Thursday, 29 April 2010

getting a new angle on things

So the good news and bad news. The good news is that everyone was incredibly helpful, I have moved into my new place and it is big - the bed alone is the size of a small country - also everything very shiny and colourful. The bad news is that the old tenant is still moving her stuff out, quite haphazardly, as I write. Oh, and city traffic is completely paralysed by rehearsals for Victory Day (this happens next Sunday involving many tanks and dignitaries) so we have sat for a very long time in a taxi.

As you can see, a much plainer view - although I could spit on the Garage Centre of Contemporary Culture from here (if I wanted to, which I don't.)

Also not sure if the very large pink flurry bunny in the lounge, which has a strange look in its eyes, counts as good news or bad...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

goodbye view!

The minor cheating, failure to make repairs and general all round low-level difficulties with my landlord's agent have finally blown up into a major row; after her failure to pay a phone bill which left me without internet for several days, the problem became how the flat is clearly perfect, and I am someone who breaks everything (non sequiturs being the hardest thing to deal with in any language). It is never a good idea to argue via a translator - not because he wasn't good, but because you can never have a really good shouting match or have the satisfaction of knowing you have scored even a single point. In fact, her increasingly litany of damages done by me, including many non-existent ones, led as expected to the possibility of calling the police, threats of arrest, locking me out of the flat, checking my papers and even deportation. All of this, of course, because she is planning to appropriate (well, steal is the more accurate word) my deposit.

The thing is, when you are used to the rule of law (however inadequate or problematic) it is hard to remember that in Moscow she could easily carry out her threats, through a simple bribe to a corrupt policeman. Which in turn is part of a bigger problem; when ordinary, civilised people, such as the people I work with, cannot make an impact on even a small injustice - for there is absolutely nothing to be done despite vague suggestions of involving lawyers. And that, in turn, makes it hard to believe, (in the way I am used to without thinking) in the possibility of having any effect on the world. This is sometimes called russian fatalism; but it is both more complex and more everyday than that. It makes it hard to plan, to have aims or ambitions, to believe you can have some control over present and future events, because it is proved again and again that things will most likely go wrong.... or at least strangely sideways.

All you can do in situations like these, is to try and respond well: and my colleagues are doing just that - being very helpful, sorting out a temporary home at short notice and helping me my stuff. Much appreciated.

Will be sorry to leave this place, not for its IKEA corporate look, but for the great location and the absolutely fabulous outlook on not just one but two Stalinist skyscrapers. Goodbye, view.

City bingo 5: actually, beyond a joke

Another relatively common sight - a disabled sticker prominently displayed in a completely incorrect situation (e.g. as here, with steps). What are they thinking? Also many, random, pavement markings in yellow, with no logic in any way connected to being visually impaired. As the guide book says, Moscow is not a place that makes things easy for disabled people.

Dvor in the Springtime!

Just to show that the weather has definitely improved....(actually not sure this works; meant to illustrate beautiful bright sunlight!)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

a city of yards

As the weather improves (this is an old photograph!) I have been increasingly taking shortcuts through the courtyards or dvors/ двора between buildings. These feel like a defining feature of Moscow; not just back gardens as in England, or central courtyards within blocks as in much of Europe, but a unruly set of confusingly linked spaces, flats, houses, factories, offices and misc. sheds interspersed with paths, tunnels through buildings, alleys, greenery, small parks and playgrounds and car-parking (of course).

It takes a bit of reconnoitering to work out how to cut through; the first time was at Christmas when a friend from London showed me how to shave the journey time of one of my 'standard' walks in half. I understand from a Russian colleague that taking these shortcuts has got harder as more and more new housing is fenced off into 'exclusive' enclaves. There is a also the problem of ownership and maintenance. Where I live, as already mentioned, the maintenance people are obviously paid in a way which means they are always looking for jobs (even when these don't really need doing) to justify their existence. But there are also places where nobody is doing anything, producing a patchwork of extreme neatness and relative squalor.

I like the yards. Makes for nicely random and unexpected walking, if and when you have the time to explore.

another unexpected drink..

This is Baikal, which really confused me when I first tasted it, since it tastes just like Coca Cola (well not just like, but quite close). Then I found out that that is what it is, a deliberate Soviet version, first made here in the 1960s, and named after the famous lake. It even gets its own page on Wikipedia, telling you exactly what is in it.

Meanwhile Baikal lake, which was famously pure and healthy (Pearl of Siberia, the Sacred Lake etc.,) is currently at the centre of a big environmental campaign to do with the local paper mill....

spring- cleaning

One of Mayor Luzhkov's proposed subbotniki (volunteer public working days) for spring cleaning the city - the 17th April - seems to have come and gone without much activity, at least not in my neck of the woods. But then, around here everything is already looking very spruced up. The many, many maintenance people who endlessly shovelled snow from roofs and grounds and blocked the pavement where icicles might fall, then broke up the remaining ice and swept away flooded drains and gutters, are now in gangs painting fences and kerb-stones around the local estates, picking up litter and blocking the path again, where it is now bits of (dampish) buildings that threaten to drop off.

The earth is still mainly blank, but grass is just beginning to show through and some neighbours are planting flowers. And the ubiquitous paint - which I remember from being here in 1970s - is still that really unpleasant green.

City bingo 5: concert posters for (ex)rock stars - need I say more?

Dairy product of the week 4

In an attempt to beat my addiction to condensed milk with expresso (and it is definitely that way around!) I recently bought some Toplyonoye moloko (baked milk). This was following the advice of the Moscow Times and its "best 15 milk products" article, already mentioned on this blog. The author said he preferred both the taste and the lower calorie content to condensed milk - since without additional sugar - of Toplyonoye milk. It is produced by simmering milk on a low heat for more than eight hours, making it a beige colour.

Well, I have to absolutely disagree. What it is, is UHT milk by another name - but browner looking - boiled stale and tasting like just what it is, milk ruined just so it can last longer outside the fridge. Horrible.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter stall

Easter isn't a holiday here; as with Christmas it is a leftover from Soviet period when religious festivals were ignored. People go to church and decorate eggs and bake special cakes, but otherwise you would hardly notice.

Didn't even eat any chocolate.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Lubyanka flowers

Traveled through Lubyanka metro on my way home yesterday. There is a beautiful memorial to the bombing developing there as people pile up flowers, mainly single carnations.