January 1999Have you ever seen a New Hampshire Problem Solver? It is a narrow glass for vodka as tall as a decent beer mug. Level marks run along its wall showing the amount of liquor one needs to take for solving a particular problem, from "DOGS" to "BOSS".
In a sense, visiting US for a Russian is like using the Problem Solver filled up to the rim. Great for relaxing occasionally, even necessary from time to time. But may have malicious effects if taken on a regular basis.
Why this introduction? Just because I spent vacations there around Christmas and that damaged the schedule of my postings here - and slightly changed the tone of the first one after the break.
Pictures in this story were taken both before and after New Year, before and after my vacations spent abroad. But the long season of Christmas and New Year celebrations was not extremely spectacular this time.
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.
Billboards and socially oriented ads (by cellular phone companies that offer a service that less than 4% of population can afford...) make an advice to be happy and promise that we'll get through. Professional advertising experts tell us that when life is getting harder, commercials must promise better times. Maybe this works, but not on everyone. Still many people feel slightly uneasy, and many are not sure about their future.
Funny thing, residents of a standard apartment block that reflects in polished granite of the entrance to Ramstore (in the photo below) mostly cannot afford buying there. Those who believe to be belonging to the middle class drive across the city to enjoy picturesque decorations inside... Two stores of this chain serve all Moscow with its 10 million residents. Perhaps this gives a good idea of how many are here people (including visitors) ready to pay a grocery bill of American size...
I do not know the figures for all markets, but computer retail sales were several times lower than any projections made in summer. The crisis that hit us in August did not end, and now when we are six months into it, we are getting used to that new life. Chronic patients after a while also get used to their new life patterns.
Logo of a dead bank (once proudly hovering in the top ten of any credit rating for Russian banks) now - more so when seen next to a church crosses - makes me think, "Rest in peace..." And may The Lord bring peace of mind to those hundreds of thousands of its clients and customers who lost al they had on their accounts there - instead of keeping the savings in good old green cash under a mattress.
Yes, it's a cold season, and pigeons do their best to find a warm place near Metro air grids. Homeless like those places too, but police does not let them spoil the downtown scenery.
But then a cyclone drifts from the west, and Atlantic grayness fills the city like a weak tea with a drop of milk. It hangs over children playgrounds - sometimes not serving kids anymore, occupied by the cars in courtyards, sometimes still operational on The Boulevards. The wet and cold grayness plays tricks with pale plaster walls of Moscow buildings. Wet cold perhaps makes this boulder on Lubyanka square feel at home. It was brought here from one of Gulag camps far in the North in memory of victims of communists' purges.
Alas, human memory (or, maybe, Russian memory?) is short. Commies are again in power, they are again in the streets. Surprisingly, they now are walking hand in hand with Russian Nazi. Hatred unites. And hatred is what traditionally rules in Russia.
The life runs on, Russia stumbles along, too tired with many broken hopes and promises of its rulers, drugged with political scandals, chained with corruption so universal that we definitely badly need a Ministry of it to at least set some order in the most powerful state-run industry, the industry of Bribery. Regulate when you cannot eliminate. But the government is too fat and lazy to do even that.
But let me finish with an optimistic statement! Just imagine how tough, entrepreneurial and focused must the people be to keep working in that deliberately hostile environment. To manufacture goods and provide services despite every effort of the government to enslave them. To live on and be happy despite all the politicians and journalists, this combined Mass Skunk of enormous proportions and even worst stink... Believe me - these people are worth meeting them. They are just great, I mean it. Don't miss your chance, come to Moscow some day...
... But it was so wonderful to stand on that ridge and breathe cold air - for a few weeks away from Moscow... A rich, long gulp from a Problem Solver...
Andrey - firstname.lastname@example.org
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