Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shopping Adventures at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 Airport

A couple of weeks ago, perhaps a lifetime ago, after our overnight train arrived Moscow, after the taxi ride from the station to the airport, I found myself thinking about you, dear blog readers. Yes, you and you. . . and YOU. I was thinking what sights might be of interest to you at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2, the international airport. Care to come along?

So here's the outside view of the main terminal. That's the best I could do with that scene. See, my luggage was sitting there by the entrance, unattended. And some man, clad in a red jacket, was loitering a bit too close to my stuff, so I had to make it snappy.

Inside the airport was a different story: We're not supposed to photograph in airports, you know. But being one to push the limits from time to time (who, me?), I did ask the security officer if per chance I could capture for you the big digital schedule board. It's huge and when it's updated every few minutes, things flutter and whirl and it makes the sound of a thousand pigeons startled into flight. How to explain that board in English? Well anyway he said, Sorry, no photos. Actually he said Nyet. Because for one thing he speaks in Russian. And for another thing, that's every official's favorite word. And you think I'm kidding, don't you. Nyet, nyet, a hundred times nyet.

But after the joys of check-in and passport control, fine gift shops await the departing passengers. Allow me to confess right here in this public form that I have yet to request permission to photograph in those gift shops. I just whip out the camera and start shooting. Quietly of course. But so far, no one has deemed that much of a security threat.

Here's some insider information: The best-kept secret of that airport is the gift shop up on second floor. It's like a whole secret world up there. The selection is astounding, as are the prices. They would be comparable to other airport shops but the stuff there is so totally Russian. The choices are almost overwhelming so I decided to narrow the focus.

Let's concentrate on matroshka dolls today, shall we? Ma-TROSH-ka dolls, the wooden nesting dolls, are the most popular souvenir of Russia. The dolls above are the prettiest. Matroshkas like these often portray characters from Russian folk tales. See the price, 1,800-some rubles. Let's see, 23.5 rubles to the dollar earlier this month. You do the math. . . without a calculator, I'd say it's well over $10. Well over.

Recognize any of these Santas? There's Santa Bush, Santa Clinton, another Santa Bush, Santa Reagan and Santa Carter painted on matroshka dolls. Imagine if you will, what a popular item this must be. Surely every visitor hopes to snatch up such a masterpiece.

Perhaps I could mention here that the Russian word, саркасм is translated sarcasm in English. It's a cognate lifted from one language into another and pronounced nearly identically in the two languages. But I digress - how did I get off onto all that? Oh yes, I mentioned the popularity of this souvenir item. Surely I wasn't being sarcastic. (Or was I?)

World leaders on matroshka, anyone? Perhaps you'd like a set of German leaders? Or would you prefer the U.S. presidents in something other than Santa attire? For the hard-to-please, there's the Castro matroshka. Just imagine what a keepsake that will be someday soon. There's probably Prince Charles and the whole royal family around here somewhere too. Why, I've even seen the Texas A&M football team painted on matroshkas. Or maybe it was the UT Longhorns. Who knows? And who cares? Well, apparently somebody, somewhere does.

These are the simple matroshkas of all. I once saw a matroshka of this sort in a Russian family's home. And that, dear blog reader, was the only time I have ever seen a matroshka doll in a national's home. It's mostly a tourist thing, best I can see. But that one little doll looked like a surviver of the years Stalin. Those were rough years, as you would know. Not only for matroshkas.

Now here's the big mama. Figure she'll set you back a couple hundred dollars. The big question, how many dolls does she hold? Oddly enough, I didn't manage to get that information. I'd guess. . .well, 16. Or maybe 32. Hard to say. Oopsie daisy, somebody needs to get this young lady's top and bottom aligned. We can't have her there in front of the entire world with her design skewed up, can we? Nyet, nyet, a thousand times nyet.

Say, do you happen to own some matroshkas? Please tell us all about your matroshkas. We're dying to hear!


Jeanette M said...

Yes, I have matroshkas, but they are all quite NOT the common types. One set was purchased for my hubby, who generally dislikes all Russian souvenirs I bring home for him. But he loves is matroshkas...because the are painted to be Rams football team members (or, former members). My second set was painted by a friend of a friend. She disassembled several sets, painted them all, and then inscribed names on the base of each doll of all the participants in the Bible study I gave there in 2004. The set is displayed on a painted "tray" so all of the dolls can be seen. There are about 25 of them.

Last but not least is the most unique and most precious. It is from one of the southern, former Soviet Union regions (Bashkiri?). The design is very simple, very peasant-like. The colors are muted, as if they are actually plant dyes, not paint. I first saw it in a cabinet while visiting a friend. I learned much later that Russians are very prone to giving a guest something they admire, so now I'm very careful. But yes, I was given the unusual matroshka. I later learned this doll had been given to my friend by her mother as a Women's Day gift. Her mother died of cancer when my friend was only 20 years old, and this doll was one of the few things she still had that her mom had given her. Can you imagine how precious this treasure is to me?

Eileen said...

Hello Jeanette, Thanks much for your comment. What a clever idea to have matroshkas labeled with names of those in a Bible study - and keeping the dolls out on a tray is a neat idea too. Funny about your husband and the Rams matroshkas. Oh my, how poignant about the very precious matroshkas given to you after you admired them. Very sweet indeed. Interesting the Russian habit of giving something to a person who admires it. Wonder if that applies to admiring someones child too? ;)

Also thanks for your email that box arrived. So glad! (Oh, and please use my address rather than the address.) So glad you like the salt dish!