Welcome To The Dollhouse

Anatoly Moskvin, a linguist and philologist born in 1966 in Nizhny Novgorod, had earned the unquestioning respect of his fellow academics.
He fluently spoke thirteen languages, and was the author of important studies and academic papers. Great expert of Celtic folklore and of Russian funerary customs, at the age of 45 he was still living with his parents; he refrained from drinking or smoking, collected dolls and it was murmured that he was a virgin. But everybody knows that geniuses are always a little eccentric.

Yet Anatoly Moskvin was hiding a secret. A personal mission he felt he had to accomplish, driven by compassion and love, but one he knew his fellow citizens, not to mention the law, would have deemed crazy.
That very secret was to seal his fate, behind the walls of the mental institute where Anatoly Moskvin now spends his days.

Nizhny Novgorod, capital of the Volga District and the fifth Russian city, is an important cultural centre. In the surroundin areas several hundred graveyards cand be found, and in 2005 Moskvin was assigned the task of recording all the headstones: in two years he visited more than 750 cemeteries.
It was a tough job. Anatoly was forced to walk alone, sometimes for 30 km a day, facing harsh condistions. He had to spend many nights outdoors, drinking from puddles and taking shelter in the abandoned barns of the inhospitable region. One night, caught in the dark, to avoid freezing to death he found no better option than to break in the cemetery burial chamber and sleep in a coffin which was already prepared for next morning’s funeral. When at dawn the gravediggers arrived, they found him sleeping: Anatoly dashed off shouting his excuses – among the general laughter of undertakers who luckily did not chase after him.

The amount of data Mskvin gathered during this endeavour was unprecedented, and the study promised to be “unique” and “priceless”, in the words of those who followed its development. It was never published, but it served as the basis for a long series of articles on the history of Nizhny Novgorod’s cemeteries, published by Moskvin between 2006 and 2010.
But in 2011 the expert’s career ended forever, the day the police showed up to search his home.

Among the 60.000 books in is private library, stacked along the walls and on the floor, between piles of scattered paper and amidst a confusion of objects and documents, the agents found 26 strange, big dolls that gave off an unmistakable foul odor.
These were actually the mummified corpses of 26 little girls, three to 12-year-olds.
Anatoly Moskvin’s secret mission, which lasted for twenty years, had finally been discovered.

Celt druids – as well as Siberian shamans – slept on graves to communicate with the spirits of the deceased. For many years Anatoly did the same. He would lay down on the grave of a recently buried little girl, and speak with her. How are you in that tomb, little angel? Are you cold? Would you like to take a walk?
Some girls answered that they felt alright, and in that case Anatoly shared their happiness.
Other times, the child wept, and expressed the desire to come back to life.
Who would have got the heart to leave them down there, alone and frightened in the darkness of a coffin?

Anatoly studied mummification methods in his books. After exhuming the bodies, he dried them with a mixture of salt and baking soda, hiding them around the cemetery. When they dried out completely, he brought them home and dressed them, providing a bit of thickness to the shrunken limbs with layers of fabric. In some cases he built wax masks, painted with nail polish, to cover their decomposed faces; he bought wigs, bright-colored clothes in the attempt of giving back to those girls their lost beauty.


His elderly parents, who were mostly away from home, did not realize what he was doing. If their son had the hobby of building big puppets, what was wrong with that? Anatoly even disguised one of the bodies as a plush bear.

Moskvin talked to these little bodies he had turned into dolls, he bought them presents. They watched cartoons together, sang songs, held birthday parties.

But he knew this was only a temporary solution. His hope was that science would someday find a way to bring “his” girls back to life – or maybe he himself, during his academic research, could find some ancient black magic spell that would achieve the same effect. Either way, in the meantime, those little girls needed to be comforted and cuddled.

You can’t imagine it”, said during the trial the mother of one of the girls Moskvin stole from the cemetery and mummified. ”You can’t imagine that somebody would touch the grave of your child, the most holy place in this world for you. We had been visiting the grave of our child for nine years and we had no idea it was empty. Instead, she was in this beast’s apartment. […] For nine years he was living with my mummified daughter in his bedroom. I had her for ten years, he had her for nine.”.

Anatoly replied: “You abandoned your girls in the cold – and I brought them home and warmed them up”.

