22 May 2003 - On board the overnight train to St Petersburg
Memories of Moscow

OK, all this is a little back to front, because I am writing my final impressions of Moscow before I write about what I did there, but this is now, and I am being 'in the moment' as it were, and I have writer's prerogative anyway, so I shall write what I want, anyway.

I also reserve the right to ramble.

Anyway, I like Moscow. Really, all I need to do is learn some conversational Russian, and it's a rather pleasant place to spend a month in or so. That is, of course, if you have the money.

Maybe I've been fortunate to catch the city in its transitional state between leader of the communist world and complete embracer of free market economics. Maybe it's because it's spring, and I don't have to face cold, white Russian winters. Maybe it's because anything would seem good after a week when you've fretting over your lost credit card (incidentally, it's still lost, and I'm still fretting).

I think there is a sense of optimism amongst Muscovites. They have the opportunity to live the good life, with all that capitalism has to offer, and they want to grab hold of it. Well, the younger ones, anyway. There is a vibrancy about everyday Moscow that smells of promise and quite unlike the idea of Russia being slow, dismal and run-down.

People are actually genuinely helpful and friendly, if you're straight about needing help, and not overly condenscending. An honest smile and an effort to speak Russian brings out far more than the conventional "Excuse me, do you know...?" in English.

The paradox is that on the flipside, you cannot expect things to be smooth. You must constantly expect the worse, anything from when the girl behind the counter will notice you and give you service to whether or not a telephone you pick up will give you a dial tone. Most things Russian would not win prizes for reliability or quality and you get the impression things were probably more reliable when they were state-run and not privatised (if perhaps it lacked shine).

Our guide who met us in Moscow probably caught it when she said that there was no such thing as a typical Muscovite. It is a potpourri of opposites, when the country welcomes with gusto the reconstruction of cathedrals side by side with the never-ending production line of casinos and "gentlemen's clubs". Where it is possible to send SMS's anywhere in Moscow for less than 1 US cent, and yet nobody anywhere understands the meaning of "reverse charge call". Where tourists are welcomed to the Kremlin with open arms by the state (with organised guided tours, no less) and yet the cashier at the counter cannot (or refuses to) speak English.


posted on Friday, May 30, 2003 - permalink
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