Thursday, May 15, 2008

In Which I See Moscow's Best and Worst

Temperature: 8C, but the heat is OFF, baby! And, for many people in Moscow, so is the hot water. Weird, I know, but starting in May, the city of Moscow turns off the water, in a rotating schedule, for every building, for three weeks, so the pipes can be maintained. (See a story in the Moscow Times here.) For some poor souls, the fun has already begun (and it’s chilly now without the central heat). Luckily for us, our water doesn't go off until July 22, and by then I will be in my ancestral village, secure in my dacha, with plenty of hot and cold running water. And a dishwasher.

But I digress.

The spring school holidays are over, and classes resumed this week. Wednesdays means judo and also finding something to do with myself during the 90-minute class. Usually I take my Russian books along and do my homework then, but yesterday I decided I wanted to see how two parts of Moscow fit together.

You know how it is when you move someplace new. You learn a part of the city. Then you learn a different part, under totally different circumstances. Then, one day, you discover that these two parts are not so distinct after all and are, in fact, even adjoining.

Some French moms had introduced me to the Volkonski bakery (also known as Kayser, after the French baker, Eric Kayser, I assume) This is a stone’s throw from the Kitai Gorod metro (4/2 Maroseika Ul., for those in the neighborhood). Later, I realized it is also a spitting distance from the French school. A dangerous discovery, what with my 30th high school reunion coming up in early July and me with a great red dress to fit into.

Anyhow, I recently figured out that Skittles’ judo class is, essentially, a few blocks from the bakery. So I thought I’d drag Baboo along with me while I went to check this out since we had 90 minutes to kill.

Indeed, it is not that far from judo. Ker-plunk! That is the sound of a piece of the puzzle falling into place. But since I have the reunion on my mind, I was loath to enter a French bakery with more than an hour to kill. So instead we went into the Ile de Beauté across the street.

Now the Spouse has long said that my “home planet” is “the cosmetic counter at any major department store.” Drop me anywhere in Paris, and I can correctly point toward the big Sephora on the Champs-Élysées. Yeah. I’m serious. Try me next time. Well, this place is bigger than that Sephora. Three, count ‘em, THREE vast floors, each one the size of that entire Paris Sephora.

I only saw one and a half floors. And I only bought some Oil of Olay products because, frankly, it was all I will ever be able to afford in there. But, oh, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Then, walking back to judo, we saw, across the street, one of those incredible gastronoms that only seem to exist in Moscow. These are the places where food is presented as if it were precious jewels in Tiffany’s. I didn’t dare go in this place (I have no idea what the name was . . . it only seemed to say something about WHY PAY LESS? on the sign.), but Baboo and I pressed our noses to the windows and drooled, Homer Simpson-style, at the gorgeous Lindt chocolates, and the barrels of olives, and the purple and white striped eggplant, and the pizza bar, and PEOPLE WERE IN THERE BUYING STUFF, but now that I think about it, there weren’t many of them.

The nightmare part of the day came a few minutes later. We had collected Skittles and were walking home through Chistye Prudy park, when we came upon two men having a fight on the grassy island in the center. One was clearly drunk. The other, sporting an angry Mohawk, was much younger. Mohawk Guy was still on his feet, and was kicking Drunk Guy as we passed, his boots making sickening thuds as they connected with the fallen man’s face.

This all took place in front of a large group of people (Moscow's parks are full in the afternoons, now that the weather is nicer). Many were sitting on a park bench, ring-side, as it were, just watching.

Poor Skittles was very upset. “THERE’S BLOOD!” she said, and made a nervous, clenched jaw face all the way to the metro. We speculated about how we had no idea if the man being beaten somehow deserved it. Perhaps Mohawk Guy was actually a hero.

“He looked mean,” said Skittles, and I didn’t tell her so, but I agreed. I spent the evening feeling guilty that I had not tried to interfere, and then imagining the nightmare scenarios if I had. I fell asleep trying to reassure myself that my first obligation was to my children.

But it was difficult to forget the sound of boot leather on jawbone.


miamibob said...

How awful for your children to see a fight like that.

Luna said...

That give me shivers. Literally. And not because I'm one of the chosen with no hot water.

What this city and the people in it chose to overlook never ceases to surprise. And yet, I have also encountered the most wonderful kindness. A paradox indeed it is.

Lili said...

Dear Amanda,

i have seen worse than that here(you might not stroll along the streets at 5-6 am, sometimes i do...but i m not proud of it). We did interfere. And i can assure you, this was one of the worst decisions we could make. The boy, who had been beaten by two others with his t-shirt on his face, originally white, already red by then, couldn`t be less grateful.

I was shocked, you know me, i can more or less handle my life and survive in Moscow, but then i was crying for days. I have never been so much face to face with cruelty in my life.


I`m not sure it`s the city`s fault. Who`s, then? I don`t know. But i think your children are so precautious and even wise sometimes, that they might not be hurt by all this, but probably will treat the subject the best way for them, you know how psichology works wonderfully. Trust them..and yourself, i would.

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