Sunday, September 02, 2018

Between The 'R' And the 'M' In 'Normal'

First, the nuts and bolts.

Since one can't hail cabs on the street, a nice young Russian lady telephoned for an Uber for us on the train in from the airport.  Then helped us find it.  So we got to the hotel with minimum chaos.  Since my daughter works for Marriott, we got a high end room at a medium end price.  Surrounded by Gucci and Prada and blah, blah, blah other high end places.

It was also only two blocks from Red Square.  So, it still being only about 9 pm I thought to take Maureen over there. Our first experience with how long Moscow blocks are.   When we got there hundreds and hundreds of Russians were lazily sauntering around on a summer's night.  It turned out that Red Square was closed, but everything else was lit up in fairyland colors.  Said colors continued on the side streets as we made our way back.

Next morning we walked those long blocks again, were passed through a lackluster security line, and entered Red Square.  Since the big empty square is such an amazing sight, I was waiting for that same look of wonderment on Maureen's face as when she first saw the arc de Triomphe.

Except...  It turned out that this week Red Square was completely filled up with their equivalent of a county fair.  Complete with souvenir stalls, refreshment stands, a dirt covered rodeo setup, and a larger arena with bleaches going up to the sky.  Oh, and several construction cranes.  Poor St. Basil's at the far end poked out from the mess, it with its own problems of way too many tour groups.  Spanish and Italians, yes, but mostly mobs and mobs and mobs of Chinese.  Get used to it, world.

It turned out that it was Moscow's yearly festival, and that usually Red Square is open and empty and security guardless.  Oh well.  Off to the new Zaradnye Park across the street.  Except that the trees had just been planted and there was no shade and it was hot. and the exhibits weren't really open.  So back all the way around the fair to the front, over to the Kremlin wall, and wait in line for Lenin's tomb.  Except that now it was 1:05 and the tomb closed at 1.

Okay, around to the other side of the Kremlin wall, through the park there, and up to the gate where you start the Kremlin tour.  Except that the Kremlin is closed on Thursday.  By this point our old, tired feet are finding out that pounding the pavement really hurts old, tired feet.  Exhausted, we head back to the large, modern underground shopping mall right next to Red Square, get something at the food court, and wander back to the hotel.

Friday we're up and over to the line for Lenin's Tomb again.  To find out that Lenin's Tomb is closed on Friday.  Okay, back over to the Kremlin.  Now 'kremlin' in Russian just means 'fort'.  And the Kremlin is the 10-20 acres contained in the original Medieval Moscow fort.  Nowadays the north end has government buildings, the south end is park, and the middle contains a complex of 5 or 6 churches.  Strangely, I couldn't find the ticket stall that used to be at the entrance.  Even stranger, they just let everybody in.  Maybe it's a world cup thing or a festival thing, I thought.  Except that to get into the churches you needed a ticket.  Well, one lady let us in anyway, so that Maureen could see how Russian churches are covered floor to ceiling in gorgeous Medieval icons.  And, since all the churches are like that, for now all we needed was one.

Then it was time to buy a subway (Metro) pass and start galavanting around.  First we went to the top of Arbat Street, which back in Soviet times was the artsy area.  Now it's just a tourist street, although low key and a pedestrian walkway.  From here we went to Pobedy Park.  Now as you may know, Moscow subway stations are hundreds of feet below ground, and this particular station happens to have the longest escalator in the world.  The park itself was overrun with white tents and hastily constructed stages for the big festival weekend, so that many of the heroic monuments to World War II were kind of lost in the shuffle.  By now our feet and legs were wearing out, so we limped our way back to the hotel and took turns taking long, hot baths.

Now have I mentioned about the distances in Moscow, how it's impossible to just hail some sort of transport, how Russians just walk and walk and walk, and how lazy, old Americans can get so easily wiped out?  Well, Saturday morning we were up bright and early to go to the Ismaiylovo flea market.  And I have to say that it was one of the most creative flea market setups ever.  What they've done is construct a Potemkin Disneyland village of twenty different styles  of fake turrets and towers and gazebos and whatever.  Anyway, after walking and walking we found some suitable Soviet trinkets and such to take home with us.

