By Tatiana Shvetsova
Chistye Prudy (Clean Ponds) Boulevard is one of the most scenic corners of old Moscow. Writer Yuri Nagibin describes this place in his story which we offer
you. But first a few words about Chistye Prudy from Moscow residents who often go there:
Muscovite Klara Belousova says she and her husband love to walk the old pond situated in the middle of Chistye Prudy Boulevard. The boulevard is surrounded by old trees behind which there are old buildings of rare beauty. And nearby there are two theatres — the Sovremennik theatre and the theatre founded by the prominent film actor Oleg Tabakov. The Tabakov theatre is especially popular among the younger generation.
According to muscovite Yekaterina Milovidova, it's difficult to describe the charm of the place in words. Milovidova keeps pleasant memories of Chistye Prudy where she, her husband and her elder son used to go for a walk when they lived in a nearby street. Here her son made his first steps, here he gave food to ducks and swans and here he went skating in winter. Chistye Prudy, Milovidova says, is engulfed in a calm and joyous atmosphere with children accompanied by their parents and grandparents and lovers sitting on benches or strolling about the boulevard. The spirit of old Moscow is felt strongly here.
And now we pass on to the story by Yuri Nagibin.
A famous Russian publishing tycoon Ivan Sytin begins his story about Chistye Prudy with the following:
Of all the boulevards making a green ring around the oldest part of Moscow, Chistye Prudy is the most attractive: in summer it attracts visitors by the long
shadows cast by its trees and pleasure boating, and in winter by a skating-rink on the frozen pond.
For me Chistye Prudy means much more than just a street or a boulevard. It reminds me of the most beautiful moments of my childhood comprising both joy and sorrow.
I used to know every bench, every tree, every bush of nettle near the old boating station and every "Beware of tram!" sign blinking in red at the crossings. But we took no notice of the tram and crossed the lines just in front of it to jump on and then off as it was going at full speed. For us, boys, trams were something like wild horses for the children of the prairies. It was a competition of sorts, and I don't think we lost it…
Chistye Prudy reminds me of the first slide of the skates cutting the ice, the first snowman and clay house made by me. And though I didn't become a sculptor or an architect, all this made me understand that I could create something with my hands.
In Chistye Prudy Boulevard you could meet Chinese women with unusually small feet who sold paper lanterns and stuffed toys of different colors springing up and down on rubber bands. There were also vendors of balloons, wafers, ice-cream and bird-shaped lollipops. You could lick such a lollipop for the whole day.
We were taken to Chistye Prudy Boulevard by our nurses, then we went along it on our way to school, the Main Post-Office and the Mayak cinema, where a whitewashed wall served as the screen. The boulevard was our reading-room and our shooting gallery. It was our club without walls. At this place was our recruiting-office, which, in 1941 sent many of us to join the Soviet forces fighting on the battlefronts of World War II.
In Chistye Prudy we learned to love the beauty of nature. We were moved by the yellowness of the first dandelion on the pond's bank. We went fishing in the pond and catching fish in the centre of the city was like a miracle. We felt the warmth of soil under our bare feet and were fascinated to watch the life of water beetles, dragon-flies and crustaceans.
All this pertains to the recent past. And now a bit of history.
The boulevard was laid out in the 19th century, but in records it can be traced back to the 16th century. The place was a cattle market at the time. Then it was the tsar's slaughter-house. And later on it became home for butchers who refused to pay taxes, and slaughtered cattle in their own courtyards. The offal was taken to a nearby pond which was called Foul because of the stench. This came to an end under Duke Alexander Menshikov, the right-hand man of Peter the Great. Menshikov had a palace of stone built for him on the site of the present-day Main Post-Office, laid out gardens, called the butchers to order and ordered the pond to be cleaned. Thankful residents dubbed the pond “Clean” which in Russian is Chisty, and the area Clean Ponds or Chistye Prudy.
Alexander Menshikov was a man of imagination. He had the Church of St. Gabriel built near his palace, and wanted it to be higher than the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great in the Kremlin. Under the supervision of a talented architect Ivan Zarudny the stone top of the church was supplemented by a wooden tent, and the golden spire made the church more than three meters higher than the tower. The structure burnt down in the early 18th century. It was restored later but without the wooden tent. This, however, gave it a new beauty since the church makes a good sight in any season and at any hour. It's especially beautiful in spring, when it is light-pink with the golden spire sparkling against the rising sun.
