Sunday, 13 June 2010

Whilst you are waiting for me to be back - buy the book!

And goodbye Moscow (for now)

Only away for a couple of months, but it still feels strange.....goodbye Moscow.

Goodbye rainstorms

That special thing

I already know what it is that represents Moscow for me, as I come to the end of this first year.

This is mainly because I keep taking pictures. Of those painted patches over graffiti you see everywhere. I like the care with which it is done, the oddly decorative patterns the painters-over make, and the complete impossibility of getting any sort of colour match.

park again

In one corner of Sokolniki park there was dancing to rather miscellaneous 'big band' type favourites (played by a few elderly men and sometimes by a machine). The average age was probably 70, and much eying up of possible partners was in evidence.

The dancing, through, was a bit haphazard and it was difficult to ignore the more eccentric individuals involved, even whilst recognising that mostly everyone was having a good time. I found myself assuming that this kind of communal dancing (as with the tango sessions I managed to miss the other week) is left over from Soviet times and will fade away with this generation..

at the park

30 degrees and thunderous rainstorms, so I went to Sokolniki park to enjoy the holidays (this one is Russia Day). It has an amusement park, including a small train, and both real and mechanical horses for children to ride on. It is also one of the few places I have seen people jogging. What else is there to say - it was heaving with people, just like any London park would be in weather like this.

is smooth good?

This smoothness (lack of) also affects 'high' culture; from lack of advanced warning to exhibitions that are not finished to deadline (these are stands still being built after ARCH Moscow opened) to the weird experience of the current Rothko show at Garage.

Here, the pictures are well hung but the lighting is pretty poor and the alarm sensors oversensitive. The effect is a kind of sound installation ballet. You have to lean forward to read the captions to each work, which sets off the alarms (each at a slightly different pitch). A resigned security guard walks towards you gesticulating, so you back off. They retire, only to have to do the same thing as another alarm sounds. This is non-stop and - for a while - quite amusing. But in a London gallery we are so used to everything being smooth; with the amount of effort behind each exhibition made invisible precisely because of obsessive professionalism.

Well, I think that is what it is.....

On smoothness

The thing I have been trying to get my head around is about how London (particularly its cultural scene) has a certain smoothness and slickness which Moscow doesn't have. This could be called a type of professionalism which makes coherence and consistency central to its understanding of itself; and/or it could be capitalist society, which exploits every aspect of consumption to generate lots of different goods and services for us to buy.

A typical street cleaners' kit, shown here, is a good example. Brushes are invariably made of twigs; cleaners carts of old prams or trolleys with plastic buckets or boxes tied on with string. Why buy a plastic broom, or a pre-designed dustbin cart? Well why indeed, except of course in London that is what the street cleaners have (whether contracted publicly or privately).

Another example is luncheon vouchers (I have also had post-it notes as cloakroom tickets). We used to get these at work; and each month someone would make photocopies and cut them out individually with scissors. But I can't really explain why I find this odd.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

that special something

Very aware that I am leaving Moscow next week and going back to London for most of the summer. Of course really excited to be seeing my daughter, relatives and friends, and to be spending a decent amount of time at home; but also find myself trying to pin down the things I will miss. Sometimes it feels as if Soviet times haven't really gone away, like when a tram goes by full of sleepy army recruits, or amid those stand-up picnics in the park, or walking through my 'typical' high-rise neighbourhood. Then there is the way the lifts tend to be sturdy but not smooth or quiet and all repairs haphazard rather than effective.

But there are also what seem to be truly contemporary moments; such as the glam young women in the highest heels, tightest shortest dresses, brightest colours and the most labelled accessories; or the extraordinary array of buildings under construction which cannot even be contained by the term 'eclectic' and have led me to think hard about what I mean when I say something is ugly. There is the energy of new cultural possibilities, of new things starting all the time, usually without warning, publicity or long lead-in times.

