Today we went to visit the flat next to my old flat, which I have watched builders going in and out of for several months. So, on the off-chance and as I was leaving, I enquired as to whether it might be for rent.
Well, we met the owner, an elderly engineer. The one-roomed flat, which had been his mother's, still has Soviet period fixtures and fittings. Visiting it was like being in a time-warp compared to the IKEA corporate flat I have just left (or the shiny 'capitalist realist' style interior I now occupy). I loved it of course - it would make a great 'matching set' with my 50s modernist flat in London - but there was a complicated story about how he and his wife would like to rent it to me, so I could help the grandchildren with their English (and because they have had good times in London on a cultural exchange), but that his daughter was keen to use it as extra space for these children and their artistic activities, so no decision could yet be made. Photographs of his grandchildren and my daughter were duly studied and cooed over, and other stories were swopped particularly about a shared interest in architecture - of which more below.
This led , after we had left, to talk about both the housing market in Moscow and the stories it offers about people's lives here. In many ways Moscow is like London; housing is now very expensive, such that those who 'came into' property before the boom have the potential to live off the additional income from renting it, whilst those who missed out can no longer 'get in' and must pay around 50% of their income for somewhere to live.
Only in Moscow what people now own - mainly following the privatisation of the 90s - depends on how their parents were employed during the Soviet period. So, if your dad or grandfather was in the KGB or some other high-ranking official, then you may now well have the keys to a huge flat in a Stalinist skyscraper. I don't know about the engineer's family, but his wife is the daughter of Vladimir Shukhov, who designed some of the earliest hyperboloid structures, including the famous Tower named after him (just this fact alone is very exciting to me, for which I apologise), so they have another, inherited flat.
And then this led on to stories about other people I work with, including one whose father was Stalin's helicopter pilot. Because, in Soviet times, you only got permission to move to Moscow legally if you were a key worker or part of the power structure. Which means, I guess, that there is a greater 'density' of such personal histories here.