Novodevichy

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Human life, old and young, takes place between hope and remembrance. The young man sees all the gates to his desires open, and the old man remembers-his hopes, wrote an Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer.  

Novodevichy, or "New Maidens Convent" in English is the most venerated cemetery in Moscow, was founded by Vasily III in 1524 to commemorate the recapture of Smolensk from the Lithuanians in 1514. The convent’s main cathedral was consecrated in honor of the Smolenskaya Icon of the Mother of God Hodigitria, which according to legend was painted by St. Luke himself. Here lie the bodies of some of Russia’s most venerated writers and poets. Chekhov was one of the first to be buried in the cemetery in 1904 and Gogol’s remains were re-interred here from Danilov Monastery not long after. The 20th century writers Mayakovsky and Bulgakov are buried here, as are the much-celebrated theatrical directors and founders of the Moscow Art Theater, Nemirovich-Danchenko and Stanislavsky.  

The composer Scriabin, the architect of Lenin’s Mausoleum, Shchusev, aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev and the famous art collectors Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov are also buried there.  

Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.  

One of the most haunting memorials in the cemetery is that of Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva. Nadezhda means "hope" in Russian. Nadezhda Alliluyeva´s death is still veiled in mystery. Her bust was fashioned by sculptor Ivan Shadr from white Italian marble. But the original is now displayed in the Tretyakov gallery because marble is susceptible to weathering… hope, and hopelessness, persist despite the facts Nikita Krushchev, the only Soviet leader not to have been buried within the Wall of the Kremlin, was given a famous memorial gravestone, crafted in black and white marble by the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, who ironically fell from Krushchev’s favor, and symbolizing the ambiguity and contradictory nature of Krushchev’s period in power.  

The privilege of being buried in Novodevichy came only with an agreement stamped and signed by the top authorities. However, the state sometimes chose candidates for Novodevichy against their will.  

Such was the case with Soviet author and head of the Union of Writers of the U.S.S.R. Alexander Fadeyev, who committed suicide in a challenge to the state. In a rebellious letter, he denounced Soviet rule and asked to be buried at Vvedenskoye cemetery next to his mother. Despite the slap in the face, the authorities still brought Fadeyev to Novodevichy. Gogol’s tomb is symbolically linked with that of another famous writer, Bulgakov, author of "The Master and Margarita." When moved to Novodevichy, Gogol’s tomb was changed. A part of the original tomb was used in the new tomb. The remaining original stone was stored for years until Bulgakov’s wife saw it and chose to incorporate it into her husband’s tomb, only later discovering that it was part of Gogol’s first tomb.  

One of the cemetery’s ironies is that victims of the Soviet regime–rejected, jailed, exiled and commissioned by the state to work in special prison camps for researchers and scientists, known as Sharashki are buried next to the state’s executioners. Thus, the cemetery houses two previous unknowns, Grigory Nikulin and Mikhail Medvedev, members of the NKVD who took part in the murder of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Yekaterinburg.  

Many other prominent Russian scientists, writers, public and military leaders are buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, among them a hero of the 1812 war poet Denis Davydov, Decembrists Matvei Muravyov and Sergei Trubetskoi; General Brusilov; writers and poets Valery Briussov and Alexander Tvardovsky; composers Sergei Prokofyev and Dmitry Shostakovich; painters Valentin Serov and Isaac Levitan; singer and actor Fyodor Chaliapin, one of the greatest Russian singers ever to appear in Western opera houses. A huge man with dark-timbred basso, Chaliapin was one of the first singers to apply psychological techniques to operatic acting. His hands, like Lugosi’s, seemed capable of telling an entire story independent of plot. The ashes of Anna Pavlova, indisputably one of the great ballerinas of the twentieth century, have been brought back to Moscow to Novodevichy almost 70 years after her death. In 1931 she contracted pleurisy. Doctors could have saved her life with an operation that would have damaged her ribs and left her unable to perform. Pavlova chose to die rather than give up dancing. As she lay dying she is reported to have opened her eyes, raised her hand and uttered these last words: "Get my swan costume ready." A few days later, at show time at the theatre where she was to have performed The Dying Swan, the house lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and while the orchestra played Saint-Saëns familiar score, a spotlight moved around the empty stage as if searching in the places where Pavlova would have been.  

Time, a brutal passage and decay, is also a form of awareness, a birth of consciousness that knows itself to be temporal.  

Perhaps a real life is not an existence, however solid and undeniable, but the best or most memorable moments of a existence, instants of exaltation or insight, timed when the self is most itself: real life rather than mere living.  

There is another possibility: that the real life, as of anyone who has succumbed to what I call the "strange habit of human death", is just the life we shall never see again, the life that was once secret and is now lost. Biography in this sense is not a quest for truth but a refusal of death. The refusal is vain in the literal sense, since nothing will bring these persons back. Beyond all easy spiritualism, the dead do speak, they counsel us through memory, through our late but often luminous understanding of what they would have said.  

Self-discovery and self-definition are the rivets of memory and will and imagination. Memory is an act of will, and of the will at its most determined, lucid and courageous. To take our broken pieces of recollection entirely literally would be to miss almost everything that matters about them. The past is not a foreign country but an abolished one; the present of that past is a foreign country- Novodevichy… and one hundred years crumble between my fingers.  

My voice makes memory speak, and speak now, the past is present, time is neither lost nor found but multiplied. All of this allows me to be time’s subject but not its slave. The fact that in my fictional world things might be different, is a form of freedom… .  

The time…it passes and although we measure its passage on clocks, it indolently writes itself into the ageing body and never looks back. Our quest is not for a unit of time but rather for a universal perception of the sense of time-true time, pure time, perceptual time, tangible time, the texture of time, the lining of time and its essence. Time is a fluid medium for the culture of metaphors.  

Time and space-the tricks of the damage-strewn world, the pile of debris we call history; but they also represent their successes. They are their successes. Like Time they sustain the magic that makes it vanish.

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