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.



September-December, 1999

      For the first time in years that I've been running this site (hm-m-m, it sounds a bit weird to say about a site that it exists for years in that transient and ever-changing Web - but it's true nonetheless!) I am really and hopelessly far behind the schedule. It's been almost half a year since the previous update - and 1999 turned out the year of too few stories posted here. My apologies. The title of this one tells a bit about why it happened. The last year of 19XX family was hectic, and recovery from the crisis of 1998 was taking too much effort - leaving virtually no time for leisure writing.

      And now, on the last day of 1999, Russian president, Boris Yeltsin resigned - and that will make things run even faster. I promised to never write here about politics - and am not going to break that promise. If you care what our new most probable President thinks - just check out Putin's article published (by the way, on the Net, not on paper) a few days before he became an acting President. I met Mr. Putin on December 28 when he spent more than an hour with Internet experts discussing possible models of the Net regulation in Russia. He looked tired, and the first impression was of a clever but not open or predictable person. There will interesting times in Russia... again.

   But we are not talking future here. The page is about Moscow Life, so let me share again a few random photos of the city speeding towards Millenium celebrations and fears as the fall of 1999 was slowly turning into winter...

   The summer was giving way to autumn reluctantly and slowly, September was warm and smelled of summer refusing to go despite the falling leaves, and suburban roads called to continue bike rides and explorations - but the schedule even on weekends was already that of another season, busy, busy, busy. The walk in a park nearby became the most serious adventure I could afford - and parks did offer all the golden glory of the season.

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. Many of the photos are worth looking at in postcard size.
Brushing the summer away Fountains sing of summer, leaves shuffle of autumn At the city outskirts

   For Moscow, September spells birthday, it is the month of annual Day of the City celebrations. In 1997, the ceremony was extremely pompous and huge, it was the year when the money was abundant and the date was round, 850th anniversary. Next year, in 1998, the birthday came right after the crisis hit the country, and the event was a strange mixture of pre-crisis intentions, post-crisis shortages and general anxiety. Still it was fun...

   In 1999, our Mayor definitely was saving money for election race due in a few weeks, so celebrations were modest, almost shy (though the word can hardly be applied to Moscow or its authorities under any circumstances). Still, a few gifts were prepared for us Muscovites.

Moscow from the new bridge

Andreevski bridge: new glass, old stones

   A new bridge across Moskva river was opened thus offering a new entrance to famous Gorky Park from the other bank. To be precise, the bridge was not altogether new, on the contrary, it was actually an old railroad bridge relocated in summer and completely remodeled afterwards. It became a covered bridge, a new concept for Moscow, and the sharp glassy roof seen in the picture became another city landmark. Lacking the coziness of New England bridges, alas... The scale does matter, after all.

   However, the real reason to visit the bridge is not its rich history or combination of architectural styles from different centuries. One should come here because of the view, a beautiful skyline of Moscow shown above.

Bright reflections of the downtown

Peter the Great playing Flying Dutchman at night
Casinos are always well lit
View from Olympisky
   The time was speeding by, and the days were getting shorter quickly, making the city look colorful like a postcard in the downtown with all its lights and reflections - or grayish-blue at the outskirts where office blocks with their brightly lit windows stood like additional lamps designed to smoothly illuminate crowded streets and rush-hours traffic jams (that became worse than ever this year).

At Sokol area of the city
Dostoevsky feels aneasy in this night life
   Actually, there are quite a few beautifully illuminated buildings, churches, and monuments in the city. They look great in the night, floating on the wet pavement, hovering above muddy streets of the fall - or, despite all the lights, sitting heavily on the ground, like sad and unhappy Dostoevsky in front of Russian State Library. Looks like modern night life annoys him. For that matter, day life obviously annoys him too...

   We should give the credit to our Mayor for this - even in the time of nearly panic after the crisis, he never stopped keeping the city as bright and neat as possible. Of course not everywhere - in any city there are hopeless districts, gloomy and poor and dangerous, and Moscow is no exclusion with lots of dark and dirty streets. But the area of better places is getting larger by the month - small surprise that the Mayor was re-elected by the Muscovites in December with very impressive results despite all the competition from other politicians dreaming of Moscow seat of power.
Kvartal group playing at Kukly night club
Striptease bar advertising

   Of course, as the photo above shows, the most bright places iat night are casinos. Night life in Moscow returned to its variety and pace shortly after the crisis, maybe because in the time of troubles people want to socialize more than ever. By the fall of 1999, best singers and groups are again entertaining crowded night clubs and bars. Competition make owners and managers of clubs and bars inventive and creative. When you see a sculpture on a sidewalk, it maybe not just an artwork, but an advertising attracting passers-by to strip bar on the block...
Rap before the movie
Bottle juggling and glass filling - warming up

