Loyal Readers! Friends! Family! Countrymen! Greetings from Moscow, Russia! Where one can always find warmth in the subterranean caverns of its metro system! This post will be a bit long, not just because I have much to tell, but because I finally got my internet up and running.
I arrived in Moscow on Monday after a 15 hour journey. The flight was pretty uneventful. Things went smoothly, except, of course, when the plane hit the worse turbulence of the flight when I was on the can. That was not pleasant! I arrived in Sherometevo airport around 11 am Moscow time.
Getting through Russian passport control and customs was also no trouble. Andrei, my driver to my apartment, was also there. A good way to start my stay. Andrei was very nice. A stocky ruffian type clad in a black leather jacket (which incidentally seems to be the winter uniform for all 25-40 Russian men). Russian men dress very Sopranos. The ride from Sherometevo into Moscow a bit long mostly because of the traffic. There has been an explosion in cars since I was here. Cars completely choke the city. The traffic, however, gave me a chance to look at some of the new malls erected along the highway.
These malls deserve some attention. First, because I think they are indicative of how much Moscow has changed. Imagine a box store that is three or four stories. Some, like the one near Kalushkaya metro station, are like our malls complete with whole shops, boutiques, cinemas, and food courts. There are no department stores, but the American influence is found in places like “Kabab Khaus,” a shish kabab place in the food court. Now, “khaus” (spelled «????» in Cyrillic) means nothing in Russian. The Russian word for “house” is “dom,” yet this seemed to not make it to me marquee. Of yeah, I should also mention that the food court had a Sbarros. But what fucking mall doesn’t have a Sbarros. They must have some kinda of lifetime contract with all malls. What truly impressed me about this mall was “Cinema Center,” a huge movie theater with flat screens in the ticket area that show previews for featured movies. Very chic!
Other malls are like well organized indoor swap meets. Instead of whole shops, there are small spaces. These, like the one on Novye Cheremyshki, tend to concentrate on electronics, home appliances, etc. I bet there were about 15 places on one floor that sells cell phones. DVD players, both for the TV and handheld, video cameras, flat screen TVs, stereos, and computer stuff was also well represented. Unfortunately, these are just as or more expensive that in the US. I have no idea how Russians afford all this shit.
My first week in Moscow was hampered by problems with my new cell phone. My plan was to buy a cell phone that I could also use as a modem for my computer. Being the prince that I am, I shuttered at the thought of going back to dialup. Once you’ve had high speed internet, you can never go back. Of course, my plan was stifled by software and hardware problems, and I have yet to use the damn thing as a modem. I finally broke down and bought an internet card.
I also had to learn that using a cell phone to call the States is not a good idea. My cell phone money ran out quite quickly. (In Russia, you buy time up front to use the cell phone. When your money runs out, they block the phone. This has some advantages because you don’t have to worry about bills and you use it as you can pay. Ingenious system.) I bought a card for international calls too.
Unfortunately, Bush is back. The two questions Russians have asked me: Have I voted? And for who? With much pain, I voted for Kerry. And the outcome of this election signifies a major crisis in the Democratic Party. Again, I declare that I will never vote for them again. At least this time they can’t cry Nader and might have to actually look at how bankrupt their party is. The Russian’s I’ve met don’t understand how Bush has support. They see him as both dangerous to the whole world and an idiot. Thanks okay because I don’t understand how they support Putin. And for the record I have yet to meet a Russian that likes Putin either. But I only know Russians with university education. At any rate, I cannot express my great disappointment with the American people. As much as I hate to say it, we deserve what Bush gives us.
At any rate, Moscow is great, though it’s changed a lot in four years besides the explosion in malls. There is construction everywhere. Everyone seems to own a cell phone. Traffic chokes all the city’s roads. One nice change is that the police presence is really light. I expected after Beslan, the cops would be everywhere. I was told they were, but their presence has since dissipated.
On Thursday, I went to the Komsomol archive (for those who don’t know, Komsomol means the Communist Youth League. I’m writing my dissertation on it.). The militia at the entrance of the archive wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have a letter to work there. I promptly asked to use the telephone to call upstairs to the archive. They pointed to the phone. I dialed the posted number. “Hello?” “Yes, Galina Mikhailovna, this is Sean Guillory. I worked here 4 years ago. Do you remember me?” “Oh, Sean!” Galina replied. “I’ll be right down to let you in.” It’s a great feeling when you enter a place and the police won’t let you in, but because you know someone, everything just falls into place. I was very happy that Galina remembered me. Come to find out, the cactus I gave her four years ago, now about four inches taller, still sits on the reading room windowsill.
There is one last thing I need to report before I go. The Russian visa registration process requires some comments, especially for those of you who are thinking of coming here. See you just can’t show up in Russia, go wherever you want, and not worry about you legal status. First the cops stop people on the street to check documents. They mostly stop people with dark features who look like “Chechens.” Whatever that means. So you have to carry your passport at all times. Secondly, upon arriving in Russia, you have 3 days to register your visa. This is a interesting process. If you are staying in someone’s home like I am, the owner of the apartment has to write a “zaiavelnie,” which is statement saying that the owner is letting such and such person to say in your home. Next, and this is the worse part, you have to hand over you passport, visa, and immigration card (which you fill out on the airplane) to get registered. This process takes about a week. Now, keep in mind that the cops can stop you to check your documents. As of now, I have no passport. I just photocopies of it, my visa, and my immigration card. With them I was able to buy a train ticket, but I wasn’t about to exchange money. I leave for Ryazan on Monday for five days, and I won’t have a passport the whole time. I’m a bit worried to sat the least. But I’m sure I’ll be fine.
My apologies that this first post is so long. A week has passed and I wanted to include some things. I promise future entries will be more specific. I doubt these ramblings serve as good reading. These entries will be better as I figure out an effective way of operation. Oh yeah, I’ll try to include some pictures next time.
Next time, my meeting with the anarchists!