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

  
UNCERTAIN MONTHS OF THE FALL - 1998

     The fall is uneasy time. This year of 1998, more than ever. September and October were the months when financial news and rumors about upcoming troubles made it to the front pages of newspapers that had survived the August banking collapse and still existed (though some became much thinner).

   The Internet traffic of the sites discussing rouble exchange rate and political future of Russia pushed them into top tens of Russian Net ratings to the slots traditionally occupied by the search engines and entertainment pages. Not surprising - to give you an idea I post here an official graph of US dollar price in roubles (courtesy of RosBusinessConsulting). Real exchange rate was sometimes even worse than official figures. Note the scale - it was not a few percent up or down, it has been much more bumping road.

   The weather was adding to the insanity of rocking and hopping prices and money value. September was really cold with attempts of flurries, then October was misty, wet and unusually warm for the season, and then in early November practically overnight the temperature dropped to 0 F freezing the puddles and the land lacking the snow blanket. While I type that, the first heavy snowfall hits the city... But more snow you will see in the next story. So far we are still in the fall, not winter months.


   But nonetheless the fall was charming and beautiful; fortunately, the nature does not care how stupid, corrupt or unhappy we are. The leaves were changing colors - as they were supposed to do - the air was becoming misty with a thin smell of rotting leaves, wet grass, and bad expectations.

And, as always in my stories here, you can zoom in on any picture. Just click an image, and a larger and better quality photo will open.

   

   Of course financial crisis does not hit you like a carpet bombing. The city is still bright and colorful, and new buildings keep appearing (look at the photos on the left, some of those houses are impressive) - and apartments and office space in them sold. The shops are open, even if the supplies sometimes are shorter and choices more limited than before, the theaters and concert halls, full.

   And the traffic jams are not a hair thinner. Some too jumpy drivers try to literally jump out of the jams - but end up halfway on the concrete blocks - look at the picture on the right.

   Still, there are signs, of course, that times are changing and the coming year will not be a carnival of New Russians or those who believed to be members of emerging Russian middle class.

   But the months we are now talking about did start with a carnival! As every September does, since its first weekend is the Day of the City Weekend in Moscow, and Muscovites enjoy the opportunity to have lots of fun in the streets.

   This year festivities were more modest than a year ago when Moscow had been celebrating its 850th anniversary. But modest means just that less pompous and official events took place. The streets were full with the relaxing crowds as ever.

   I do not think these photos of September celebrations require many comments. Students dressed up and folk artists teaching traditional dances in the streets, cartoon characters and hot air baloons sponsored by big gyus - all the stuff of any festival. Kids sitting around a huge clock on Manezhnaya square under a large banner with Moscow symbol, St George, - and having their fun. Just keep looking and clicking on the photos to get a better view!

   Days were getting noticeably shorter and the night life in the city started earlier. And some events even changed for the better the looks of Moscow downtown. On of the streets there, Kamergersky Pereulok, was successfully transformed into recreational area closed to traffic. On the day of centennial anniversary of Moscow Art Theater, the area was open to public - from Moscow Mayor, who led the opening ceremony to homeless dog that take advantage of the carpets in the street prepared for the Mayor to walk on.

   Across the street from the theater a nice monument to a famous Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, was open. I like the statues lack of pompousness. A tired man leans on a stand and looks away from the theater that became famous due to his plays. He looks at McDonalds across Tverskaya. Not sure what he thinks.

   Speaking of night life and night looks of the city, October offers an interesting opportunity. The nights are already long and early, so that one can see brightly lit squares and buildings on the way from the work home - no need to stay in the streets till midnight. But the looks are still warm and summer. Very soon the nights will be even earlier and darker - but the reflecting glow of snow and ice will change the colors and the entire style of the city.

   The chapel in the photo on the right sits right in front of Ministry of Defense, and casts the colorful shadow on its wall in the evening. Strange combination - beautiful nonetheless.

   Unlike September celebration I told you above, the next two months were demonstrating Moscow quite different emotions. October was chosen by protesters to demonstrate their hatred and desperation. Marginal, poor, or simply unhappy crowds were marching across the city, and the heavy smell of hatred was emanating from the march.

Officially, 30% of Russian population live below the poverty level. In real life, this level is set so low that at least half of the Russians would be considered hopelessly poor by any standards. This is an explosive potential, and the communists were doing their best to use it, the only force they understand and like - hatred, envy, anger. Of course these people are the least adaptable, that they cannot be blamed for that, for years and years of Soviet school and Soviet life they were tought to obey, not to think and adapt...

The photos below show you the bus of Ministry of Interior mobile headquarter. Its official name is the Fire Fighting HQ, but it was mostly present at the locations of social fires. Maybe, authorities were ready for arsons. The next photo shows exactly the same street (Okhotny Ryad) that was packed with people on the Day of the City (look at the photo in the beginning of the story!). On November 7 it was deserted - communists were celebrating their holiday of hatred, and normal Muscovites prefered to avoid the streets.


    

   Most of Muscovites have been fighting the crisis that hit them not on political rallies, but by earning every available rouble. Street markets this fall were offering more goods than ever - but this time mostly not something brought from China or Turkey. Lots of homegrown items were offered.

   Sometimes it all was looking weird. Of course, selling kittens is a traditional September activity (Marina my daughter this year successfully sold two kitties our family cat produced). But all the surgical tools on the street look a bit strange (particularly so when doctors complain that they are not available anymore in hospitals).

   In fact, maybe here is the answer - if something can be sold in the streets, staff members steal it and sell - to make money this way if there is no salary.

   On the other hand, some just give up and beggnig remains the only source of income. This guy on the photo on the right maybe is more a Muscovite than others - he may claim the central Moscow square to be his home, not just work space, he has no other living room anyway.

   And now it's time for an almost random assortment of pictures taken in Moscow. Drunks meeting the Sunday morning, low skies over the heat plant, railroads and church domes - whatever you like. Or a door to a small and cozy food store in the street - with a plastic palm-tree by the door.

   Import of food and good sank these months, salaries of most Russian did not let them spend that much (check again the USD exchange rate plot that I posted in the very first paragraph of this story). That made our diet much more healthy, we began to buy at the street markets where vegetables definitely are much more natural than any import. Our farmers have no money to use fertilizers - you, see, there are good sides of the crisis.

   Manufacturers immediately decided to take advantage of the situation. Several years of market training produced quite capable marketers and advertizers. The picture on the right shows a billboard with a typically American city - but Russian pack of cigarettes in the hands of famous statue. The slogan says, "We return the blow" - perhaps to US tobacco factories... More fun adds the background, the pompous facade of a bank that was huge and powerful a few months ago, but now clients can enjoy these huge brass letters and nothing more, accounts are blocked.
   ...More fall pictures... They are not sorted chronologically, of course, but in September and October weather changes all the time, and bright decorations of colorful foliage are replaced with dark laces of bare branches too fast.

   That's almost it for the month. Anyway, Red Square is locked too often to close the area from protesters - and despite these measures one insane retired activist managed to drive a car with explosives up to the Kremlim gate and arrange an impressive firework there.

   Next time there will be much white in the illustrations. A heavy winter is coming. The very Russian season where Moscow belongs, with beauty of fur coats on pretty Russian ladies, with thick snow blankets covering with the same efficiency accurate central squares and poorly paved lanes at the outskirts.

   And now - it's time to say "See you next time, on this page or others".

Andrey Sebrant - asebrant@online.ru


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