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Moscow Saturday

A Day In The City (October 1995)

When I was starting this project of telling you monthly (well, as it turned out, mostly bi-monthly...) about Moscow life, one of my promises was to show the city through the eyes of its resident, a person who had been born and raised here. Right after that I was telling about dachas, rivers, Northern lakes... but not much about Moscow itself and its day-to-day life.

Now I am going to fill in this blank. I decided to start with a weekend, a regular Saturday. Saturday is the only day in a week when we have time to buy food supplies for the next seven days. But also it's the day when I have time to slowly stroll Moscow streets without any definite purpose, just to look around, to relax and get some rest after a busy week.

Every small in-line picture in this story is a link to a larger true color image, so that you can get a close-up when find something interesting.

So... An October Saturday, 1995.
The air is cool and clear under the pale skies, some golden leaves still decorate the trees, people are dressed in a strange manner as though they cannot decide whether it's time already to put on heavy coats. This early fall is the time on uncertainty and light sadness...

Where do we start? Of course from the place where we live. This tall temple-like building is one of Moscow landmarks. Seven of those "skyscrapers" were construced following Stalin's orders and under his close supervision to commemorate victory in the World War II. The building was completed in 1953. Its front part is occupied by a big railroad construction corporation, but the wings (which you cannot see in the photo) are apartment blocks. That's where we live enjoying beautiful views from the windows. We'll share one of them at the end of this show.

The street not far from our building is one of the busiest on a weekday, but practically deserted on a weekend. On a weekday, this sidewalk becomes a parking lot, hundreds of cars hopelessly block the way for a pedestrian.
This avenue was designed in the 60s as a Ministry Row of sorts, lots of Soviet Union Ministries were supposed to move here forming an impossible bureaucratic swarm. But construcion work was going slowly and by the time of its completion the USSR did not exist anymore. The buildings were bought by the banks and rich private companies and the avenue (named after Academician Andrei Sakharov, by the way) became a pale Moscow version of Wall Street.

Moscow map resembles a tree cut. The city has a very distinct circular structure. It was growing over eight and a half centuries of its history propagating radially from a fortress on the banks of Moskva river, the fortress that later would become well known as The Kremlin.
We have started at one of the rings, let us slowly drift towards the center of Moscow, looking around, enjoying the nice day...

One of the inner rings of the city is called Boulevard Ring and suprisingly still has nice boulevards (unlike Garden Ring that we live on, which is a huge endless circular traffic jam 16 hours a day and where nothing reminds of the old gardens). Playgrounds on the boulevards are favorite places for parents with little kids.

One of the typical views on Moscow streets now is remodelling or new construction work. Young companies and banks build new property, or, when they are not allowed to destroy a historical site, they just leave the walls and take out everything inside to replace it with modern stuff. Empty boxes of such houses look a bit weird - but promising. They will not just fall to pieces, they will continue to serve Moscow.
However, often in a new way. What used to be an apartment block, after renovation most probably will be transformed to a cluster of expensive offices. Moscow downtown becomes more and more a huge business area with no permanet residents. People move to the bedroom communities at the outskirts of the city; the most wealthy go even farther, to the suburb houses...

Of course, some luxury apartments in the downtown still exist. Not many can afford buying them, though. This sign on one of the beatiful old buildings on the Boulevard Ring says "Do buy this apartment for yourself!" and gives the phone number of the dealer.
They do not show the price, but typicaly a square meter here would be well above $1,000. The poster says that the apartment here has 210 square meters, so be ready to pay approximately $250,000. More than a lot, if you stop to think about salaries in Russia...

On the other hand, this place is located beautifully! Just look at what you will enjoy coming out of the door. The soothing quietness of Chistye Prudy... And all that is in the very heart of the city, fifteen minutes walk from the Red Square.
Distances in the center of Moscow are better measured in the minutes of walk or the number of metro stops. So popular in the States minutes of car ride mostly make no sense here. It may take you half an hour to ride a mile because of unbelievable traffic jams. And when you finally made it to the destination, you'll spend another hour looking for parking space...

All the traffic jams occur on weekdays. Today is Saturday, remember. The narrow streets and lanes are deserted and look like they used to many years ago. Those are the places I like to visit to lazily walk. No tourist attractions, but here is where the soul of Moscow quietly dwells, hidden from the rush and advertising storm of the main streets.

Speaking of quiet places, obviously nothing can compete to a cemetery... This old one is located in Donskoy Monastery and is an island of eternal peace amidst the ever moving tides of a big city. Russian cemeteries are never open lawns, here the graves are always hidden in the shadow under the branches of old trees, and the falling leaves of autumn cover the stones with a golden carpet.
Silence and slightly unearthy light are the keepers of the place.
The pace changes when you enter the gate and you can't help thinking about the time when you enter similar gates somewhere - but not noticing the fact anymore...

Remodelling takes time. And money, too. So not surprisingly many beautiful places still are waiting for their turn. This old bell-tower long since lost its bells and looks decaying and abandoned. Small trees take advantage of the dirt accumulated in the old cracks. How long will it take before construction workers come here and hopefully restore rather than destroy it? But you never know... Over the recent years, so many beautiful places disappeared replaced by ugly faceless shining cubes of modern constructions.

