Saturday, 26 November 2011

on photographing

Went to check out GUM and its christmas decorationss (which are different from the last two years - when they were the same - but also not as good) and couldn't move for people photographing each other, mainly wedding parties. I counted 16 brides-and-groom pairs, as well as several women being snapped by their boyfriends. As I have mentioned before, Russians have no problem posing; everyone seems able to gurn to the camera as if to the manner born, all happily dolled up in thick makeup, (male and female both) and enough hairspray around to destroy the planet. 

christmas arriving

Bleak solid grey skies today, varying between rain and sleet; but hurrah, those christmas decorations are appearing in the streets and shops. Feeling surprisingly cheery about this - which is not my usual way. So just going to go with the happy flow for now...

fish-n-chips (almost)

What is it about living abroad that makes me culturally regress around my eating habits? I often crave fish and chips here (not a dish I eat that often in London - although there is a terrific one near where I live). So got very excited when I found a Nordsee on Pokrovka on my lunchtime walk today, one of an international german-originated chain which "ist die größte europäische auf Fisch und Meeresfrüchte spezialisierte Restaurantkette („Quick Service“ und „Casual Dining“) mit eigenen Restaurants" according to their website.

More like IKEA than an english fish-n-chips shop but still who cares? Fish! And Chips!

Friday, 25 November 2011

back to Moscow...

Who can choose?

back to London...

protesting (3): booing for Putin

Well, who would believe it? Seems that Vladimir Putin was booed by a huge audience last week, when he climbed up into the boxing ring following the success of his favourite martial arts fighter over an american opponent, and used the occasion to promote his party, United Russia.

Of course, as with all news here, there are immediately many contradictory and/or weird fuddlings -  he was not booed it was people cheering; the whole story  has been fabricated; it was the outgoing loser being booed; people were only booing because they needed to go to the toilet; people were booing but only because they don't want sport and politics connected; booing is a good sign because it shows that people have freedom of speech; he was booed and it represents 'the end of an era'. Make up your own mind (or not) here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

about that kitten....

So cute - but. I have been putting off admitting to the next stage in my stray kitten story - only because I did what I planned and returned it to the (warm) building corridor in which I found it, behind some heating pipes. No further news except to say that when I went back to look it had disappeared. So here's hoping... 

protesting (2)

In fact one of the strongest and most public ongoing campaigns in Moscow has been against the (elite) privilege of being able to beat the always terrible traffic, avoid speed limits and generally drive like shit - by having special removable, flashing blue lights on your car roof (migalki). Made worse by the fact that many more than the allocated number are being used, because such lights can of course be bought illegally.

The Blue Bucket movement has seen people put blue buckets on their cars, in ridiculous mimicry of the lights, and then when that was banned, putting them on their heads. The protests have been vocal enough to bring on what appeared to be a recent police clampdown - with migalki drivers being stopped and checked. But as usual here, the response has been mixed; some say it is just for show, others that it is just legal migalki owners trying to stop illegal abuse 'watering down' their privilege. Nobody ever really thinks anything is going to change, even when they do go out on the streets in frustration and anger (and with humour).

protesting (1)

Got momentarily excited by this poster, suggesting that some political protest was at last happening in Moscow, until I realised that it was just a design student project. In fact, some of the liveliest campaigning groups in Moscow seem to be around architectural heritage and its destruction (no Occupy movement here yet).

The group Archnadzor  has brought together some of the different preservationist groups and do a lot of campaigning including some direct action - still a risky business in Russia. You can see some old photos at Moskva Koterey Net (The Moscow that is No More) of what has already been demolished to make way for the post-Soviet/Capitalist Realist boom; and read more at MAPS (MoscowArchitectural Preservation Society) - the only site with an English language version.

games time

When I first came to Moscow, I kept reading and hearing references to Mafia Games. Also did a bit of geo-caching, so just assumed (perhaps stupidly) that this was some kind of street-based cops and robbers role-playing game. But recently bought a designer cards version from Art Lebedev of what turns out to mainly involve a lot of sitting around and opening and closing your eyes.

Actually, the game looks great and somehow very Russian. People are allocated roles on the basis of cards, resulting in a minority of mafia and the larger group of unknowing innocents, plus some other characters. In the 'night time' when the goodies have their eyes closed, the baddies get to murder someone. During the 'daytime' everyone tries to work out who the baddies are (including, of course, the baddies). The game continues until either the mafia are destroyed or they outnumber the good people.

Then almost simultaneously with this discovery, I found out that you can do an 'adventure' game in Moscow. It is basically a tour - sorry quest - with clues. Will report back more when I get around to trying it....

You can read the original Mafia Games rules here and a more detailed explanation and brief history on Wikipedia.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

I know I know..

I know, Moscow is full of stray dogs and cats and the last thing you want to do is to take one home. But this kitten was so tiny, abandoned so late in the year, good at the piteous squealing, and unusually fluffy and fancy for a feral.

My current plan is just to fatten her up over the weekend and return her to the streets, but then I am such a sucker for small furry things. Or unless anyone else wants a cat.............

watching Down Terrace

Went To Ben Wheatley's film Down Terrace last night, which is being show as part of the New British Films Festival here. Offered as a crime thriller, it is actually very very funny, with the action mainly set in claustrophobic close-up in a Brighton crime family's seedy terraced house. Besides some odd questions - (Why have you filmed in such a shabby house? Why are no policemen shown? Why doesn't the plot make sense? Are all British families like this?) which Wheatley answered with droll good humour - the film's disfunctional characters, chaotic family relationships and miscellaneous murders seemed to resonate just as happily with a Russian audience as they did with me. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

magic lorry?

