“The tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes never! You’re asked an unexpected question, you don’t even flinch, it takes just a second to get yourself under control, you know just what you have to say to hide the truth, and you speak very convincingly, and nothing in your face twitches to give you away. But the truth, alas, has been disturbed by the question, and it rises up from the depths of your soul to flicker in your eyes and all is lost.” Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fan of the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov and most especially, of his wonderfully satirical and surreal novel, The Master and Margarita. For those of you who have not read the book, I’m afraid I am unable to satisfactorily summarize its plots, their interaction and the wonderful detail included therein. If pressed, I would reduce the story to its core and tell you that it contains two distinct narratives and deals, in part, with their interaction. The first plot deals with the Devil (in the book referred to as “Woland”, a foreign professor) and his spectral retinue wrecking havoc throughout 1930s Moscow. The second provides a fictionalized treatment of Pontius Pilates’ interactions with Jesus Christ before and after his execution. If any of that sounds interesting, I’d highly recommend reading the whole thing. The story is at once funny and tragic and the writing immerses you in a world filled with beautifully imagined characters and their (often absurd) interactions.
As my friends Tatiana and Dima knew of my love of The Master and Margarita (and are themselves great fans), they invited me out a couple of weeks ago to visit some of the Moscow locales featured in Bulgakov’s masterpiece. Included in our tour was a stop at “Patriarch’s Ponds”, where the memorable opening scene of the novel takes places. While impressed, I didn’t lose my head and we continued on to visit the “Odd Flat”. Only a two block walk from the Ponds, it is an apartment once occupied by Bulgakov and his wife during the twenties.
In the novel, the “Odd Flat” becomes the Moscow pied-a-terre of Woland and his gang (a group that includes an enormous talking cat named “Behemoth”, a dour knight and master illusionist and a demon-assassin). In real life, the apartment on Bolshaya Sadovaya has a history of its own. It was part of one of the first communal apartment complexes in Moscow home to a wide variety of artists and “creative types”. Over the years, the flat (and surrounding premises) have housed gatherings of different artistic and social groups and served as an unofficial cultural center in Moscow. As you can see in the pictures, it is a little worse for the wear these days.
So, once again, I was afforded the chance to wander around the real life inspiration for the setting of The Master and Margarita and once again, the experience was utterly devoid of any surreal moments. But while it lacked talking cats and there were no gruesome magic tricks, the whole experience left me with a few images and impressions that will surely enhance my imaginings the next time I re-read Bulgakov’s best book.
Photos from My Bulgakov Tour (courtesy of Tatiana & Dima)
Looking for Woland & Berlioz
Azzazello, Behemoth and I
Walking up to the “Odd Flat”