There aren’t too many Lenin statues still standing these days. This particular statue is located on Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad (October Square), a short walk from the dorm I lived in while studying in Moscow for a few months in 2003. Dedicated in 1985 by Moscow’s then mayor, Boris Yeltsin, this was the last statue of Lenin to be erected in the city. It’s now home to a thriving skater community.
This statue near Red Square depicts Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov, the most decorated general in the history of both Russia and the Soviet Union.
Watching Putin these past few weeks has been unpleasant but riveting…‘There is no question that the age of American power is finished,’ he said. ‘The time when they were a model of democracy, and a leader of the world, is over.’ And you began to think that if the Russian stock market had to all but disappear; if Putin’s friends the oligarchs had to lose 230 billion dollars; if eventually this meant that certain supply chains were going to be disrupted and people might have trouble finding food a few months down the line – well that would be a pretty small price to pay if only we could stop listening to those self-righteous fucking Americans.
Thousands of Russians from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi gathered in front of the United States Embassy here on Sunday night carrying jack-o’-lanterns inked with the names of war victims and charging that the war in Georgia was part of an American plot to improve Senator John McCain’s electoral prospects.
As music by Johnny Cash and the Allman Brothers played from loudspeakers, a stream of young people climbed off buses that had carried them to Moscow from far-flung provincial capitals. They held the pumpkins aloft for a moment of silence as a deep bass thumped and carnival-style lights played on the embassy’s facade.
In a film projected on several large screens, an actor playing President Bush (though with a heavy Russian accent) delivered a speech in which he gloated over the United States’ control over world affairs. The film asserted that the United States orchestrated World Wars I and II so that the American economy could overtake Europe’s, carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to broaden government powers and planned to brand every person on the planet with the “mark of the beast,” as referred to in the Bible.
“When that will happen, we will totally control all humanity,” said the actor playing Mr. Bush, swigging a beer, as a picture of the globe in chains glowed behind him.
WTF? What a bizarre protest.
I guess it was inevitable:
Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, will open its first cafe in Russia next month after a decade of delays that included losing its trademark rights in the country.
The first store will open in September in the Mega Mall north of Moscow, a Starbucks spokeswoman, Kate Bovey, said last week.
Starbucks joins the retailers Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour in seeking to enter Russia, where consumer spending rose 24 percent last year, the most in Europe. Russians are expected to spend $12.5 billion eating out in 2009, after annual increases of more than 7 percent, according to Rosinter Restaurants Holding, which operates the T.G.I. Friday’s and Benihana restaurants.
“Russia is hugely important as a region, it’s a primary market for us,” Carol Pucik, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said from Amsterdam on Friday. “It gives a lot of opportunities.”
IKEA, Starbucks, McDonalds, TGI Friday’s, and Wal-Mart? Wow, I can’t wait to get back to Moscow.
The NYTimes reports on a topic familiar to anyone who has spent time in Russia during the summer months: a lack of hot water.
For all its new wealth and aspirations, spurred by a boom in oil and other natural resources, Moscow remains saddled with an often decrepit infrastructure. Around now, an apt symbol of its condition is the city’s hot water system, perhaps one of the more exasperating vestiges of Soviet centralized planning.
Buildings in Moscow usually receive hot water from a series of plants throughout the city, not from basement boilers, as in the United States. By summer, the plants and the network of pipelines that transport hot water need maintenance. Off goes the hot water. And in homes across the city, out come the pots and sponges and grumbling.
When my classmates and I first arrived in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2002, our program adviser gathered us in our dorm’s common room to go over some basic information – nearest metro station, class schedule, safety, whatever. At one point he added, “Oh, and they just turned off the hot water…yesterday. So that’ll be about two weeks without it.” We were perplexed by this. A centralized hot water system? The buildings don’t have individual water heaters? WTF? Still, the announcement didn’t really phase me. I mean, how cold could the water possibly be?
I regretted that thought the second I jumped in the shower and directly into a stream of teeth-chattering, goosebump-inducing, oh-my-god-did-I-just-jump-into-the Bering Sea COLD water. And so it went for two and a half weeks (until the pipes were cleaned and the faucets once again magically dispensed hot water). Some students preferred to boil water and use wash basins, but I was much too lazy to wait for water to boil and instead became quite adept at two minute ice-cold showers. One of my friends who was staying with a Russian family attempted to do this as well, until her homestay “mother” rushed after her, basin in hand, screaming that she would die of pneumonia if she took a cold shower. Thankfully, our class experienced no cold water-related casualties. The food, however, was an entirely different story.
I didn’t believe it at first…yes, the Russians have closed Red Square. They put up fences around all the entrances to the square, so you can’t walk on it. How sad is that? A security guard at GUM told me the government closed it because they were afraid that a terrorist might try and bomb St. Basil’s Cathedral. Supposedly it will be open on Monday or Tuesday.