Charged with desecration of graves and dead bodies, Moskvin faced up to five years in prison; but in 2012 he was declared suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, unfit to stand trial, and thus sentenced for coercitive sanitary treatment. In all probability, he will never get out of the psychiatric institute he’s held in.

The little girls never awoke.

Moskvin’s story is somehow analogue to the ones I told in this series of posts:
L’amore che non muore – I   (Italian only)
L’amore che non muore – II  (Italian only)
L’amore che non muore – III  (English)

Tari Nakagawa

Le macabre e malinconiche necro-ninfe dell’artista giapponese Tari Nakagawa sono davvero il lato oscuro delle Barbie, tristi e scheletriche bambole anatomiche ormai perdute.

Fragili, eteree, malate e spesso in decomposizione: queste bambole create dallo scultore giapponese hanno qualcosa di indicibilmente triste e al tempo stesso poetico.

Nonostante i loro sguardi persi e drammatici, ormai irrimediabilmente segnati da una fine imminente, le bambole sembrano sospese in una dimensione di dolore e di nostalgia, come se si aggrappassero agli ultimi brandelli di vita che rimangono nei loro corpi sofferenti.

Le sensazioni e le emozioni che suscitano sono molteplici. Il loro stesso status di bambole rimanda all’infanzia, ai giochi spensierati e innocenti, eppure queste sculture conoscono il tempo, il disfacimento, la morte, e non ne fanno segreto. Sono bambole “adulte”, che sembrano avere davvero un’anima.

Il blog di Tari Nakagawa (in giapponese, diverse immagini).

L’isola delle bambole

Una piccola isola messicana sul lago Teshuil, fra Xochimilco e Città del Messico, è chiamata Isla de las munecas, l’Isola delle bambole. Al centro di una affascinante leggenda, è divenuta nel tempo una curiosa e suggestiva meta turistica.

Quando il visitatore sbarca sull’isola, lo accoglie un’atmosfera sospesa: migliaia e migliaia di bambole sono appese agli alberi e penzolano in ogni dove, come piccoli impiccati senz’anima.

Eppure un’anima ce l’hanno, ed è quella della leggenda. Qui, si narra, proprio nel canale che passa di fianco all’isola, tre fanciulle stavano giocando quando una di esse annegò nelle acque scure della laguna. Molti anni dopo, un recluso e solitario uomo chiamato Don Julian Santana, si istallò sull’isola. Memore del passato oscuro del luogo, decise di costruire un santuario per lo spirito della povera bambina annegata. Cominciò ad appendere alcune bambole per cercare di placare l’anima della piccola, per donarle qualcosa con cui giocare.

Nelle terre vicine, Julian appariva soltanto per rovistare tra i bidoni della spazzatura alla ricerca di nuove bambole, o per acquistarne di antiche per pochi soldi. A poco a poco, fu la gente limitrofa che cominciò a rendere visita al solitario personaggio: gli abitanti del luogo portavano le bambole che avevano in casa per barattarle con i frutti e gli ortaggi che Julian coltivava sull’isola.

Con il passare del tempo, la collezione di bambolotti divenne enorme. L’intero isolotto fu popolato da questi giocattoli talvolta semidistrutti, rotti, esposti alle intemperie. Eppure questo tributo che Julian (e, assieme a lui, gli altri abitanti di quelle zone) offrivano allo spirito della ragazzina è la testimonianza della concezione, tutta messicana, della morte e della transitorietà.

Come il Giorno dei Morti ( di cui abbiamo già parlato) è un momento di riflessione sulla nostra caducità che si riverbera nella tradizione popolare, così anche l’Isola delle Bambole altro non è se non un luogo di meditazione sulla morte e sull’impermanenza.

Quello che è comunque notevole è l’aspetto surreale, macabro e grottesco ma al tempo stesso magico che il luogo conserva: inizialmente impressionato, il visitatore  coglie pian piano il senso di grande pietà e di raccoglimento dell’isola. La magia di queste bambole semidistrutte che ondeggiano nella brezza diviene un simbolo della nostra esistenza, e dell’amore che può legare persone che nemmeno si conoscono. Una bambina annegata, e un enorme santuario dedicato alla sua felicità, affinché possa giocare per sempre.

How sweet to be remembered that way! Wouldn’t you like to come up and see my wunderkammer? ;)Teshuilo