… ass-naked in the snow you had a quiet night with some work colleagues in Moscow’, says the Road Junky’s Instant Global Morning-After Self-Locator. Sounds funny and perfectly depicts the common stereotypes about mother Russia – but it’s false. 21st century Moscow’s reality is rather what they believe to await you in Switzerland, under the circumstances: If you wake up in a snow bank and are greeted in six different languages by a helpful hiker you are in Switzerland. Don’t touch anything; you can’t afford it. You see, Zurich is ranking somewhere 7th in various lists of the world’s most expensive cities, and Moscow is either No1 – or second only to Tokio.
The truth is that my friends and colleagues here don’t drink more than my other friends anywhere in the world, it’s only that they pay double and triple for the booze. All in all, if you are dying to live a genuinely Russian experience – or, rather, a Soviet one – you’d better head for Moldova or Belarus. I’ve been to Moldova couple of years ago – and it’s really an experience out of this world, somehow the globalization has bypassed it and you can indeed experience stuff unavailable anywhere else; i was told the same is in Belarus.
In Moscow – you won’t get lost if you don’t speak Russian, as it was the case some quarter a century ago, Russian cars are driven mostly by migrants from Central Asia, while locals prefer Mercedes and Audi. Wherever you go – there is a McDonald’s and a Starbucks and there are very few foods from home which you’ll miss horribly while staying here – you can buy pretty much everything in Moscow’s hypermarkets.
If you were here 25 years ago, you needed to speak from the framework of Russian culture, so to be understood – cultural gap was huge because Russians at the time were watching their own movies exclusively, reading their own writers mostly and listening to music that was made-in-Russia… It’s not the case anymore, the same Hollywood blockbusters are screened in the movie theaters here and the NY Times bestsellers are translated instantly. Nowadays, when you want to share something from another culture – your brain won’t explode while thinking of the Russian equivalent (i mean the impossible comparisons of a kind: Jim Morrison is to us, what Vladimir Vysotsky is to you, to which foreigners used to resort at the time), just spit it out, whatever it is that you thought of – chances are that your Russian host already knows about it.
Of course that there are certain local specifics – like the tea culture and certain traditional foods, such as herring which is savored with delicious Borodino bread … But those you can taste in any Russian restaurant pretty much everywhere in the world.
Oh, right – many Russian women still wear fur, but so do Montenegrin and vegetarianism is not as common as it is in the Western Europe and USA.
Other than that – i really have hard time thinking of some major differences; Russians, like other Eastern Europeans, were said to be gloomy because here it wasn’t common to keep smiling at all times, but that’s changing too; also the previously obligatory use of patronymics is mostly the matter of the past.
All of that being said, you can imagine my amazement when -unexpectedly – i’ve lived an jamais vu experience, here at VDNH which by now is as ‘all-Russian’ as KFC at the Chinese Great Wall is all Chinese.
After the stroll at the botanical garden, across the park’s ponds we headed to the Exhibition Center VDNH which is adjunct to it. With a friend who’s my usual sojourner during the local adventures, for some reason we ventured into the Pavilion No2, where Soviet geological wonders used to be exposed (nowadays it’s a flower market.)
Lo and behold, we hear loud Panjabi music coming from somewhere, we follow it and get to some stairs leading down, the entrance itself being hidden by white textile paravan… Excited, we head downstairs and find ourselves in the most amazing place in which i’ve been during my three years long stay in Moscow – it’s a restaurant and a shop owned by a Bengali gentleman, Amin, who runs it mostly for his own countrymates and the small business owners from the flower market.
I do doubt there is a friendlier restaurant owner in Moscow than Mr Amin – and i am certain that you can’t treat yourself to such delicacies at such a low prices anywhere else. The atmosphere is that of a local pub – and it doesn’t matter that you don’t really know anyone, you feel welcomed; with all the loneliness and alienation typical of Moscow and all other megalopolises – Amin’s restaurant does feel like a cosy, divinely smelling and tad messy home away from home. (Pictures posted with permission.)
- The Train! (shazlitt.com)
- Russian hospitality – and a few shots of Vodka! (#ibmcsc russia) (mikejrocha.wordpress.com)
- Do you want to trade with Russia? Learn from Napoleon. (makeitglobal.wordpress.com)
- Stuck in Sheremetyevo (newyorker.com)
- Three days in Moscow..Did I Mention it was January? (passionfruitontoast.com)
- Mighty Moscow (beginyouradventure.wordpress.com)