A few days before getting on a plane from San Francisco to Moscow, my father asked me if I was excited to go. I answered no. "No? Why not?!" he asked. A little while later my roommate asked me the same question: "Excited?" Her smile of anticipation disappeared the moment I replied, flatly, no. On the 5 a.m. car ride to the airport my friend from business school and her generous boyfriend who had volunteered to act as airport shuttle asked me again. When my reply came, the gravity of the silence that followed felt like the death knoll of anticipation. Why had I become Debbie Downer
, travel edition?
I have considered several explanations. Explanation #1: I caught ennui
in Paris. That pervasive French miserabilism
, that passivity that turns joie de vivre
into Sartre-sized* existentialist crises. Why be excited about traveling? Aren't we all going to die anyway, in fulfillment of our meaningless existences?
Explanation #2: I was living in "the present." My lack of anticipation for future events stemmed from a vigorous and pervasive sense of in-the-moment-ness. My fixation on the now, on the phone I held in my hand, on the apartment that surrounded me, on the car in which I rode, eliminated any fixation on the future. In other words, I had reached enlightenment.
Explanation #3: Moscow is cold. And I'm afraid of the cold.
Now let's leave all that aside (we'll return later) and move on to the food. The food in Café Pushkin
to be precise, a place known to delight Moscowite tourists from around the globe with its stylized Russian cuisine and distinctly French ambiance.
We arrived in full view of one of Moscow's most precious wintertime scenes: snowy streets with strings of white ornaments, the darkness of frosty, short days punctuated by the glitter of frozen light. Our hands were cold and our noses red, and so Café Pushkin greeted us, eager travelers, with the simple warmth of a dining table and good food.
The authenticity of Café Pushkin as a Russian dining experience has been contested by many, including my Russian dining companion who explained that Russia does not exactly have a "foodie" culture. Café Pushkin, in fact, was not created by a Russian chef, has no roots in czarist Russia, and was never frequented by the poet who shares its namesake [Pushkin]. Instead, it was born from a song.
As the story goes
, in the 1960s a French singer by the name of Gilbert Bécaud sang a song about his love in Russia, and their time together at a fictional Café Pushkin. Confused tourists searched Moscow for the non-existent café until 1999 when, at long last, they found it. Andrey Dellos, a French restauranteur, had decided to turn Café Pushkin into a reality and, in a bizarre story of creation, invited Bécaud to attend the opening, where he once again sang of the café and of his love, Nathalie
I'm not sure where I stand on authenticity and food, but something has to be said for eating in a place born from a song. And if Bécaud's expression while singing of Nathalie is any indication, his love for Russia, and for his Café Pushkin, is entirely authentic.
And so now we return to my pre-trip expressions of ambivalence. Were they fueled by ennui
? By present thinking? By a fear of frostbite? Or maybe something else? I prefer not to know.
All I can tell you is that on a day so cold it reached -14°C, I took refuge in a French café in Moscow and enjoyed a meal and conversation so engaging I forgot for a moment about the past, I forgot about the future, and was happily, forever, stuck in the present.
Thank you to Masha, Nir, Dianne, and Javier for a wonderful trip.
Tverskoy bulvar 26A
+7 (495) 739-00-33
*Actually, Sartre was only 1.53 meters, or just over 5 feet tall. No wonder no one used "Sartre-sized" to describe an existentialist crisis before.
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