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

  
ENTERING 1999

Click to see the real thing

January 1999

      Have 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.

Ready to plow Moscow snow
There even will be a few New England memories and photos blended into my Moscow mosaic. Just for fun - and to show that sometimes it's interesting to compare.

It looks very Russian, it could've been Russia, but this is New England...
Like when it comes to roads and how much authorities care. Russia is infamous for its bad roads - for centuries. But then... I remember a sunny Sunday morning on I-89 (on the left photo, isn't it beautiful?). We entered Vermont and then it started. No sand, no salt, no signs or warnings, just patches of black ice in every shadow under the cliffs. Eight bad accidents in less than two hours when the traffic is light - much worse than you would ever see in Moscow. I bet Vermont authorities - and local road service - are somehow very similar deep in their souls (or whatever they have instead) to Moscow bureaucrats and drunken street workers.


   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.
   So - those are just pictures of Moscow entering the new year - the last year that begins with 19. Let's go and look around.

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.

   Still, holiday shopping was holiday shopping. A parking lot near Ramstore, a huge Western style supermarket, was packed with cars at almost any time and any day, and inside the store everything was bubbling with activity.

   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...


  

   Smaller shops, those that sell expensive goods in particular, were not necessary as happy and as busy. Many were decorating their windows with huge sale signs and impressive discount offers - not a typical action in Moscow! - but remained as empty as at the peak of crisis times. In fact, Christmas time killed perhaps more businesses than made richer...

   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.

   Similarly, slow-running crisis became a part of lifestyle. Worse, often a part of attitude.

   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.

   ...This winter weather was full of contrasts and very jumpy - almost like nervous Muscovites. Clear skies of icy cold days were not frequent, and snow storms often were changing the city looks. A railway station could easily become a magic castle, and the horizon disappears when the storm hits. Afterwards, Moscow courtyards and sidewalks look like decorations for a far North fairy tale.



   Some of the decorations look (and are) a bit dangerous. Icicles around Christmas time are not as impressive as later in spring (just wait for the next my story here!) Thaws are short in December and the sun is too weak to grow really long icy fringes.

   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.    

   Moscow winter palette is mostly pale. But not all the time. Fortunately, there are occasional days of bright sun frolicking in the fresh snow - when everything shines sharply like in the photos that open this story. Or like in those below. Even nights in the crisp and frosty air of Arctic blasts are somehow more clear... But this biting clarity of the air is definitely not very nice on thousands of street vendors and babushkas who do not have any protection from the cold during their shifts (except for vodka taken orally every half an hour).


This feeling of winter neatness and transparent sharpness is truly international. There is some strange deep connection between dazzling light of Green Mountains and the weird greenish looks of Savior Tower of Moscow Kremlin. A few days separate the photos on the left and right, several thousand miles, a Grand Canyon of differences in lifestyle, pace, and attitude. Still, something makes me place them close together.

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.

This is Moscow, if you are in doubt
This is NOT Moscow ;-)
Okay. Vacation time is over. I'm back to Moscow. Ready to catch up and post the next story here soon - because the winter is almost over, the season of Moscow uneasiness, of breathtaking sunsets at Kancamagus Highway, of rainbows made by snow cannons, of glowing Moscow air full with exhausts...

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.

Near Lincoln, Exit 31 from Route 93
That's me - in case you are not sure

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 - asebrant@glasnet.ru


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