Combining great Russian literature with the pleasantness of a Russian park, Patriarch’s Ponds is a quiet location to spend a couple of pleasurable evening hours in Moscow. Patriarch’s Ponds is located in the posh Presnensky District, just a block off of the Garden Ring at the corner of Bronnaya Street and Ermolaevskiy Pereulok.
One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch’s Ponds. One of them – fortyish, wearing a gray summer suit – was short, dark-haired, bald on top, paunchy, and held his proper fedora in his hand; black horn-rimmed glasses of supernatural proportions adorned his well-shaven face. The other one – a broad-shouldered, reddish-haired, shaggy young man with a checked cap cocked on the back of his head – was wearing a cowboy shirt, crumpled white trousers, and black sneakers.
The first man was none other than Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, editor of a literary magazine and chaiman of the board of one of Moscow’s largest literary associations, known by its acronum, MASSOLIT, and his young companion was the poet Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov, who wrote under the pen name Bezdomny.
(translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor)
Thus begins the novel The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, considered to be one of the greatest novels of the twentieth-century and a literary favorite of Russia. Bulgakov worked on the novel throughout the 1930’s, and up until his death in 1940. The Master and Margarita tells the story about Satan making a visit to Moscow, and it is on Bronnaya Street that poor Berlioz loses his head at the end of Chapter II. Much more than just a tale about the devil, the real depth of the book is it’s satire of life under the Bolsheviks. Anyone interested in reading The Master and Margarita should make sure they read a well-annotated copy in order to understand the historical context of the novel and to appreciate the nuances of Bulgakov’s writing that were so important in the era of Bolshevik censors.
Kevin Moss at Middlebury College has put together an interesting site exploring The Master and Margarita.
Patriarch’s Ponds is a typical Russian park, and typical means a pleasing place to sit, walk, converse, and think, even in the middle of a busy city. Walking around the perimeter of the pond, you will find solitary people, couples young and old, groups of friends, and families, all enjoying nature, the water, each other, often times a book. At side of the park adjacent to Ermolaevskiy Pereulok is a series of modernistic sculpture depicting the fables of Ivan Krylov.
On Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya and not too far from the park is located Bulgakov’s flat. See the black cat? I was told that I would find an enormous black cat at the apartment. I imagined it would be a statue, but it was a live feline that I discovered. The cat does it’s best to impersonate a character from The Master and Margarita, Behemoth, who is a large black cat that stands on two legs, talks, and plays chess. Now a small museum, Bulgakov’s flat preserves some letters and other personal items of the author, as well as periodically presenting small theater productions.