Three days later and Moscow leads the pack of cities to aspire to live in: It is a walking city. The pavements are flat and free of snow, ice and litter. (Those that are not are being assiduously attacked – on a Sunday – by many unusually goal oriented teams of workers). They are so wide, bike lanes, dogs and kids are all kept effectively distant. Pedestrians wait for the green light and in return drivers do not pretend to accelerate as soon as one steps into the street. All major highways have regular underground passages which are clean and well lit. People use them, and above, the traffic flows smoothly.
Public transport is everywhere: on each of the 10 or so Metro lines trains run every minute, so need never be packed. Trams are sleek and buses (the domain of babushkas) are spruce. Neighborhoods are chock a block with enticing apartments of every persuasion from fin-de-siècle to brutalist concrete, all cozily supplied with grocery stores, bakeries etc. The grocery stores and bakeries look just like home, and there is a coffee shop on nearly every corner.
A random view from my hotel window at rush hour on Monday morning
On my four hour amble I pass more than 30 theaters or concert halls all bustling with matinee audiences (the many churches are bustling too, clearly where babushkas go when they get off the bus).
A church on every corner. Another stereotype bites the dust.
Best of all the people are largely above and beyond friendly, although any attempt at random street smiling is met with frank alarm. (However, the combination of my TJ Maxx parka [fake fur hood] and LL Bean windproof pants clearly signals me as a homeless person, so I am always soundly rebuffed by the more extravagant fur coats swirling around in the cold [the TJ Maxx fur coats are less discriminating]). But it is millennials who are the best bet for directions and a chat; they have been very well brought up and can be relied on to be both accurate and charming. The irony has been wrung out of them somewhere.
Outside the Tchaikovsky concert hall. People were actually swinging when I went to take the picture.
Saturday evening saw ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District’ at the Helikon theatre, the Shostakovitch opera which, thanks to this production, seems unlikely to shed its controversial reputation any time soon. From the Charles Renee Mackintosh-style metal chairs swathed in plastic the substantial chorus had to continually lug around the rather too small stage, to the startlingly realistic simulated sex initiated during every orchestral interlude, the director clearly had a lot on his/her mind. Moscow was having none of it. The first bout of SS saw a frantic scurrying to the door (on inspection a surprisingly young demographic) and by the time the chairs were hauled into their final iteration as a lake the audience was well and truly depleted. Fortunately management had was prepared – slipping conservatory students into vacant seats rather like at the Oscars.
Unfortunately the students were a limited commodity. At the curtain what was left of the audience resolutely kept to its seats and the director noticeably didn’t take a bow. After, the conservatory students demanded my evaluation. Google translate settled us on tyazhelaya ruka (heavy handed). But the orchestra and cast had been superb.
Before or after the performance? I don’t remember
Not to worry, what I have always imagined as the bona fide Soviet persona is alive and well in my hotel restaurant. The hotel itself is fabulous. It is steps from a central Metro and new enough to be wonderfully appointed but not too new that the architecture is silly. Best of all it is only $60 a night. Worn out from my walk I decide to give its highly recommended restaurant a try for dinner.
Cast of characters: Me; A waitress. Setting, the empty restaurant.
Me: Can I have the rosti please? And would it be possible to have it with an egg?
Me: Well when I make rosti at home I usually have it with eggs.
AW: How many eggs? 2? 3?
Me: One would be fine.
AW You’ll have to pay extra (takes a few steps away then back). The rosti comes with mushrooms AND a salad, you don’t need an egg.
Me: Never mind then
AW: Do you want some bread?
Me: Maybe just a little
AW: You don’t need bread either.
Me: I think I’ll have a glass of white wine. Is this Russian wine good?
AW: You should drink French wine.
Me: No I think I’d like to try the Russian wine actually.
AW: The French wine is better.
(The Russian wine turns out to be fine)….
Me: Yes can I have the apple crumble? but can I have vanilla ice cream instead of the sorbet? I don’t like raspberry sorbet.
AW: That won’t be possible.
Me: OK then I won’t have it. I’ll have an éclair instead.
AW: With vanilla ice-cream?
The annoying Tretyakov gallery where all the Russians who emulate other artists show their work. For a 5 point bonus identify who is being copied here (answers may be used more than once).
By the shores of Gitchee Gumee?
This one however was fab. Look at the light coming from behind the trees.
Disclaimer: I actually went to the wrong museum. There is a whole other Tretyakov with Contemporary art, which is what I was really after. Curse you Google maps!
But the museum of Decorative Art was a winner. Lenin with your cake anyone?