This page is a part of my Moscow Life project, collection of illustrated stories from Moscow available online since 1995. I keep adding new ones now and then, please check complete list of all 50+ articles accumulated over 9 years of project existence - or the most recent story.

Andrey

  
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED SEASON

April 1998

    After a slightly crazy winter, Moscow is enjoying a very intense spring. It came in a rush - against all traditions of Russian slowly changing seasons. On April 12 and 13, there were heavy snowfalls, worse than in January, and the city all of a sudden acquired a surprisingly Christmas look. In a few days, a heat wave struck the city and it almost got flooded. (In fact, in many other areas of the country there were unprecedented floods, covering entire towns with water.) But these demonstrations of heat power made us finally believe that winter was over..
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In many letters that I receive in response to my postings here on Moscow Life pages, I meet two frequent complaints.
  1. My stories are posted irregularly and periods of time between them are often too long. There is actually no strict schedule for new postings, despite my promise to publish new stories every other month.
  2. There are too few Russian people and Russian faces on my photos.
Oh well, here are my answers... These pages are not a part of any formal project with rigid management. There is no cool-blooded producer controlling my activities on Friends and Partners site. I keep doing my best to meet these deadlines that always seem to be arriving ahead of time. And yes, sometimes I am late. I'm sorry.

Speaking of the second issue, that's totally my fault, and in this story that you are reading now I'll try to show you more faces and smiles. Let us start with the faces of a cat and his master. On the first warm days I met this nice and happy couple on one of Moscow street markets. Both were enjoying all sorts of food and goods, fresh air, bright April sun. There will be more faces, believe me, before the end of the story. But first, the city in spring.


As any big city, Moscow every day has its emergencies and accidents. One evening I heard alarming sounds of fire engines from the street right under my balcony. This time the fire broke out in the house across the street. It was not a major accident, just a routine story: a few homeless persons had broke into the attic and were warming themselves up from the inside with booze and from the outside, with a campfire. Old wooden structure of the building caught the fire... Everything was over in an hour. Homeless fled and dissolved in the maze of streets and yards; the fire was extinguished, ten or so apartments drenched with water but saved from fire. Since most of us have no insurance, the families in damaged apartments will pay a lot for repair, but eventually they will have everything nicely remodeled. Results of a fire could be much worse.

...In the middle of the airfield almost in the center of Moscow, on the runway once used for experimental jet fighters to take off, a very special people gather every weekend if the weather is nice enough. They build and fly model airplanes. It's funny that such a spectacular group prefers such an empty place for their training. There is no audience here except for occasional passers by like myself. These guys on the runway are confirming that the winter is over.

Only two weeks after the last snowfall, May holidays came to Moscow. Once a political event, now it is in the first place a long string of days off combined with regular weekends. In short, a vacation that in some companies lasts 10 days, longer than at Christmas time. The lack of political discipline is clearly seen in the streets. In the Soviet time, hanging a state flag upside down would immediately attract attention of the KGB and might cost a job for every person responsible for a street decoration. Now, in many places confused workers hang Russian flags in two ways - assuming that at least one would be correct. (Just for reference: since 1991, Russian flag consists of three horizontal stripes, white, blue, red top to bottom.)

Days of May celebrations marked a swift transition from snow and ice to green shades of spring. On the banks of a small forest creek the last patches of snow were sitting next to fresh leaves that found their way to sunlight a few days ago.

On the other hand, melting snow sometimes reveals strange objects and sights. In winter someone decided to discard the load of broken toilets in the park snow. Perhaps a lazy bastard was thinking that the like colors perfectly blend. Now these white remains look really ugly in the middle of a national park. But for a careful observer, there are lots of other junk there. But hardly anyone cares.

This spring, one more token of international youth culture became visible in Moscow. A colorful graffiti in Russian appeared on some walls replacing dull monochrome obscenities typical for Moscow and other our cities. The wall art shown in the photo is not yet very much popular, of course. I took the picture on Moskva river embankment in the elite neighborhood near Kutuzovsky Avenue. Perhaps advanced local kids who have seen the world and absorbed the best of its traditions will finally introduce the new approach to wall painting into masses.

A few days before May holidays, the season of Moscow fountains has begun. Some fountains, however, were late this year. Like the one in the picture - the corporate fountain in front of LukOil headquarters. Without water, it looks strange. On the other hand, when the water flows, the fountain looks silly. A real oil pump that sprays crystal clear water does not look natural to me. Unlike the building across the street.

The beautiful house built around the turn of the century has recently been renovated and now is the block of very expensive and large apartments in the perfect location in the downtown Moscow. That's the example of the place where one buys the flat for $2,000 per square meter. Since some apartments are much larger than 100 square meters, you can calculate the total. The result sounds impressive for the city with monthly salary well below $1,000.


Spring also means the beginning of bike season - for me and many other bike riders who get more and more numerous every year. My favorite roads in the restricted area of Moose Island National Park also becomes more popular. The police guarding the area is obviously not very excited with this popularity and adds more strict limitations to any presence in the forests near the aqueduct. I still cannot resist the temptation - look at the beautiful water in the photo! But it's drinking water for the city and in the time of uncontrolled actions deserves some protection.

