Postcard from the Edge of Communism

Well, the only way to get through Moscow traffic is sitting in a convoy of 3 armoured plated Mercedes with a police car at the front to clear the way. The Merc has all the accessories needed – driver, body guard – you know the usual. Being picked up at the airport in this way, I knew this trip was going to be something different.

The reason for the terrible traffic is the number of people in Moscow. There are lots, and thus labour is still one of the cheapest resources and to keep them in full employment there are a number of unusual jobs that I encountered. Some of my favourites include:

  • Hotel Kempinski revolving door turner. Yes, rather than install a motor to turn the revolving door, put a couple of people on it to turn it as you approach (see pics)
  • Metro escalator regulator person – Every (I mean every) escalator in the metro system has a small glass hut at the bottom with a person sitting in it. Their job is to regulate the speed of the escalator to speed it up if queues get to big or bring to a stop it if someone falls
  • Kremlin hat check clerk – This is the traditional 3 people making tea, one person hanging the coat operation. I want to be the tea(m) leader.
  • Car park ticket dispenser – Despite putting in an automated ticket dispenser at window level at a car park, Muscovites are so unused to this new fangled device, that a guy is employed to hit the button, take the ticket and pass it the 40 cms from the machine to your car window.

Moscow itself is not that pretty (or warm), but it is the history and people that make the place such a pleasure to be in. I did a lot in the 2 days there (Red Square, Lenin’s tomb, Bolshoi Ballet, guided tour of the Kremlin and loads of work) but all the time, the people were pleasant, friendly and very sociable. For example:

  • Imagine you are trying to haggle to buy software on the street corner and the guy is clearly ripping you off, asking 250 Rubles ($8) for the latest version of some software. A nice Russian lady comes by and tells the guy off for being nasty to foreigners and you can then negotiate a more reasonable 350 Rubles for 2 CDs of your choice.
  • Hotel room service. In the “party” hotel next to ours, guests are regularly woken at 5 a.m. with friendly women knocking on the room doors, in skimpy clothes asking if they need anything. (Our hotel had a lock down device, so that lifts could only be used with a room key, but there were plenty of such kind women in the lobby).

Another highlight was meeting Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. The guy has a brilliant sense of humour (website is www.gorby.ru) and babbled on for ages without the translator getting a word in edgeways. His Gorbachev Foundation seeks to promote business and education in Russia and is having quite a lot of success.

All these kind (and some not so kind) people have built some amazing things in Moscow. The inside of the Kremlin (Kremlin = castle, the 5th built on this site) with its beautiful buildings, the 9 churches, the museum and above all the diamond exhibition is simply breath taking. Imagine a silver rose covered with 2,000 diamonds or a rare 45 carat black diamond, a or a piece made from 999 diamonds for Catherine the Great’s horse (the 1,000th Catherine the Great herself) all this can be scrutinized and marvelled at in this mesmerizing place. (Unfortunately the security stops you being able to purloin anything).

Lenin and Stalin, for all the naughty things they did, also left their individual mark in the forms of statues and incredible structures that even today you have to marvel at.

Moscow is wonderful, but is unfortunately turning away from its communistic roots and becoming very “western”. In a few years time, it will be like any other city with Channel, Yves Rocher, Burger King and McDonalds littering the streets – a great pity and a loss for the world.

(c) Ian Kimbell - All rights reserved
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