So, even though I don't want to reduce this place to simple stereotypes, I do seem to be trying to select a special something, that sums up my first (almost) year in this country and city. For which, all suggestions welcome....

more on food

Think I have finally gone native in my eating habits. Well, actually that is wrong on two counts. First, I am not sure that anyone else in Moscow is sitting down to a plate that looks anything like this for dinner. And, second, I really wanted more of a frankfurter type sausage, but have too frequently accidently purchased the ones that are basically made out of condoms and have to be boiled, rather than the ones that can be fried - and on trying to fry them, have been left only with a plastic-coated disaster.

And since I was buying the sausages at my local outdoor market (which is brilliant) I could only ask for ones that I could pronounce, because my Russian is still terrible. So in fact what I have finally gone is lazy.

boys toys

Next door to the park is some kind of military museum; through the fence is what seems to be a car park, into which is jammed an assortment of minor looking tanks, armoured vehicles, rockets and (small) fighter jets. This boy stared through the fence for a long time, then calmly got out of his car, and squeezed through (not an easy task), whilst his father watched without speaking. And then the boy stood on the other side of the fence for a long time, staring (happily).

Monday, 7 June 2010

want one

Also in the park, were these ballon floats for children to paddle around in. Aren't they great? I want one now!

handy hints for travellers 12: the little things

Found out something very useful today (which makes me realise just what a newbie I still am to Russia). I have noticed that men shake hands a lot; but when I am in a group, often as the only female, I am never included. It is those very ordinary everyday habits that confuse - I couldn't work out what the etiquette is. Do women not shake hands? When do I do the hug thing, or the cheek kissing business (if ever)? With whom is what the norm?

Well, it turns out, according to one of my older Russian colleagues, that a man will never shake hands with 'a lady', unless she puts her hand out first, in which case he will be very glad to shake it. So now I can join in with all the everyday male handshaking. But I forgot to ask him what the deal is when I meet another female stranger/acquaintance/friend. I haven't noticed women shaking hands very much.... so I need more advice here. What kind of greeting(s) should I do in this case?

Oh, and I should mention that the photograph was taken this weekend at my local park which fills up with older people on a Sunday afternoon who, I understand, then dance the tango.

Typically for me, I witnessed the beginning - which seems to involve many stand-up group picnics and some serious drinking - but, as usual, missed the main event, i.e. the dancing.

Spring snow (extra)

Very informative comments in response my last post (thanks all round), and so now I know what this fluffy stuff is. Still trying (unsuccessfully) to get a decent photograph of it in action - and to sweep it out of my 7th floor flat interior corridor.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

spring snow?

The whole city is suddenly alive with pollen, white fluffy seeds like a thousand dandelions all blown about at once. It is thick enough to rest on your eyelashes, catch in your hair and get up your nose. It is everywhere - even down the metro. It was piled up in soft batches all over the floor of a building under construction I have just been visiting. I don't know what tree it comes from - can someone help here?

But even whilst it swirls like a fine soft snow, somehow it is hard to photograph. So, this is not actually meant to be a picture of a man in a funny hat on a scooter....

new fronts

There was a lot of interest at the Arch Moscow show in how to brighten up the ubiquitous high-rise housing 'types' that can be found right across the country. Whilst most of these were built during Soviet times and are in relatively poor states of repair, it seems that developers are still building the same types now as these are cheap and easy to make, so more profitable.

The picture shows some suggestions by young architects; the face is someone I work with, who enjoyed the joke of a 'non-personality cult' to remind/replace all those images of Soviet (and post-Soviet) leaders.


Sooo tired! Did a flying trip to London - where I was told it had been cold and so took warm coat; then wonderfully warm weekend. Left coat there, flew back expecting similar/warmer warmth here, to find rainstorms and chilliness. And came back right into the middle of several events in need of attending as the city holds both Arch Moscow ( a mix between the Ideal Home exhibition and a designers show) and an Architectural Biennale. As usual, hard to find out what is going on, and then lots of clashes with famous people all turning up at once. Oh, the trials of the cultural intellectual!