Friday, June 29, 2007

Snapshots Of Moscow

1999

I've been to Moscow twice. I love it because you can get a palpable sense of history visiting the city. The first time I visited was in early 1999 with fellow political blogger Peter Smallbone. It was shortly after the Russian financial crisis and we stayed in the legendary Communist carbuncle known as Hotel Rossiya overlooking Red Square (the prominent building in the background of this pic I believe it has just been demolished). In terms of nightlife, Moscow felt like arriving at a party that had just ended. The city had been hit hard. One day a protest was taking place on Red Square and we realised that the cordon that was in place was clearly to protect hotel guests from the massed crowds of Communists. If memory serves me right the crisis in the Balkans was the source of disharmony. On the first night in Rossiya we went for a drink in the hotel bar which didn't have a happy ending. In our group were a bunch of ex-pro-footballers one of whom we managed to persuade to stay with us for a few shots. We ended up leaving him in the bar, but the next day it turns out that he met a woman in the bar who he didn't realise was charging until after sleeping with her. The incident spoilt his holiday which was a pity.

2002

Next time I visited Moscow was in 2002 and things had changed out of all proportion. Restaurants catering for every cuisine under the sun had popped up and there was a buzz pervading the city. Having a confident Muscovite girlfriend as a guide was another plus. Marina had her own personal driver which was handy on a night out. One night we went to an expensive Georgian restaurant which was quiet following a shooting the week before. They had a house magician who went from table to table. As I was struggling to find some change for his two minute show Marina dropped him a note worth £20. I think that's what he got at the other table, too. It was a moment that sort of clunked. On the same day there had been street protests from government scientists who were demonstrating about their low pay. This magician had just earnt way more in five minutes than they did in a week. Another weird incident was when we went to visit the Kremlin. All tickets for the day were sold out, so of course we bribed a Kremlin guard to get in. The guard had no hesitation in assisting us, but was keen to make sure that we didn't get caught. On the basis that they only check foreigners' tickets he told Marina "As long as your Western boyfriend doesn't smile you'll get in all right!". He was right. I can do sullen Russian.

3 comments:

james higham said...

Moscow is Moscow and Russia is Russia. We in the regionals don't see any correlation.

The prices in Moscow are ridiculous,at western levels without the accompanying level of service; the traffic is unbelievable, the people sullen and often rude [there's a cartoon character called Masyana who highlights this]and yet if you do know a local, it helps.

I know of many westerners who come in and are seen as pure fleecing targets, unless they have a Russian guide and then it's better if it's not a woman but rather two or three 'businessmen'.

Life in the provinces, depending on the province, of course, is better, meaning it is less frenetic, less expensive and the people often warmer.

An example is hitching a ride. Locals here do it all the time. 80 roubles get you from the outskirts to the centre, whereas in Moscow, it would be a mafia taxi driver who charges a standard $60 or 1800 roubles.

You have to understand that the prices in Moscow are insane for what you get. Night at a concert - easily $100 and here no more than $40 for top seats.

You've probably gathered that I prefer to live in the regions.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very interesting post, especially about how the city has changed. Loved the stories about the footballer and getting into the Kremlin!

james higham said...

Yes, Welshcakes:

As long as your Western boyfriend doesn't smile you'll get in all right!

This raises one of the issues which really gets my blood boiling. The conditional sentence.

They love to create situations where there are none. There was no issue getting into a club, foreigner or no foreigner, no issue at all.

Why should a foreigner not get in to one? Answer - because they charge the westerner exorbitant amounts.

So someone comes along and says to you: "It's all right, we can solve this problem for you. Just don't do this but do this."

You're then meant to be grateful to the person who helped you when there was absolutely no genuione problem to solve in the first place.

They seriously invent them for the hell of it and to make money.

Buying a property. My businessman friend did so and 10% of the total price was largesse to both the mafia and the local authorities.

When I asked him why he bothered, he simply said, "I don't need problems arranged for me."

This is why I don't make any deals or do any business over here.