Then it was over to the NVDK, a Soviet era celebration of Soviet life.  Which twelve years ago had fallen on hard times, but now, like everything else in Moscow, had been totally spiffed up.  And, it being festival weekend, there were just hordes and hordes of Muscovites walking towards and through it.  Now back in Soviet times there was no entertainment other than walking and walking through a park.  But now, even though virtually all other traces of soviet life are gone, walking and walking through parks seems to be Russians' favorite pastime.

Well, it was certainly exhausting poor old us, especially in the hot sun.  So once again we barely limped our way back to the hotel. Although on the way we managed to stop and ooh and ahh at a bunch of the Metro stations.  Since, as you may also already know, most are done up in marble, and many also have statues, murals, stained glass, etc., all glorifying just about any and all aspects of Socialist effort and utopia.

Sunday morning was our third attempt on Lenin's Tomb.  And this time they let us in.  We walked past the markers for Stalin, Breshnev, and the rest, were shushed into the darkened inner sanctum, and there under the floodlights was Vladmir, all waxy and shiny.  Then we were shushed out into the bright sunlight.

Next a Metro ride and a long walk to a famous graveyard, where everyone from Checkhov to Yeltsin is buried.  Then another Metro ride and another long walk to Gorky Park, so that Maureen could say that she had seen it.  Then back to the hotel and dinner at a hippie vegetarian restaurant around the corner from it.

Because now it's time to talk a little bit about the Moscow vibe.  As Maureen put it, it's kind of like Disneyland without the rides.  Yes, I know that it was festival week.  But, for instance, for all the Chanel and Dior stores in our hotel neighborhood, no one was really shopping in them.   Instead zillions of totally middle class Muscovites were strolling around and frequenting all of the reasonably priced restaurants which also permeated the area.  To the extent that the fantasy of super rich oligarchs driving around in Mercedes and owning the city was ever true, it certainly no longer is.  The reality is that Moscow is crime free and incredibly comfortable to move around in.

And here's something else: Back in '92 I noted that Central Casting had made a huge mistake in declaring Russkies as the enemy.  These people are about as hellbent on world domination as is a small town pharmacist in Iowa.  Always remember that they were the ones always desperately trying to play catch up to all of our latest weapons.

Although up until my last visit their reputation for surliness and suspiciousness had been well earned.  Now it was surprising the level of at least some knowledge of English.  And the poker faces still existed, but usually folks turned out to even go out of their way to be helpful.

What's more, there was nothing even remotely political in the air.  As for Putin, there seems to be a bemused ironic attachment to him.  After all, he doesn't scare them.  And if he scares the rest of the world, well, they feel with somewhat reason that the rest of the world hasn't been all that very nice to them recently anyway.

It's not like that they've found some new alternate path.  There are probably more KFCs and Burger Kings here than in the U.S.  It's just that, even though they have a few tattooed rockers and derivative Russian rap, there's a certain innocence to it all.  Maureen kept noting how much more modestly the women dress, kind of like life was not supposed to be a meat market after all.  So that, hypothetically speaking, if some new path were presented to these people, there's at least a ghost of a chance that they might be receptive to it.

As opposed to the toilet that we all seem to have been flushed down.

But, hey, no negativity here! Just travel.  And now we had to stuff everything back into our luggage and prepare for our automotive adventure into the heartland.  Since throughout Russia's history Moscow has never been like the rest of the country, the slate was suitably blank in my mind.  Here would be the chance to fill it in.

5 Comments:

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Glad to hear you're enjoying yourselves and exuding your usual sarcastic wit. Since I seem to be the only one following this (?) I'm going to be presumptuous and presume it's safe to leave a rather sad note re: family member Amity 2/14/69 - 9/4/18

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

posted your blog on my fb page and received this comment: "Lene Cortsen-Diaz Thank your brother for his very intuitive and informative article. Happy he loves the place and goes."

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Tracy Valentino Wow ! So interesting! Thanku for sharing

 
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