Friday, August 5, 2011

Regarding Moscow and All Things Muscovite

The secret to enjoying a new city is a comfortable pair of shoes. A decent guidebook, good health, pleasant company and adequate funds will naturally contribute to the overall experience, but ultimately your happiness depends on the state of your feet. This is particularly true in cities with cobblestones, of which most of The Continent is comprised, and at which Antipodeans are in awe.

Moscow does not exert itself to win over visitors. It does not ask for your admiration or praise, it sits haughty and high and expecting your homage. You are privileged to bask in my grandeur, it says to foreigners; and so, it does not provide signage or directions or readable maps or convenient eating places. The Muscovites within it will not slow down to listen to your broken attempts at questions in Russian, or even acknowledge that you asked them. It seems to me that the most effective method of extracting information from a local is to wrestle them to the ground and tickle-torture it out of them.

It is a hard city; hard and glitzy like a diamond, except you have to imagine a very imperfect diamond with veins of concrete running through it. There is beauty here, but the city doesn't ask you to partake in it; in fact, it demands that you keep your distance and forebear to love it. In most European cities, the architecture invites you to enter into a relationship with it; to be warmly enriched by it. Moscow's buildings, for the most part, are like a patient with dementia. They are sunk in Soviet memory and don't recognise the present. Difficult to love, unless you knew them beforehand.

The Kremlin is the ultimate expression of Moscow's stony indifference to foreigners. In order to experience the Kremlin, the visitor must exert her problem-solving powers, since the ticket sellers will only sell certain tickets at designated hours, and you must use your intuition to identify entrances and exits. For instance, if you want to visit the Armoury, which you certainly will since that's where the Faberge eggs and ancient carriages and jewels are kept, you must line up at 11:15 precisely to gain entry at noon. There is a perpetual huddle of confused tourists around the office, and information is garnered by word of mouth rather than signage. Then, once in possession of the required tickets - which cost enough to feed an average sort of individual in Bishkek for a week - the visitor must pass through many security checks and undergo the scrutiny of bored police before entering the inner sanctum.

When I manage to upload my photos, I'll talk about The Kremlin and Red Square and surrounds in detail. There are lots of things to like about Moscow - but it's ever so much more fun to talk about the difficult things!

I bought a Stephen Fry novel in English yesterday, since it turns out that I'm not feeling as intellectually keen as I anticipated when I packed some rather more demanding books. I'm going to take it to the park and read for a bit, and rest my weary feet. It occurred to me today, as I was grumbling (in my head) about Russian things, and also when I spent more time on an exhibit of English art than on anything besides Faberge, that I'm a bit of an Anglophile, and Stephen Fry's writing feeds this inclination since he is himself the perfect arbiter of Britishness. If my next post reeks of aphorisms and tweedy adverbs (frightfully boring and all that!) you'll know the reason why.


  1. I'm giggling at the thought of you tickle-torturing a local.

  2. Brilliant piece, beautiful personification of the architecture.

    John Nelson

  3. Julie - extreme rudeness calls for extreme measures.

    John - thank you for the encouragement!