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Free-Wheeling Moscow

Saturday, September 18th, 2004



Like in the big Central European cities we visited, there are cranes everywhere… old soviet buildings built during the Stalin era are scheduled to be razed and new one modern ones put up. Foundations for Stalin’s “Seven Sisters, called “Wedding Cakes” by foreigners, were laid in 1947 to mark Moscow’s 800th anniversay when Stalin decided that Moscow suffered from a ‘skyscraper gap’ compared to the USA.

Inextricably linked to all the most important historical and political events in Russia since the 13th century, the Kremlin (built between the 14th and 17th centuries by outstanding Russian and foreign architects) was the residence of the Great Prince and also a religious centre. At the foot of its ramparts, on Red Square, St Basil’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful Russian Orthodox monuments. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Moscow is a free-wheeling city. To the ambitious there are no limits…the streets around the hotels outside Red Square are lined with black Mercedes and BMW’s with black glass windows guarded by black leather clad “goon” drivers…looking like the mafia. I find a fancy hotel where there is free WIFI in the lobby while participants in a European Union meeting saunter back and forth and high-heeled jeans-wearing translators wait around having lively conversation with pipe-smoking goons.

While I sit here uploading text on our blog, Bob wheels off to find the American Medical Clinic where he has a smoldering tooth extracted by a Russian-speaking dentist before we get on the trans-siberian train for Yekaterinburg (birthplace of Yeltsin) Lake Baikal and Mongolia beyond. We miss each other at the end of the day and it costs me 600 roubles to get back to the flat in a taxi because I’m too chicken to hazard the buses and metros.

The night we saw “Spartacus” at the Bolshoi Theater, our bags were searched by monstrously big “security,” one at least seven feet tall. Tanya says, “I never see them there before…” I ask if it is because of terrorism and she says yes, terrorism. By the way, the suicide bomber that killed several of the people in front of the metro entrance was only about 5 minutes from her flat…she says she was at that metro only a few minutes before the bomb went off. People in Moscow worry she says, but what can you do? Yes, I said, I know, thinking of our Josh who works at a restaurant in lower Manhattan.

We are in the ozone at the Bolshoi, the first ballet for Bob who now says he is ready to take ballet lessons if you can picture that and we enjoy conversations with people around us during the intermissions…one older woman from Berkely and a young woman who is here for a few months to volunteer with an AIDS education Non Profit Organization. Come to find out, over a glass of champaign and caviar-filled pastry, her boyfriend, having graduated from Harvard, is working in Chicago as a chef and they are moving to Manhattan…so of course I take her email address to give to Josh.

We leave on a midnight train for Yekaterinburg.

In The Metro Never To Return

Saturday, September 18th, 2004


Our homestay in Moscow is in the “burbs.” Tanya works for a French men’s underwear company and later admits that her son is the wholesaler and she works for him under the table. When Bob says he wants her to bring home a red French thirty dollar thong for him, she giggles but doesn’t believe him.

She is lively and we love to make her laugh by telling her how good a cook she is…fried potatoes, boiled eggs, sauted chicken, toast and cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast! She says she taught herself English three years ago using a book and audio tapes. Her apartment is brand new IKEA and spotless…when she tells us her mother was German I said to Bob “I knew it!” We sleep in her comfortable living room on a couch made out into a bed…Liam, a 24 year old, from Vancouver B.C., traveling a similar route as we are sleeps in her bedroom and Tanya sleeps on a mat on the floor in the tiny kitchen–her guests supplant or probably exceed her income.

Our first foray into downtown Moscow is quite an adventure…we can’t read the Cyrillic words on the walls of the underground so we look closely at the first three letters…and even then ended up nowhere near where we wanted to go…so reasoning that if we just get back on the train going the way we came from we could start out again where we started out before. But of course there was no way this was going to work in Moscow. What started out to be a 30 minute trip ended up being 2 hours. All we could think of the whole time in the underground was the old MTA song by the Kingston Trio:

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named [Bobby}
On a tragic and fateful day.
He put ten roubles in his pocket, took his family,
Went to ride on the M. T. A.

Well, did he ever return?
No, he never returned and his fate is still unknown.
(What a pity! Poor ole [Bobby.} Shame and scandal. He may ride forever. Just like Lenin and Trotsky.
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Moscow.
He [could have been] the man who never returned…

Red Square Moscow

Friday, September 17th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Local police don't allow anyone in Red Square until 10 in the morning so when Bob got there the Square was jaw-dropping empty...the Kremlin and Lenin's Tomb on one side, Gum's Department Store the ... [Continue reading this entry]