As any regular reader of these jottings will know, Moscow is NOT my favourite city in the World. The inhabitants are notable chiefly for their sour disposition, which is reflected in the grimy and depressed spirit of the place. For the most part, the architecture is a cross between the least salubrious kind of Housing Project and a spuriously cheerful and intellectually bereft building style, not unlike a series of Travel Lodge Motels, for instance….or 'Toys R Us'….. or Burger Kings ......
I say ‘for the most part’ since, periodically, this depressing sprawl is punctuated by the soaring towers of some Stalinist palace or other, which can’t help but inspire feelings of awe – until, of course, you recall the nature of the regime that was responsible for them in the first instance……
I got here yesterday, after a white-knuckle ride of a journey from Rome, which had even the cabin crew lurching around in the aisle and looking distinctly uncomfortable. On the bright side, though, the immigration process – which I’d been dreading, from previous experience – passed incredibly smoothly. Russians, it appears, have discovered queuing since I was last here…. Mirabile dictu!
My driver – a chubby fellow called Alexey, with a complexion reminiscent of pizza topping and teeth that were resolutely nicotine-yellow – proudly pointed out the delights of the building work going on at Sheremetyevo airport, as he tried ineffectually to get his car to start. Like most taxis in Moscow, it stank like the inside of a very old, very stale, never-cleaned ashtray, and nothing about the grubby surfaces within the car inspired confidence. Certainly, it seemed advisable to have as little physical contact with any of them as could be managed. As I sat there, becoming increasingly resigned to the idea of several hours stranded in this defunct vehicle, slowly asphyxiating from the stench, and in full view of a bright scarlet building-block development (see above) that was part of the new terminal building, Alexey’s guttural grunts of encouragement to the engine appeared to work, and as it spluttered into life the car radio came on, playing a disco version of ‘Ave Maria’.
I hoped it wasn’t a sign………
And it wasn’t, really. Nothing of religious significance occurred during the drive into the centre of town, as the disco version of Ave Maria gave way to a disco version of Boheme - Mimi’s tiny hand getting funkily frozen against a background of heavily syncopated pan pipes – and Alexey insisted on pointing out to me every item of interest along the way, from the IKEA car park, to the Central Station, to the fact that traffic in the opposite direction was stopped and backed up for miles. Which he appeared to find deeply entertaining, and I found I was rapidly developing a headache.
Only finally dispelled by a couple of glasses of really very good Chilean Malbec, which washed down the rump steak and pommes frites that were what I ended up having for supper, having eventually entirely surrendered any hope of finding something that was the slightest Russian in style. I’d asked for suggestions at the reception desk in the hotel, but everything they came up with reeked of leopard-print velour and diamante, and looked more like a circus-cum-bordello than any ethnic Russian eatery. Nikita’s in Ifield Road was more the sort of thing that I had in mind – but it seemed that Ifield Road was probably where I’d have to go to get it. Instead, where I found myself was so similar to a sports bar I’d once discovered in Portland, Oregon that at one point I even had to concentrate to remember exactly where I was.
I know, I know......I gripe about Moscow being what it is, and then gripe about it when it's pretending to be something else. What to say? Not always easily pleased.
It was a long day……and there are four more to go……With a combination of Ave Maria and Malbec, I might just about survive.