October 9, 2007

Final Thoughts On Moscow

I realize now, with two weeks comfortable American living hindsight, that I only saw one tiny portion of Moscow during my stay. It was the equivalent of sleeping in a hotel in Times Square and only seeing a thirty block radius of Manhattan. With no professional tour guide and zero skills speaking Russian myself, it's not fair to judge a city based on prior experiences in European countries that cater to tourists. That being said, I did want to share some things I noticed during my trip.

Stalin Gothic Buildings

These buildings really grew on me during my stay. I think I expected heavy Soviet architecture and these fulfilled my stereotype of what Moscow would be like. I was reading Gorky Park this morning and came across the following related paragraph that I wanted to share:

Stalin Gothic was not so much an architectural style as a form of worship. Elements of Greek, French, Chinese, and Italian masterpieces had been thrown into the barbarian wagon and carted to Moscow by the Master Builder Himself, who had piled them one on the other into the cement towers and blazing torches of His rule; monstrous skyscrapers of ominous windows, mysterious crenelations and dizzying towers that led to the clouds, and yet still more rising spires surmounted by ruby stars that at night glowed like his eyes. After His death, His creations were more embarrassment than menace, too big for burial with Him, so they stood, one to each part of town, great brooding, semi-Oriental temples, not exorcised but used.


Moscow is really booming. Everywhere you walk, there is a crane or a gaping hole in the ground. Way back there in the distance is a huge business complex on the rise. An entire nation of Asian laborers living on site in ramshackle apartments is simultaneously building four modern offices towers. I'd like to revisit Moscow in fifteen years to see what has risen in the skyline.

For Russians Only

Like the New York City subway, there are intricacies to transportation that only locals could really grasp. All over the city cars were on the sidewalk, in crosswalks, parked sideways and backwards. What if you wanted to get out before the guy that parked you in? Do they have parking tickets? Do they have parking garages?


I didn't see a single Starbucks but I certainly saw a lot of these around town. I wonder if the Russian mafia is copying the business model.

Even The Familiar Is Strange

The most difficult aspect to Russia is "the system." Even in a place like McDonald's they do it their own way. An employee will approach you while in line and take your order on an electronic pad. They will then give you a slip of paper that you present at the register to pay while a third person makes your order. My cheeseburger was sitting over on a counter for 10 minutes before an exasperated employee led me by the arm to the tray. How was I supposed to know?

The Underbelly

In every metro stop and underground crosswalk there are shops. You can find anything from trinkets, to cigarettes, to phone cards or lingerie. Almost all have a tiny bakery selling meat pies and breads that smell either amazing or sour depending on your mood and the time of day. I know I avoid New York subway stores because of the rats I see running around and figured it was a good rule of thumb for Moscow.

Russians Love Flowers

On every street corner and metro stop there was a small flower stand or shack. I assume there is enough business to make these shops profitable. My guide book told me that people buy odd number of flowers because even numbers are reserved for funerals.


All over the city I encountered people dressed in these horrible clown outfits saying things into a megaphone. I assume it had something to do with the circus, but I'll never know. There also seemed to be impromptu political meetings happening every day with a crowd of old people around someone on a megaphone. To boot, I saw people with no special outfit and no crowd talking to the air. I wondered if they were the Moscow equivalent of the crazies on the NYC subway asking for money.


Considering my experience in Moscow restaurants with their over the top decorating themes and all inclusive entertainment, I know I'm missing a piece of the puzzle. I'd like to meet some Russians living in the US and have questions answered as well as get a better sense of the Russian people. I'm sure living under communist rule formed a big piece of their collective personality and I bet there's a lot under the surface.


Let us not forget that there are many many Stray Dogs of the Day left to see.

You can go here to see photos from my last day in Moscow.

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