, in spite of the passage so many years. We stayed in what is now the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel, literally across the river from the Kremlin and Red Square.
Well, fingers crossed (and everything else) that I get to use those vouchers sometime soon.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2021