Not much else has been going on…yesterday we went to see Khruschev’s grave. It was interesting, as he was the only former Soviet premier that was not buried along the Kremlin wall.
We bought our train tickets to St. Petersburg. We leave Friday night and get back Monday morning. I can’t wait to see that city again!
This was definitely a good weekend. On Friday my class got out at 1pm (instead of 3pm like it usually does). After class we went to a place called Stockmann’s – it’s kind of like Harrod’s of London, but not as large. Nonetheless, it is definitely a place where only “New Russians” and expats shop. We were mainly interested in the grocery store, which stocks Western delicacies such as Goldfish crackers and Pace Picante Salsa. The grocery prices aren’t too bad…they are about what you would pay in the US, but the other goods are extremely overpriced. We wanted to buy a spatula for pancakes, but there was no way in hell we were going to pay $40 for it. After Stockmann’s we had dinner at TGI Friday’s (turns out there is a small one located within walking distance from our dorm). I had the chicken tenders…very tasty. All of the waiters spoke English, which was a plus, and also made us wonder if it was some sort of requirement that TGI Friday’s has.
On Saturday we went to Tsaritsyno Park, the site of a former palace that belonged to Catherine the Great. It was never completed though, and was just left to the elements, so all that remains is the shell of the palace. There is a large lake there, so Liz, Luke, Chris, and I rented a 4 person rowboat and went out on the lake for an hour. The boat was uhhh…well, it didn’t tip over…I’m not quite sure it would pass a US Coast Guard check, though. We docked the boat just in time, though, as it started raining extremely hard (it’s been doing that a lot lately). I definitely didn’t want to be out on the lake in that boat during a rainstorm. We ran for cover and ended up at this tent outside a church that was selling icons, bibles, etc. I bought a cool looking icon, and the lady that was selling them told us that some guy started a Russian monastery in California. Crazy…I’ll have to look that one up when I get back home. Chris was sitting under an awning of the church and a priest came out and started yelling at him. Then the militsia came over to Chris and asked for his documents. We went over there to see what was going on, and when the militsia asked where we were from we told them the USA and they said “Oh, fine” and left us alone. I didn’t expect they would just leave us alone like that, but hey, I’m not complaining. Nonetheless, Chris has the honor of being the first in our group to be hassled by the militsia.
On the metro leaving the park I was sitting on the end of the bench in the middle of the car when I looked down and saw a large duffle bag just sitting there…no one around it or anything…and there were only a few people on the car, since our stop was pretty far out from the city center. When we transferred trains Luke told a metro worker and she started yelling at some guy on the phone to stop the train at the next stop and check the bag. Some moron probably just forgot his bag on the train. They have been pretty conscientous about security due to the current suicide bombers at the concert and Tverskaya Street (and the metro car bombings a few years ago).
We ate at the Georgian restaurant again…the food is so incredible (the Georgians call their cuisine “table scraps from heaven.”) I’d like to go to Georgia someday…seems like an interesting place. Back at the dorm we had cake and ice cream because it was Luke’s birthday.
Today we went to Victory Park, which has a huge monument and museum dedicated to WW2. We were going to check out the outdoor artillery and fortifications exhibit, but it started raining very very hard…the rain here is insane. Now I gotta go back to my dorm and study Russian…class tomorrow!
On Wednesday we played basketball at the MGU main campus. We had a good mix: 4 Americans, 1 Russian MGU student, and 2 Pakastani Diplomats. We played for about 2 hours and have a game on for next Wednesday…yay!
Today in class we learned to sing some Russian songs. They have this crazy karaoke setup that has tons of Russian songs you can sing along to. The video is rather odd, though, as it displays scenes of New York City, Venice Beach, Chicago, etc…not exactly places you think of when singing “Kalinka” or “Moscow Nights.” One of my favorite songs was “Moy Adrec Sovietskii Soyouz”, which went kinda like: My address is not my home or my street, my address is the Soviet Union.
Yesterday we ate at a place called Piccadilly’s and I had some chicken fajitas…some of the best I have ever had! Quite surprising…good fajitias in Moscow? Who woulda thought? Today we ate at a Georgian place and it was sooo good. Georgian food rocks…I wish I could find a place in DC with lamb shashlyik, khachipuri, and lavash.
Not much else going on here. The dorm administrators have had to check our passports and registration for like the 50th time since we got here…typical Russian red tape. The Russians also have a lot to learn about “The customer is always right”, as yesterday Liz and I wanted to buy a caramel ice cream cake for 50 rubles (a little less that $2) but the saleswoman refused. She told us to instead pick one for 60 rubles because those ones were “far tastier and larger for only 10 more rubles.” So yeah, we ended up with a 60 ruble cake even though we wanted the caramel cake…oh well.