I don't understand why there is a higher proportion of random and slightly weird things in Moscow, but there are. Even the trucks behave in mysterious ways. 

missed as usual

Last Sunday was the 70th anniversary of the 1941 military parade - celebrated by a military march through Red Square -  that began the Battle of Moscow (which defeated Hitler's army right at the edge of the city). Missed it, but you can watch the RIA Novosti video here.

Also first real indication of winter. Beautiful, bright but piercingly cold weekend followed by several days of mainly rainy, sleety, wet and icy flurries, at their worst moments slanting in almost horizontally. Lovely. 

only a little bit weird

Spent some of the week with friends and colleagues on a visit from London; mainly sharing in late night eating and drinking activities. Which gives me the chance to introduce you to a regular haunt - Gladiator, a Georgian restaurant just around the corner from Kurskaya station. Proper shashlik, served with great bundles of herbs and leaves: all served in pavilions banding a central garden (which is populated with.. well you can see.)

the art of parking 2: the insouciant

Friday, 4 November 2011

building, building everywhere

As I have mentioned before, there is currently so much building and renovation going on around this area, that the ongoing health-and-safety(not) theme is just too easy to illustrate, frighteningly so. I read an article recently about Tajiks, who make up a large percentage of the mainly immigrant building labourers. Tajikistan’s migration service reported that during the first eight months of 2011, the bodies of 603 Tajik gastarbeiters had been repatriated from Russia. Of these, reports James Brooke67 were attributed to “attacks by nationalist groups” - which is bad enough in itself - but which also means over 500 deaths on building sites in less than a year.

And today is Unity Day, a day off and a yearly excuse for Russia's nationalist extremists to march, reminding these Tajiks that their position in Moscow continues to be fragile in every way.

more balancing acts

This may appear as a simple case of standing on a chair (on scaffolding). But actually, the chair is also balanced on a low coffee table....

more on books

Reading Snowdrops - with its emphasis on the rotten side of Russia - made me think of the other books I have read about the country since I got here. Nothing has been worse than Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia which stayed so much inside his self-centred head, that we never really heard from anyone else (sample - chapter 2 is entitled 'how shall I die?', followed by a quote from Fight Club.) In comparison Dervla Murphy's Silverland - also involving Siberia and a bicyclemay be be traditional in including some history and useful facts (rather than just what the traveler is feeling at the time), but shows both insightfulness and modesty in her engagements with people and place.

Then there were two authors who write about Russia through the prism of its literature; Elif Batuman's The Possessed and Rachel Polonsky's Molotov's Magic Lantern - the first of which I read very fast and without much concentration; and the second of which I have not yet got around to finishing. And enjoyed, in a fairly abstract way. But I can't help feeling that - except for bits of Murphy - A. D. Miller is quite correct when he admits that we write about Russia mainly to write about ourselves:
"Just as travel writing chronicles the traveller's preconceptions as well as his journey, so for some novelists, Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions." quoted from here.
Which means that Russians themselves, as themselves, (and in all their variations) don't turn up very often. Or that I am reading the wrong books.

And the eagle-eyed will note that the photograph here is from earlier in the summer. In fact the leaves in Moscow have almost all gone. Must get my camera back from London (where I left it) somehow.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

and back again

Actually it wont be Moscow or my Russian colleagues that finally chase me away from here. It will be a few of the English people I work with. Maybe it is an expat thing more widely, but it's as if being in Moscow makes some - particularly young men - regress to juvenile behaviour in ways that I cannot believe they would do at home, or would be allowed to do.  Somehow their sense of entitlement (the slouch of confidence) takes on a smothering excess of smugness and self-importance; producing a depressing mixture of often-vocalised assumed superiority over everything Russian, and a kind of swaggering copy of the worse of Russian macho manhood.

I have just finished reading Snowdrops, a thriller-ish novel by A. D. Miller, who was the Moscow correspondent of the Economist for some years. His hero has some of these qualities (although the author lets him off lightly), using the excuse of joining in with wealthy Muscovite hedonism as a means of easily slipping into other, more unpleasant, thoughtless and unethical activities. The book was recommended by two people separately who have both come to visit here, because it evokes many of the experiences of being in Moscow. Although a little thin as to story, and with a tendency to treat all Russians homogeneously as a collective 'them', my friends are right about this book. The asides about everyday life here made me snort happily in recognition.

blighty (more)

I also said, absented-mindly, that Russians have terrible posture. This was after we had been on the tube, observing other passengers and thinking about differences . V noted that everyone looked a lot more relaxed, had what I suggested we call the 'slouch of confidence.' This is partly a matter of fashion; English styles are a lot baggier, hanging off the waist and the shoulder, loose fitting, more casual. But it is also that Russians (in Moscow at least) do seem to hold themselves more hunched.

This is not because of any discomfort with their own bodies; as I have said I find the Russians I have met much less self-conscious than English people, easier with being up much closer to each other and happy to consider themselves in any mirror, any time. So I don't know why there is such a big difference in shoulder/back rigidity. Comments welcome.

Photograph courtesy of Leeza Semionova

thoughts from blighty

Been in London for a few days with my Russian colleagues V and L, and stupidly blurted out at some point that I found London much more civilised than Moscow. Then spent a lot of time back-tracking (and trying to clarify what I was getting at). That I didn't mean that the people are uncivilised, or even the mindless rules combined with chaos - muscovites notice lots of random rules in London and cannot believe that we follow them - only that the public urban space of the city is so much more comfortable, much more for the 'public'.

Although we also nicknamed London ToyTown, both because of the tiny houses all lined up, and because compared to Moscow, public transport is designed for midgets.