Museum Test Drive

The journalist combined the history of Russia with the atlas of its roads

For a year and a half, the journalist of the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, Lena Faber, (formerly Novikova), traveled to small towns, villages, manors, and museums, some destroyed and some rebuilt, even her original assignment was to write about her test drives in the latest model of cars.

Lena secretly incorporated her visits to undiscovered museums and galleries (an unwelcome topic in the automobile department, which I soon made the most wanted), into the car reviews, which was against newspaper policy.

When they read her first column, the editors were amazed that the combination of topics could be so entertaining, which started the world’s first newspaper column combining a gearbox description with an anecdote from the Leo Tolstoy museum. No worries, we squeezed the cars out and left only anecdotes. 

The Ministry of Culture provided great informational support, but, as it turned out, it did not have a complete list of all historical and architectural monuments. Publishing essays from issue to issue, on various sights and landmarks, Lena made up such a list. Its uniqueness is evidenced by the fact that some publications began to use it, with some variations repeating the route she traveled, since all was indicated in detail. Of course, you can look through the brochures, but you will not find a live report from the place in them, and might avoid going to an unfamiliar place. Just like, after reading a book about different varieties of cheese, in the store you are sure to ask the seller what he personally tried and will not buy one that the seller, even unfamiliar to you, did not taste.

An admirer of the column once called the editorial office. Every year he and his friends celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of the Mongol Tatars right on the Kulikovo field. Last year, it didn’t work out, so lovers of Russian history took beer and just read Lena’s report. They say that they felt like they drove themselves, pouring through the pictures.

From the author

I will tell you my unique technique of writing this column: most of the trips were absolutely impromptu. There were two reasons for this: lack of time for bloody phone calls and a desire to see different people in different places without prior notice. I was on par with a traveling reader. It turned out that it was easier for me to drive 500 miles and unexpectedly find something interesting than to call the prospective museums and warn them about the exact time of my visit, inappropriate and usually, affected by unforeseen traffic circumstances anyway. I didn’t want to force anyone to wait for me to arrive until late. The trouble is, I wake up, ready for endless heroic excursions, but by the time I get there, the people have already gone for lunch. While I’m on my way, photographing the roadside, museums do strive to close on time.

By the way, I can’t stand any helpers or companions next to me. With the exception of one, let me call him Navigator. He kept all the accompanying notes, combining places with time in my erratic routes.

Guides! Museum directors! Many thanks. You opened up and showed me everything. Knowing that I would write only a paragraph or two about the hero of your place and time, you went for it, seeing my interest, and took me through all the museum halls.  As a result, what by assignment were supposed to be test drives and reviews of the newest models of cars, turned into descriptions of impressions from what was seen and heard on the way. My, the author’s, the mood was contagious to the reader. This is probably why, in search of an interesting route, many did not refer to countless guides and reviews, but to my essays instead. It turns out that an interesting travel diary is a popular genre even for unsuspecting readers who bought the paper for information about traffic jams, accidents, and thefts. They opened my weekly three-page essays with museums and mansions and plunged into reading them.

Smolensk region, 9 PM. Headlights snatched a sign of the Twardowski house-museum from the darkness. The security guard calls the director, all is well in the village. She asks if we can come back in the morning. Of course not. What will we do here all evening? So she came with her daughter, both wrapped into scarves after the bania, and opened the museum. Oh no, the power was out! There was no flashlight, they did not expect the blackout. In the dark, with the light of a camera flash, she showed us everything. All the pictures came out!

People! You are good, honestly. You come to the car, give me directions, push me out of the snowdrift, pump up my tire, and even replace it in the end. If something else were needed, you would help. But I was the lucky one driving brand new cars, in which surprises rarely happened, and accordingly, there was no need for outside help. Although …

