Monday, September 8, 2008

In Which I Re-Enter the Fray

Temperature: Over 80F! And humid. My hair is out of control.

I've been back over a week now and have been thinking about what stands out to me as quintessentially Moscow. Being new to a place brings the odd differences sharply into focus, Being away two whole months brings reminders screaming into view.

So what am I struck by here?

The gorgeous golden egg yolks.
American eggs disappointed me. I shopped at Trader Joe's all summer. At the Giant Eagle, I bought Eggland's Best. But nothing rose above a pale anemic yellow. The eggs here are fantastic.

All tap water, all the time.
My American house, which we refer to as 910 because this is the street address, has typical "older home" water pressure. If you flush, you have to wait before you turn on the shower. Don't wash dishes immediately after you put in a load of laundry. Oh! And you can cook with and drink the water at 910, too.

Here in my Moscow digs, there is a never-ending flow of hot water. Cold water too. If someone flushes, no problem! But you don't want to drink it. Today, I heard a rumor that in the winter, whatever passes as the Moscow Water Works adds antifreeze to the mix. This seems unlikely. But it might also explain why my skin when so wacka-wacka last winter.

I love the smell of vodka in the morning.
Man, oh man. Moscow has more drunks than Kelleys Island. 

I was on the Metro last Friday at 10:45 in the morning. Well-Dressed Dude sitting next to me reeks of Ruski Standart. Well, I don't know that it wasn't Stoli or even Absolute. But, Dude! It's not just for breakfast!?

This is not a rare occurance in Moscowtown, I assure you. I often see people dressed for the office, but smelling strongly of vodka. Walking under the Garden Ring this morning, I passed a step full of empty beer bottles. Okay, maybe they were from yesterday, and the cleaning crew hadn't gotten there yet. But, emerging on the other side, I saw a very drunk young man, staggering and leaning against parked cars in a "Ohhhhhh! I don't feel so good!" sort of way. 

The weather was nice this weekend and brought everyone out to the parks. On a walk to a friend's house Saturday night (this was at 7:30 in the evening), the four of us stared in amazement as a young man sitting on the end of a park bench, turned around to face the back of the bench, puked a liquid beer puke, turned to face front again, and continued texting a message on his phone. Didn't miss a beat.

On the way home that same night, we came across a young man who had just passed out on the sidewalk. A small crowd had gathered. Someone poked him with the toe of their shoe. The Spouse leaned in, had a look, and declared, "He's breathing." The crowd grew bored and wandered off. So did we.

Today, the Drunk Count on the walk home from school was eight: five passed out on benches, mouths agape, and two bleary-eyed souls treating the head injury of a third who looked as though he had fallen down and cracked his eyebrow. Or gotten in a fight. They had a styptic pencil.

Bitchin' public transportation: aka You're Not in Cowtown Anymore.
The Metro is an incredible thing. The moment I walked in on my first trip since returning, I smelled that dusty, metallic smell that is the Metro (when it is not overwhelmed with B.O. and alcohol). Quite simply: the Metro rocks.

The Spouse saw a documentary about it recently on Russian TV. The drivers are all men: the job is too technical and requires more precision than women can manage, or so they reported on the program. Drivers arrive at some undisclosed Metro check-in location the night before their shifts begin. The Spouse assumed that this was to ensure they have a proper night's sleep and a good breakfast before the rigors of their work day begin. I assumed this was to ensure they are SOBER before the rigors of their work day begin. They are awakened gently and served a hearty breakfast. Probably kasha and vodka.

I got shoved OUT of the Metro on that vodka-soaked ride last Friday. When I got on, the car was quite full. I was travelling several stops. At the first stop, the doors opened, and EVERYONE tried to exit. At first I was able to sort of turn and collapse my spine so that the wave of humanity just washed over me. But eventually the wave became a tsunami, and I was pushed into the passengers waiting to enter. The woman I landed on was understanding. "It's probably safer out here!" is how I translated her good-natured reaction. When we finally all got (back) on the train, she gave me a conspiratorial thumbs up. I laughed. She probably thought I had been drinking my breakfast.

The noise, noise, NOISE!
I had forgotten how noisy the city is. When the girls and I are walking home from school, it is very difficult to carry on a conversation over the noise of the traffic. Yet, there is a city behind the City: in the courtyards and alleys and sidestreets, all is calm.

The City that never sleeps.
Friday was a small farewell for my friend who owns Luna the Dog. Her husband's job is taking them to Armenia. I emerged from the restaurant about 11:30 p.m., and proceded to walk home. I'm rarely out this late, so I was blown away by the incredible number of people out on the street, not just in front of the restaurant (which is a pedestrian zone), but the whole way home. Every kiosk, from Crap Dogs to Crunchy Potato, was open. But the most surprising thing was all the flower vendors. 

Who needs flowers at midnight? 

Muscovites, apparently.