“Someone told me once that Moscow is a city of cops and sluts,” announced my new Russian friend, Ilya.
“Is that so?” I replied, laughing. “Pravda?” I say in the literary version.
I was supposed to meet the rentals in here last year, as the more avid will remember, but Billy No Mates wouldn’t give me a visa. The rentals went anyway and I flew over the top on Aeroplop in a big strop and refused to buy a single thing in the airport on my 6-hour stop over. Mama and Papa stopped in anyway and were not at all enamoured with Moscow, finding her an edgy, threatening beast.
My experience has been very different.
Not once did I feel unsafe as I roamed around on my own. Not once did the cops even glance at me in a ‘shit where’s my passport?’ fashion. As I wandered around the diplomatic quarter looking for my digs, three separate people came up and asked if I needed help. Perhaps it’s cos I’ve got a touch of the Ruskis about me – people KEEP coming up to ask directions and are surprised when I flounder in Engleeski. Might have had something to do with the moon boots, skin-tight jeans and high ponytail look that I was rocking at the time.
Some myths ought to be dispelled, while others remain steadfastly true. The mullet is perpetually in fashion; shiny suits and grey shoes are de rigeur for many business men. However, the Russians are not styleless. Sure, they have divergent tastes to the European norms, but all women – almost without exception – don’t leave the house unless dressed to impress. About 95% are in sky-high Louboutins. It seems that 1950s etiquette still applies in Russian cities. Similarly, if chivalry is dead in the West (bludgeoned and cowed by feminism), it lives on in Russia. I don’t stereotype when I tell you that when couples stroll through the parks, the ladies hold a bouquet of flowers and the gents carry the bags. By and large, they are not rude either. Those that are are exclusively employed by the Hermitage and Tretyakov gallery. It has to be said that they are not a naturally smiley people – disconcerting when you’re used to a culture where smiles break the ice – but their language and interactions are full of niceties and courtesy, if you can just break through the language barrier.
Which, at the moment, I can’t. I’ve more or less grasped Cyrillic; what remains is to learn words. I’ve got some basics ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’, ‘1, 2, 3’ (no more than that yet), ‘good morning’, ‘goodbye’ and the like, but have you ever tried to have an adult conversation using just those sentences? Not recently, I imagine. Pre-prepared phrases wilt in the face of rapid-fire Russian and supermarket cashiers don’t take kindly to the dumb foreigner routine.
I need verbs in order to at least create pigin sentences. I don’t have any. It’s going to be a struggle, but once again, feeling linguistically impotent frustrates me beyond measure so I’ve started trying to cram as I walk down the streets. I look a bit insane.
I wanted mostly to soak up the ambience of Moscow, an economic and political powerhouse at the moment. Just a few days before, Putin had been sworn in at the Kremlin as ‘Ultimate Leader of Mankind’, or something like that. I believe it’s an eternal term.
Nipped up to the Red Square to see where they’ve been keeping Lenin for all these years, check out St Basil’s and wander around the Kremlin. There was a pretty convincing lookalike of El Presidente posing for photos outside but I wimped it without company to bolster my resolve.
They’ve built this insanely good statue in honour of Peter the Great (see below) but it’s caused some controversy since some say that the Georgian sculptor has created an ugly eyesore. Me, I think it epitomises Russian style but see what you think.
The Stain Skyscrapers are worth taking in, in all their 1950s splendour and I took the chance to peruse a few centuries of Russian art at the Tretyakov State Gallery, which boasts a collection of 160,000 pieces. The Pushkin Gallery also looks impressive but it focuses on European art so <raspberry> to you.
Then I went underground to wonder at the extravagant architecture of the Metro, and that deserves a whole blog in itself.