The empty lane runs through the silence and low rustle of young leaves just a few minutes from the roar of heavy traffic of Moscow busiest and only freeway, the belt road. You cannot reach it by a car, by my old good bicycle takes me there. By the time when I type these lines, the odometer shows 280 kilometers of new season on bike's tires.

For those who prefer more civilized but still close to nature places, the Central Botanical Garden is the ideal choice for weekend walks. And in its heart you will find a special place, the Japanese Garden. Gentle water, carefully placed stones, smooth lawns and gravel paths. Just the right time to visit the place, the time of sakura in bloom. Just a few minutes away from a bus stop and from busy Moscow Metro. A soothing retreat in the city...


...Spring is the time when one wants to move, to change places, to listen to the highway or a railroad running under your seat, to watch waves or clouds flying past. It's time to cover distances. And the trains are waiting already... There are other rails, though, leading nowhere and ending at a fence almost in the center of Moscow. Maybe it is better to choose another transportation? Railroads in Russia recently are too often blocked by someone or something. Angry coal miners, poor pensioners, mud slides or bridges destroyed by floods.

Speaking of bridges... Moscow recently builds them in numbers. I have no idea why and how the initiative started - or if there is a coherent initiative at all or it's my imagination playing practical jokes. But you do see more and more new bridges while moving around in the city. Recently remodeled belt road features now not only modern junctions with highways entering the city, but quite a few overpasses for pedestrians. They all are slightly different in style but at the same time resembling each other because of the tinted plastic. Somehow they remind of old Moscow bridges crossing the rivers in the city.

On the other hand, a new bridge across Moskva river is far from any traditions and looks straight and stiff as a pole. It is supposed to become the entrance to Moscow trade exhibition grounds - and to be a shopping center itself. Our Mayor have recently finished a huge underground mall at Manezhnaya Square and now is playing with this hanging shopping space (should I call it a shopping pipe?). It is still closed to public, but soon perhaps will be a popular tourist attraction.


In the beginning of this story I have promised you to show people, to show faces. So far nonetheless it's been mostly my traditional landscapes and city views. Now at last let us turn to portraits.

The best place to take pictures of happy Russians is of course a party. Well, I guess that's true everywhere, not only in Moscow. But Russian parties traditionally take place in the kitchens, around small tablespacked with plates and bottles. Look at the photo, you'll get the idea. And this is just because we are used to it, not because there is no space in the living room... Strange, isn't it?

For other people it is tradition to get stone drunk every weekend. A straightforward method of relaxation. This guy from another photo has reached the goal in the park very efficiently. In the bottle of portwine there is enough left to supply more liquid happiness when he awakes. Fresh air, warm sun, birds singing in the branches, a perfect Sunday afternoon. H-m-m, not exactly a face is shown in the picture - but other body parts can be equally expressive.

Of course, between parties we occasionally work. Here I will show you new trends, not traditional Russian jobs. After all, I promised to show you happy people.

Example number one. The concept of home office slowly but surely penetrates large Russian cities. This office corner in the apartment of Lena (you have seen her kitchen already) is based on a powerful PC and tons of professional software. Alas, there is no Internet connectivity. Many new Moscow apartments (and Lena bought hers less than a year ago) lack a telephone. Moreover, money just cannot buy you the line. It's normal for Moscow to build pretentious monuments - but not telephone exchanges in the new bed-room communities. Maybe in a few years authorities decide to build it here. Or maybe not. Our authorities still believe that the less communications, the better and does not allow any private initiatives in the field. Of course there are cellular phones, but very few Russians can afford these devices in Moscow.
 

Next picture (on the right) shows a situation unique by Russian standards. Alexey is almost blind. This is a heavy curse in Russia, not many job opportunities are available here. GlasNet, a Moscow-based Internet service provider, recently started a project that offers jobs in customer support service to disabled Muscovites. Those few who filled the openings are really lucky persons - and they are happy to have a good job - and to be really useful for others.

One more unique sight (on the left) - a happy customer visiting our office to say thanks and to offer some beer (after hours, of course). Everyone knows that customer support is mostly popular among unhappy users having problems. Volodya is an exception. He does not have much troubles with the service. He enjoys it - and, moreover, he enjoys thanking people who provide him the service. It is a bit difficult to call him a usual Muscovite. Maybe his vacation trips to Nepal change him in some subtle way?

One more obvious place to find happy people is a Friday night bar. Beer and billiard, live music and honest food - it all helps visitors be happy. I do not post the name of the bar here - there are quite a few decent places now in Moscow, and only thickness of your wallet limits the frequency of your visits.


 

Okay. The story is already a bit longer than it should. Time for the last face. Let it be mine. It's a pity that the picture does not show the ponytail... Still that's how one more Muscovite looks at the moment.  

 

Andrey - asebrant@glasnet.ru


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