About two score Muscovites gathered to watch the wedding of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and William, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, and Baron Carrickfergus, in the sun-flooded bar of the Strelka Institute, a design school and hipster hangout in a wing of what used to be the Red October Chocolate Factory. Half of them were British expats, dressed in their lacy Sunday best. If they couldn’t be home to watch the historic event, this place was perhaps as good as they could get in Moscow: dominating the view from Strelka, just across the water, is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the garish Easter cake of white marble and gold domes where Nicholas II and his family were canonized in August, 2000. Nicholas, once Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias (and now Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer), was the first cousin of King George V, who was also a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II (and great-great-grandfather to Prince William), and cousin to Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna (née Princess Alix of Hesse), who was also the cousin of Nicholas. (The three sovereign cousins looked more like twins and, perhaps ironically, perhaps predictably, were not all on the same side in the First World War.) William is basically family here.
This was not, however, on the minds of the Brits who came to celebrate. They had received an invitation from Natalie Horsting, the petite British chef who runs Strelka’s kitchen. Missing home, Horsting whipped up an English menu—roast rib of beef and tiered dessert stands of tea sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream—and invited fellow expatriates to celebrate. “The food is brilliant,” said Martyn Andrews. He was from Liverpool, and draped in a Union Jack.
Kate Partridge, of London, was there to watch “a bit of our heritage and our history unfolding, really, and we can watch it even though we’re two thousand miles away from home.”
“I’d watch it even if I was on the moon,” Andrews said.
The two were waving the flags provided by Horsting, seemingly devoid of the conflicted feelings of some of their more egalitarian-minded countrymen. (“For the last thirty years, the monarchy has gotten such bad press,” Andrews complained.) Perhaps fittingly, Andrews and Partridge both work for Russia Today, an English-language cable channel founded by the Kremlin in 2005 to improve its image abroad.
Behind them sat a group of five young women, classmates from the Moscow Architectural Institute. They sat peeking over the high-backed wooden booth, the festive, edgy bows in their hair bobbing as they watched the wedding on the big screen and gossiped, expertly, among themselves.
“What kind of wave is that?” said Anna Khodina, imitating Kate’s gestures, which she thought overly floppy. “She’s supposed to wave like this.” Khodina did the classic stiff-wristed parade wave.
“Maybe it’s a protest,” said Alice Starobina. “Like her car.”
“What does it mean that he’s putting on his gloves?”
“It means, that’s it. He’s holstered.”
“Don’t they have noisemakers?”
“Yeah, sure, they tie cans to the back of the carriage.”
“Wait, where are they going? They have to kiss now.”
“No, they kiss in the palace. In front of the public.”
“Didn’t they say her dress was Alexander McQueen?” said Khodina. “Isn’t it by the creative director of Alexander McQueen?”
“I think it’s some secret royal atelier.”
“She looks good in this role, a convincing Duchess.”
“Oh my god, what’s on their heads?” (This, on seeing the cavalry ride off with their tassled helmets.)
The girls, who want to found their own design studio (Palip Bureau), bemoaned the lack of such national traditions in Russia. “We use to have all this here, but it was cut off in 1914,” says Natasha Ermolenko, by which she meant 1917. Now, when the children of heads of state get married, they do so in strict secrecy. “I don’t even know what Putin’s second daughter looks like.” No one at the table seemed to know what the first one looked like, either.
It was hard to pinpoint what the women liked so much about the royal wedding. Mostly, it came down to the fact that it wasn’t a Russian wedding, which involves touring all the historical monuments of Moscow in one long and drunken photo session, and, at the reception, screaming “Bitter! Bitter!” to make the newlyweds kiss, and counting loudly, in unison, the seconds they keep their lips locked. “If you compare the Russian wedding style to the English wedding style, I think the English style wins,” said Starobina. “Russian weddings are a bit, how shall I say it, are a bit tasteless. They’re very loud, raucous, and this is, well, very traditional.”
Meanwhile, on the pedestrian bridge linking Strelka to the Cathedral, Moscow wedding season had clearly begun. Wedding parties swilling champagne from clear plastic cups roamed the bridge, as the brides posed for pictures by the monument. I counted six.
The Royal Wedding, Moscow Style [TNY]