Of course it is impossible to tell the story of Moscow renovations and not to mention the largest hole in the city. The one that occupies the whole Manezhnaya Square, the large area right by the Kremlin walls.
Once upon a time, in the course of political activities of 1990-1991, rallies gathering 300,000 and more participants took place here. Tens of thousands of Moscovites were dancing here celebrating different events... Victory in World War II in 1945, first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, defeat of the coup in 1991...

Now the largest in Europe entertainment and shopping center is under construction here. When completed in two years, it will occupy several levels below the ground featuring shopping malls, museums, garages, theaters, restaurants, etc. This construction site is a pet project of Moscow Mayor and the work never stops or even slows down here. They work 24 hours a day seven days a week and perhaps will really complete the Center according to schedule.

But enough sightseeing for now! It's Saturday - do you remember? We're supposed to take care of the food supplies for the coming week, otherwise every day coming back from work we'll be in trouble. Time to stop lazily looking around and enjoying architecture, time to get busy and go looking for food.

Shopping habits of Moscovites have changed dramatically in the last few years. We have learned the hard way that prices are different in different places. We have learned that big fancy malls have higher prices than small shops, and that any small shop has higher prices than a warehouse. The result of this education is that street markets where the goods are sold from trucks or in small kiosks are now the most favorite shopping sites for majority of the population.

My favorite place is at Sokolniki. It's close to where we live and that means we don't have to carry all the heavy stuff too far. We have no car, so this is important. Of course, we are well trained in our summer hikes, but still I hate carrying too many bags on the metro.

Of course one has to be careful byuing from street vendors. I would not take chances byuing a very attractively cheap meat products from unidentified kiosks. But big Moscow food factories also adjust to our habits. In the photo you see their response, factories have launched a network of nice trucks of their own that sell sausages, ham, and beef on street corners.

Fifty meters from the meat truck, and we are on the country market where all sorts of vegetables and friuts can be found. Not only grown near Moscow, but also brought from southern regions... and some, perhaps, imported. Because bananas do not grow in Russia at all!

It's difficult to resist temptation to inspect what else is available around. Across the street is a sidewalk market where one can buy any bike, motorcycle or a gadget or a spare part for these. That's exactly where Masha and I purchased our bikes in May saving a good deal of money. We have been enjoying the vehicles all summer. This is an example that you can actually buy a good things in the street. But of course in many cases you should expect facing problems if something goes wrong and you want your money back.
The alley leading to the entrance to Sokolniki Park is lined with rows of small kiosks selling all sorts of goods, from rolls of toilet paper that you see in the photo to toys and music tapes and CDs.

Next stop, dairy products. In front of the shop we find a whole line of private competitors offering you not milk of course, but all sorts of sour cream and tvorog (a substance resembling a cottage cheese, but much richer and sweeter). Unlike salespersons in the shops, here they always sell with a smile and a friendly word. This girl obviously likes what they offer to taste!

On the way back to metro we pass by a new McDonalds, they are getting more and more popular in Moscow, particularly, among young people. Me, I'd rather had a Taco Bell if we have to have a fast food chain... But alas...
Maybe you think that this street market style has to do with only food or cheap consumer goods and is typical to the city outskirts? No, you're wrong. Let's go back home, leave there the heavy bags with potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sausages and visit the central streets again.
What do you think you will find in front of a big bookstore? Correct! Exactly what you see in the picture.

What else can one see in Moscow streets? Oh - everything! This girl obviously prefers riding to walking and does not care much what others think or say... And there are no regulations against horseback riding on the sidewalks, as far as I know. Where does she keep the horse, I wonder...

But well, it's been a long and busy day and it's time to finally get moving home, to take care of usual e-mail backlogs, to listen to a favorite CD, to enjoy a glass of a good wine. A few last pictures, because the sun is alreday setting down and the twilight begins to fill the streets...

New realities of Moscow - this all would look unfamiliar to my friends who emigrated several years ago... A homeless man sittig on the sidewalk of Tverskaya street near Kremlin, under the sign of a very expensive night club...

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is being rebuild. Another project of our Mayor and also the one where construction teams work without a break. Once there was a cathedral, the largest one in Moscow, then the communists blew it off after the revolution. Now modern communists support the restoration project explainig that Christ was a communist in his soul... All means are justified if they lead to the success on the coming elections...

Anyway, this time Moscow authorities decide to make the replica of the cathedral using a new technology and a super-strong concrete and the building is supposed to be explosion-resistant. Will it help?

The sun is already behind the close city horizon. Golden sunset spreads all over the sky like a gorgeous background for the skeleton of the future cathedral... Time to part with you, network friends.

Let's close the loop and get back to where we started... I promised you then a good view at the end of the show. Now it's the right time!
At sunset and shortly afterwards there is a magnificient view of Moscow from our balcony. The sun has sinked below the horizon, and the city lights are turning on, and the Leningradskaya Hotel building is lit by both floodlights and the sky...
It was a nice city tour... for me, at least. Hopefully you also do not feel that the time has been wasted.

See you next month!


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