Ussr

Alexander “Sasha” Frish, a ringmaster with the Moscow Circus, was born in Chelyabinsk, in Siberia, and now resides in Moscow.

“YOU CAN LEARN A LOT BY LOOKING AT PEOPLE”

Sasha Frish juggles the schedule far a day in Moscow

“For myself, I would wake up at five in the morning and I would go to the Grand Theater, the Bolshoi Theater, where the wonderful Bolshoi Ballet performs. At 5:30 A.M. in the early spring my favorite ballerina gets there; her name is Maya Plisetskaya, and she comes to teach a class. I would watch the ballerinas enter the theater. They are very beautiful to see.

Folk-art connoisseurs know Zagorsk for the handmade toys that originate there—especially thematreshkas, or nesting dolls. Members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and also architecture and history buffs, know the town as the site of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, an architectural complex that has been a ranter of church activity since medieval times. Founded circa 1340, the monastery complex was, over the centuries, alternately besieged and bombarded by invaders, and expanded and elaborated. Now it contains the white stone Trinity Cathedral; a five-dome Uspensky Cathedral, built by decree of Ivan the Terrible along the lines of the Kremlin cathedral of the same name; seven additional churches and chapels; and various other buildings— including the only museum of toys in the Soviet Union. The monastery is an active one, and religious services are regularly held.

Zagorsk, some forty miles northeast of Moscow, is accessible by road (the Yaroslavl Highway) and rail (the TransSiberian Railway).

Afterward, I would walk along the little streets to the old circus building on Tsvetnoy Boulevard, or what we call the ‘Boulevard of the Clowns.’ If I had only a second in Moscow, I would definitely visit the Boulevard of the Clowns. This is the home of the Moscow Circus. Of course, if the circus is performing, you should go see. The circus is a special magic.

But in the morning, I would stand there on the street outside the circus building and watch all the people coming toward me, because people are funny when they don’t know you are watching them. I always look at people and compare them and how different they are. You can learn a lot by looking at people.

After, I would go to the Kursk railway station. People leave from there to go to the sea. Buy yourself a kvas and a little pirozhok. There is a bridge under which the train runs, so you can see the train departing. And nearby, in the early spring, you can walk by a big apple tree in bloom, which I think is very beautiful, like the ballerinas, especially in the early daylight.

I would sit under the apple tree and watch the trains. I love the trains. I do not like to fly. I take trains all around the Soviet Union. With planes, if it rains they stop flying, but not trains.

I like Moscow. I live there. But one of my favorite places is Zagorsk. Zagorsk has a very old monastery and churches, and a special church school and other interesting buildings. I think it is the best small city in the Soviet Union. Zagorsk is maybe a two-hour drive from Moscow. It is really something to see.

It is wonderful anytime, but it is especially beautiful at holiday time — Merry Christmas time. With the old buildings, it is just spectacular. Everybody comes to see. It is one of the cities featured in the film Peter the Great, with Maximilian Schell. It’s a wonderful film; you know it? And other films were made there too.

If I had a week, I would buy a ticket and travel all over the Soviet Union by train. After seven days you would know everything—past, present, and future. The people in Siberia, where I am from, have an open heart, and when they find out you come from America, they will make the happiest face you will ever see in your life. And when you have come to the last point in the Soviet Union, Nakhodka, you can buy a ticket and go straight to Tokyo.”

—interviewed by Fran Golden