On the muddy open plains, Saturday noon, the village of Bogolyubovo, Vladimir region. In just a kilometer – a stone’s throw away, the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl. It seems that a Volga and UAZ are on their way there, so I decided to go too. The local boy volunteered to show us the way, and we set off. We drove along a dirt road, but in one spot made a mistake – turned into a wide sled track. And were punished immediately. What looked like a flat patch of land turned out to be a small ravine filled to the brim with snow. The sled passed, but the three-ton Tahoe we were in slipped right down to the bottom. Mum!!! The machine, of course, is not mine. What will I say to GM … The Navigator remained to guard the car, and the boy and I went to Bogolyubovo for shovels. We returned with a crowd – the youngest and most sober residents of the far end of the Bogolubovo village came out to dig us out. At dusk, I sent the boy, Arseny home, but they dug, dug, and dug. That is, I was sitting in the car. And it fell deeper and deeper. The guys rested on their conscience, no one started a conversation about money. They rocked, and raised their hands – Tahoe did not move. Wait till the morning and then look for a tractor? No, dig! About midnight, after another unsuccessful attempt to rock the monster at least a little, the Tahoe suddenly jumped out of the clay porridge and, to the screams “hurray,” soared onto a steep bank. Incredible – the ravine is narrow and deep, like a hunting pit. We drove away from the village, like the Chelyuskinites. I mean, we also waved.

Myshkin. There are no hotels there. I’m with a girlfriend, it’s scary to spend the night in a car. Also, what’s a travelogue without communicating with people? Then let’s try to find somewhere. Yes! On the first attempt, however, after some visual analysis of a stiff man strolling his little granddaughter, we were invited to stay. How his wife could cook!  A year later, I eventually happened to be in the аrеа again with my children and the Navigator.  In the morning they went to work, and left us the key!

In roadside cafes, however, they squinted when I was taking notes from the menu. And one, a big Georgian, at the entrance to Yaroslavl, was very angry: “If you are the inspector, then why are you hiding, you need to introduce yourself.” I’m, I say, not an inspector, I am a journalist. Hmm.. a journalist? Yah, Moscow’s Komsomoletz. Uh, listen how do I know, show your ID. Why, I will drink coffee and eat khachapuri without my ID, it is in my car. I don’t believe it, he said. Okay then: if I bring my journalist’s ID – the khachapuri is on you. Deal.

OMG, what a table was served … The owner himself sat down with us, and called his wife. You are driving and driving, he said, who will feed you in your museums? And please take the khachapuri to your children. And always, when you pass by, stop in. A year later, I drove in, and the name was already hung out – “Genatsvale”, the second floor was opened. Now many Muscovite-celebrities visit them. There are no such khachapuri in Moscow!  

Traffic police! You decorate the roadsides with luminous vests, diversify our path with the wave of wands, salute even those who do not deserve it, greet and wish them a happy journey. The most common sin on the road, which hangs on me, is speeding. “Where are we rushing to?”- it’s a common question. The best answer is the honest one: “To museums”. Was always forgiven for that.

The author thanks for the help in preparing the materials of the “Trassal”: Advisor to the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation Lyudmila KOLESNIKOVA; Director of the detective enterprise “Bureau of Investigation” Alexander PIMKIN, General Manager of the car rental company “Hertz” Sergey DOLMATOV; Leo FELDMAN, Director of the car rental company Dionysus Auto; Beres multi car rental company director Boris GOLDINOVA; Head of the advertising department of the tour operator “Ascent travel” Marina BARULINU; Volvo product manager Alexei BUDANOV; PR-manager of “General Motors” Maria MAGUAIR; PR-manager of Ford Motors Oksana HARTONYUK; Commercial Director of Citroёn Center Moscow Igor Tochilov; BMW PR Manager Anna DUKSOVU; sales director of the Klarus Trading Auto Show, Yuri SOLOVYEV; Director of the fishing club “Russ” Natalia MUSHTAKOVA; press-secretary of the “Extreme” Park Diane MAMEKO.

Lena Faber used to work as a journalist at a mainstream Russian newspaper, wrote books for a major publishing house, and directed her original concept on TV. In 2009, she moved to South Africa, taught at the university, took up running, and earned a silver medal at the World Masters Athletic Championship in California and, in the meantime, won an international photo contest with following up solo exhibition. In 2014 she "shut the door" and gone hiking the Appalachian Trail, cycling from Chicago to LA (US Route 66), from Maine to Florida, from London to Orkney, etc. Now in MidCoast, Maine.