The pond was cleaned but there was another trouble — a small stream flowing from behind the row of shops trading in timber. The stream created such a pool of mud in nearby Pokrovka Street that the old Church of Trinity there became dubbed the Trinity Church on the Mud. And though in 1750 architect Ukhtomski worked out the draft of an underground pipe that could carry the waters of the nasty stream directly into the Yauza river, many years passed before the city authorities coped with the problem and Pokrovka Street was paved with stone. As if in mockery on both sides of the muddy stream lived doctors and chemists, among them the owner of the then biggest, two-storey chemist shop Souls.
Chistye Prudy Boulevard is connected with the foremost Russian poet of the 19th century, Alexander Pushkin, who was born and spent the first four months of his life in Nemetskaya Street, or German Street in Russian, which is situated not far from the boulevard. Pushkin was then taken to his mother's estate in the Pskov region. The Pushkins returned to Moscow in 1801 and settled down in a neighborhood near Chistye Prudy. There was no boulevard at the time. The family lived in a wooden house next to the stone palace of Duke Yusupov, a structure that has survived to this day. The Yusupovs, one of Moscow's richest families, let the outhouses because they wanted to make friends with people they considered important. Hence it was no wonder that Duke Yusupov, the Director of Imperial theatres and a devoted theatre-goer, who owned a company of serf actors, singled out
the poet's father Sergei Lvovich Pushkin, an excellent reciter and amateur actor, who organized performances at home.
The Yusupov palace and the large garden opposite it with its lanes, summer-house, grottos and artificial ruins and statues made a lasting impression on the poet, who wrote in one of his unfinished poems later how he used to steal away to the splendid darkness of someone else's garden. Chistye Prudy is mentioned in several of Pushkin's poems.
Chistye Prudy Boulevard has few memorial buildings, since the side of the boulevard where they used to stand has been rebuilt. But there remain a few buildings which go back to the Soviet era, — first of all, number 6, where the People's Commissariat of Education was once quartered and where Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of the founder of the first Socialist state Vladimir Lenin, used to work for many years. Here worked Lenin's close associate Anatoly Lunacharsky. When I turned 7 and went to school, the People's Commissar of Education was Bubnov, who was Army Commander during the Civil war of 1918-1920. A portrait of him in military uniform with Order of the Red Banner on his chest was printed on the covers of exercise-books. Together with my friends we watched him get out of his black Rolls-Royce. At that time the car was considered a remarkable achievement in technology. Later on Commander Bubnov fell victim to Stalin's purges. The old Rolls-Royce has taken part in all films about the October revolution, among them the one shot after my script. I was moved by seeing the car again.
A bit farther there is the Moskovsky Rabochy publishing house. The high building was built in place of the old two-storey house dating back to the middle of the 19th century. After the revolution it housed the military printing works. The other side of the boulevard is notable for numbers 3 and 21. Number 3 was home to a prominent Russian actress Glikeria Fedotova who lived there until she died in 1925. In her younger days Fedotova was famous for playing Shakespeare’s characters and in her older days — for playing the characters of the Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky.
Number 21 built in the 90s of the last century has a memorial plaque saying writer Nickolai Teleshov used to live there. Prominent writers, scholars, musicians and painters gathered at Teleshov's on Wednesdays. Among them was the great Russian basso Fyodor Chalyapin. Recalling those evenings writer Ivan Bunin said that the guests read their books to each other, criticized them and then had supper. Chalyapin, who was a frequent visitor to the place, also listened, though he hated listening. Occasionally he sat down at the piano and performed Russian folk songs, cabaret songs, the Song of the Flea by
Mussorgsky, or the Marseillaise. Once he came and said he was dying to sing. He called up Rachmaninoff and asked him to take a car and join him.
There was a bit of acting in all that, of course. But it's easy to imagine what that party looked like with Chalyapin and Rachmaninoff brought together. Chalyapin was right when he said on that day that he was to be listened to at such parties, near Sergei Rachmaninoff, and not in the Bolshoi Theatre.
The Sovremennik theatre stands on the site of the former "Coliseum" cinema where we used to watch the best films and the then best jazz bands, among them the one conducted by Varlamov playing in the hall.
School 311 I used to go to was situated in one of the side streets. Now it's the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. Once in every ten years I come here to meet with my former fellow students. I don't know why, but our old classrooms with desks and scratched blackboards have been preserved intact. During one of these meetings a girl from my class screamed as she saw a love message carved by knife on the desk's cover. The inscription was made by our friend Kolya, a tall shy boy, who volunteered for the frontlines during the war and was killed in the city of Volkhov, near Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.
As I was working on this story I felt such a yearning for Chistye Prudy Boulevard that I went there, only to find out that the place had undergone no changes in the past few years. As usual, I recalled my younger days, the 30s. And when we, who left school in 1938 get together we express our credo by paraphrasing the words of the great Pushkin that the world's wilderness and Chistye Prudy is home.