   If your prefer movies, this autumn also had enough to offer. One of the most noticeable (and most advertised) events of the season was Matrix coming to Russia. Its premiere in Moscow was a big show with laser effects, free complimentary drinks and popcorn from Martini and distributors of stronger liquors. Well warmed up from inside audience had to enjoy (or at least to listen since there was no way to escape) a loud concert of rap and punk groups before the film began... I liked the movie, that strange, sometime ironical, sometime naive fairy tale of passing away century. Another angle of vision, an interesting one after reading my favorite Douglas Adams and Dan Simmons, the two authors who, I believe, can feel the future.
Cold rain is crying over Sadovoe
Street cafes are getting empty

   Slowly but surely fall was giving way to early winter, not yet with real snow, but with insistent cold drizzles that wash away everyone from street cafes. Penthouse on top of Smolensky Passage is a wonderful place to look at the city from where normally only birds fly. Busy Sadovoe Ring below is permanently packed with cars, the river beautifully makes wide turns -- but somehow everything looks sad in the cold evening when raindrops blur the scenery and traffic is pulsing like a lava flow from a volcano hidden in the maze of Moscow streets.
View from Zaryadie
New onion for an old church

   And eventually real snow comes - looking as if it is going to stay - but Moscow climate is treacherous and soon it melts. In the meantime serving as perfect decoration on churches well repaired a long time ago or under renovation right now. The onions are perfect for withstanding snowfalls, no matter how heavy. The snow will never accumulate on that roof. Maybe that is why onion shapes are popular in traditional Russian architecture that has nothing to do with religion, like a nice house (shown in the photo below) one can find among faceless concrete blocks in Sokolniki.
Beauty of Sokolniki
Ericsson show in front of Pushkin

   Snow-covered streets and squares make a perfect stage for almost any sort of performance. And yes, you can often observe strange happenings. These aliens with their saucer in the photo must be looking familiar to anyone who has watched Ericsson commercials. Still, there are many things we are used to see on the screen but not on the lawn of Pushkin square. An interesting entertainment for Muscovites who are right now discovering all the joy of mobile communications; cellular companies were very aggressive all 1999 and at least in Moscow cellular phones have finally hit the mass market and became truly popular.


   And finally, in late November came the time for Christmas trees, New Year thoughts, and all kinds of Y2K expectations. Beautiful trees made of every existing substance appeared all over the city.

Christmas tree at Kempinski Decorations on Central Telegraph Bookstore window In the middle of GUM

   ...In the lobby of a luxurious hotel waiting for Millenium crowds of international adventurers, on the facades, in the windows of shops and apartments all over the city, and amidst the malls. Photos above may give you an idea...

A bridge over Yauza on a frosty morning
Just a cozy yard
   The season also brought other secret pleasures that make Moscow winter a marvel. Crisp and frosty mornings on small Yauza river winding across the city, or a special silence of a familiar yard of your childhood where all sounds are muffled by the snow blanket.

   For those who love Moscow it is beautiful in any weather, of course. Muscovites usually see Yauza I mentioned above in grayish colors similar to that of dirty roads on its banks. Check the photo below to see a typical winter day in the city, not those rare one when all photographers run out to take advantage of the unexpected generosity of the sun.
A typical winter day
Moscow Mayor office ready for New Year

   The last week of December brings even more holiday views - and pleasant holiday chores. Everyone is looking for gifts and surprises, most lucky prepare for a vacation trip someplace. Official buildings become less boring under flashing lights and decorations. Last two years I was among those who were meeting the First Night on the other side of the ocean, now after a long delay I am going to spend all holidays in Moscow. Change is what makes life interesting, isn't it?
Entrance to National hotel
Making a turn is fun on the snow

   The title of the story is made of a photo taken at Leningradsky avenue, one of the widest Moscow motorways. It runs straight and the traffic is heavy. If you drive all the way to the center of the city without any turns, you'll come up to National hotel (on the left photo), to Kremlin and Manezhnaya Square. Obvious and traditional places, all of them. Expensive, too.

   But it's much more fun to make a turn in the night and explore new streets and roads in the snow. We have entered the time that looks just right for sharp turns. Russia is turning somewhere led by a new President (almost) and new Duma; perhaps on a personal level turns would also make sense. Time to turn - and speed ahead!

Watch for the new issues of this project in year 2000 - they will be coming.

Andrey -

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