I have been visiting all different parts of Moscow lately at the most unusual hours. One evening not long ago I found myself near Elektrozavodskaya, one of the many suburban train platforms. As I was emerging from the metro, this voice drew my immediate attention:
There are some places in Moscow which always make me think of Christmas, no matter what time of the year I happen to stumble upon them. The shopping window in the Old Arbat which you can see above is one of those places. It belongs to one of souvenir shops the street is filled with. The Old Arbat used to be the bohemian heart of Moscow, the place where all the poets of the Silver Age lived and worked, and where the kitchen in just about any flat could have been the very space where they living through their joys, disillusionments and depressions on one of the many posidelky (kitchen parties). Not much of the bohemian chic has survived the historical turmoil Russia has gone through since the time of Tsvetayeva and Akmatova, and the place is now mostly filled with tourists. This one shopping window, however, and the infallibly turning, delicate apparatus it displays, retain a spark of magic. I stopped by the place one gloomy afternoon last October, and this is what I saw:
Kurskaya is a very big metro station, where three metro lines cross with a major suburb trains hub. I was rushing through one of its multiple halls, pushed between endless chains of escalators when I heard the concert which you can now hear below. For a second the very centre of Moscow turned to be a market in a land far, far away, I could almost hear the hum of sellers and buyers, feel the smell of spices and see the desert surrounding that imaginary, middle-eastern town. Call me naive, but this is what that music made me think of. If anyone reading those words happens to know what instrument it actually is and where it comes from, I shall be eternally grateful if they share that information with me. For now, though, join me on a small excursion to that fairytale land, which I left as fast as I entered it, descending into the mundane abyss of yet another metro station.
Taking pictures of strangers still petrifies me – yet every now and then I kick myself out of my comfort zone to do what I promised myself to do. Here is yet another one of the last metro stations – Planernaya, the north-west end of the purple line. Its name sounds almost like Planetarnaya, which would mean The Planetary Station. I find this association highly relevant, as the very back of it looks like the exhaust pipe of a giant spaceship.
Last Wednesday someone died in my presence. A man fell on the tracks right in front of an approaching train. I had my earphones in, I was looking the other way, I was wondering how late I would be for work. The whistling sound of the approaching train made its way through all the obstacles I placed for it, and so I started mentally preparing for the upcoming fight for a scrap of space in the train to fit myself and a book I was intending to read. It was about six in the afternoon, rush hour, crowds of people. Suddenly, the train which was supposed to slowly roll up the platform stopped in the middle of it. I slowly looked up from the phone. One of the metro conductors walked slowly past me, the other one was peeking out of his booth, with one leg already on the platform and the other still inside. A policeman appeared out of nowhere. I took the earphones out. – Meat – said the conductor on the platform – All that is left of him is meat, we need to call.
The platform started to fill with people, a couple of prying passers-by started peeking behind the edge of the platform. Someone who just a moment ago was a man suddenly turned into meat, and now also entertainment for the masses.
Russian is a beautiful language, and one which was made for poetry. Coincidentally – or maybe because of that – poetry has always had its place in the mainstream culture. It’s difficult to find a Russian who would not know at least a couple of their favourite stanzas by heart. Poetry also makes its way to the streets. Here is a poetry reader on one of the main tourist spots in Moscow, only a couple of steps away from the Red Square:
This is a sound postcard I recorded on Shchelkovskaya, to accompany the photographs you already had the chance to see. Enjoy.
My obsession with the Moscow metro does not seem to decrease with time – and I must say that it does not come as a surprise to me, since my life here is centred on the metro – the times when it opens and closes, the location of the stations, the intervals with which the trains depart. Moscow metro is an institution in itself, the most important means of transport, a major meeting point, a witness of history, a tourist attraction. When the metro is written or talked about, the focus is placed on the central stations – staple examples of stalinist baroque and carriers of last epoch’s propaganda, huge interchange hubs, filling up with crowds of people in the rush hours. The outlying, pragmatic stations come completely unnoticed – built much, much later, they sole function has always been to provide the districts of impersonal, gigantic blocks of flats with the essential connection with the world, not to emphasise the power of the empire. This is also where the mundane, everyday, ant-like life of the metropolis is staged, and just as the real Russia begins beyond the MKAD – real Moscow begins beyond the circle line.
After two long months spent on a sofa back at home with a leg in a cast (which did have its good sides), I am back to Moscow – with a new batch of enthusiasm and a new batch of ideas . I left a dark, gloomy city in the middle of winter, I came back to a city of blooming spring, with people in love kissing in the sunshine. Despite still not being able to walk normally, I enjoy the sunshine as much as possible. Tuesday brought me to VDNKH, my favourite park in Moscow, where the old and the new come toghether in the most unexpected ways. Here is what I saw and heard there:
The joys of paperwork.
I lost my migration card before Christmas. It’s a small, thin slip of paper the size of your passport which you receive when you enter the country and you’re supposed to give back when you’re leaving. Everybody is very serious about not losing it, but no-one really knows why, since these days the border control fills in the form for you and keeps an electronic copy. In any case, the office was in panic. I was in panic. Other teachers whom I told about my loss were in panic too. On the canvas of this happy occurence we started sharing our strange experiences with Russian beaurocracy. Everyone has had some, and not even one person in the room had any understaning of why their paperwork problems appeared and how they were solved in the end. Russian beaurocracy just exists for its own sake and nobody can follow its twisted logic.
In fact, I often get the impression that the entire city exists for its own sake, a living organism, the king of the space it occupies, kindly allowing some people to populate it. Other cities seem to be designed with the comfort of its inhabitants in mind: Edinburgh, Warsaw, even my little hometown in Poland. The space serves the population, not the other way around. The pavements. Pedestrian crossings. Parks. Street lamps. All of them made with their users in mind. And Moscow?