There is something both sad and comforting to drive down the streets of Moscow and see a Sbarro sIgn in Cyrillic
First impressions – there are a lot of signs in English here – almost as many as there were in Amsterdam. Despite the old-world concrete frowning feeling of the Passport Control Center in the basement of the airport, you can’t feel too intimidated if, while standing in line, you can look up to see two brand-new Panasonic HDTV plasma screens playing an endless loop of ads for expensive consumer products.
Apparently, it’s a big deal here to have dirty keys on your piano – luckily, they have special attachments to the vacuums (courtesy of some Russian company) designed expressly to clean the keys on your piano.
There were lots of Mercedes and BMWs in the airport parking lot – alongside a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator with oversize chrome rims. Someone here has been watching MTV.
There are a lot of big car dealerships on the outskirts of Moscow – it looks a little like Tony Soprano-area New Jersey that way. And the people scurrying around these environs look a little like extras from the Sopranos as well. Near the airport, the highway is smooth and new. Closer to Moscow, the streets are rutted, jammed and potholed & patched.
The radio stations in English play a very eclectic mix – from The Bangles doing “Eternal Love” to Beyonce and Eminem.
I can’t get over how many international brands there are lining the big highway into town. Pioneer car stereos, Samsung computer monitors, DHL couriers, even a Sbarro (although that was the one sign that was in Cyrillic – I just knew it was Sbarro cheapass pizza from the color and typography of the sign. Now there’s a case study in branding, if anyone wants to tackle it.)
The river (Volga? Home of the storied Volga Boatmen? I think I faintly heard their signature dirgelike chanting…) is sluggish with ice still – I didn’t want to look too much like a tourist, and take a picture on the way in. I later overcame my reticence in this area – only to find that I had neglected to pack the cable to scarf the pix off my camera – luckily, the Vaio has a nice little slot in the front where you can click in the fragile little wafer. It kinda clicks in like the glass doors on stereo cabinets – you know, you push once and it goes “cli-CLICK” and is kinda recessed, and to remove it you push on it and it goes “CLI-clunk” and pops out. And the damn thing was only $14 at Circuit City?
Anyway, back to the ride into Moscow. There are still the big high-density apartment buildings lining the roads – but not as many nor as dense as I had been led to believe. Which is no big deal, really.
It’s weird to see these fearsome Red Army soldiers in full battle rattle on the street, getting yelled at for knocking over a ladder.
I can quite connect what I’m seeing on the streets to the world I saw in the movies or on TV. Can any of these be the snow-choked streets that the Bolsheviks marched down in 1917?
This city just sprawls – block after block of frowning brick
buildings, with Westernized ads and signs; some in the process of being spruced
up. How much blood and history took
place on these streets? Is history ever
done with us? Or are we all making history right now, every second of the day,
without really being cognizant of it? Freaking out and thinking all the while
that we’re desperately improvising and that at any minute the whole house of
cards is going to collapse on us. Meanwhile, the past seems to have so much clarity. There's a lesson here for those wondering about what to do about the digital revoiution...