Mar 3, 2015

Не наступай на меня! (Photo collection: Moscow in winter)

My Dear Readers,

I know that the blog has been limping this year.  I won't say I'm sorry for the reduced output, since Time Flying has always been a free service, and frankly I can't remember any of you ever writing a Russia blog for me.  But I do feel bad, if that makes you feel good.  The unfortunate truth is, this third iteration of the blog has faced new and unforeseen challenges, the most significant being my creative death.  As with any death, the long-term prognosis isn't good, but I have managed to gurgle up another photo-tour of Moscow - this time, in winter.

In the "autumn" installment of this photo-introduction, I stressed Moscow's unique place in Russian hearts and minds, but only in the abstract because I hadn't yet left my apartment.  In this week's post (read: this semester's post), I will try to emphasize how different Moscow is from the provinces where this blog was born, in addition to continuing my Moscow-in-all-seasons photo series.

It is difficult for the American reader to grasp the singular and exalted status of Moscow within Russia.  In the United States, residents of any great city might claim that theirs is the finest - that New York is the American melting pot realized, that San Francisco is the paragon of urban beauty, that Chicago is possessed of the true American spirit, or that Miami is a place somebody might consider visiting.  In Russia, to make any such claims about any city other than Moscow is absurd - Moscow is the finest city.  If you think it's Irkutsk, you're a redneck.  If you think it's Maikop, you belong to some delusional and insignificant ethnic minority.   If you think it's St. Petersburg, you're trying to complicate my point.  Perhaps St. Petersburg is some disposable organ like a kidney, but Moscow is the beating heart; all other cities are frostbitten extremities.

To some extent, it's just a matter of fact.  Moscow is the largest city in Europe by population, so long as we assume that a) it is in Europe, and b) Turkey isn't.  It's also the oldest city in Europe, if we assume that a) you don't know history, and b) you can't use Google.  In this photograph of Moscow from space, Moscow is by far the easiest city to see from space:

On the other hand, many Russian cities are large, old, and have electricity.  How is life really different here?

First of all, Moscow is safe.  Gone are the bitter winter nights in Irkutsk, counting my drunken, zig-zagging steps home out loud in order to stay awake, knowing that wherever else I pass out would be my icy grave. Gone are the panicked days in Maikop, memorizing passages from the Quran to appease the Islamists who mistakenly believed I'd converted.  In Moscow, Russians and foreigners mingle freely, each man and woman speaking, dressing, drinking and believing as they see fit, with nobody to judge them but Allah.

Of course, Moscow is a city of over 11,000,000 people, so one should still take normal urban precautions. Watch your valuables and stick to well-lit streets that you know.  Don't pursue any formal partnership or intelligence-sharing agreements with NATO.  Don't touch things.

But with a little common sense, Moscow really is an orderly, predictable and pleasant city in which to live and work.

At the same time, Moscow is lively.  If Maikop seceded from the Federation, the TV news would have to show viewers where it is on a map.  Moscow's politics is Russia's politics, and all meaningful political events happen within 30 minutes of my apartment.   One reason I've been posting less is that I've been busy reading news, watching TV, writing essays and observing demonstrations from a politically-neutral distance.  I have kept that work separate from the blog because, as you know, Time Flying generally treads lightly in political matters. However, I want to make an exception today, as recent events have made neutrality nearly impossible.  I think that Russia's flag-making and flag-rental industries have become far, far too powerful.    

The flag-industrial complex here is a parasite that feeds on discord, and Moscow is its biggest, bloodiest host.  The flag profiteers, as far as I can tell, support all parties but cherish no ideals; they will just as soon don the Russian tricolor to dupe thousands of useful idiots...

... as squeeze a handful of rubles from Russia's lone Tea Partier.

Here they are sowing discord at an opposition rally against the war in Ukraine, flags of all colors in all directions:

And here, forging a consensus, lining up behind the social-democratic Fair and Just Russia Party on People's Unity Day.  It makes you sick.

Speaking of People's Unity Day, what the hell is People's Unity Day?  Alas, it's not just flag-waving that makes Moscow lively - it's also the national center of quasi-political holidays I've never heard of. 

I've been in Russia on November 4th before, but this particular holiday is absent from my exhaustive 2008 holiday post.  Apparently, People's Unity day is a) a celebration of diversity and peaceful coexistence within Russia, and b) a protest against diversity and peaceful coexistence within Russia, depending on which competing rally you went to.  I went to the "celebration" one, but I stood at a politically neutral distance.  I probably don't need to tell you this, but the original purpose of the holiday was to commemorate the unity of Russia's peoples at the stalemate-conclusion of the Polish-Muscovite War, 1605-1618.  I, for one, reject the tidy repackaging of that war before the dust has settled.

Apparently, that holiday has existed since 2005, but I think only Moscow was told.  There was yet a newer holiday this year, of which I saw no trace except for this billboard near my apartment: February 15th is now the Day of Remembrance for Russian Citizens Fulfilling Their Service Obligations Beyond the Borders of the Fatherland.  

A more generous translation might be "Remembrance for Russians Serving Abroad," but I'm not here to sugarcoat things.  And besides, the wording needs to be precise, to distinguish this holiday from Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, which comes only a week later.

I probably don't need to tell you this, but the original purpose of both holidays is to shatter any illusions left over from Valentine's Day.

Finally, Moscow is beautiful.  Okay, so were Siberia and the Caucasus.  These photos are the second installment of my three-part series, "Moscow in all seasons except summer."  The paired photos are meant to be viewed together, of course, but the last one stands alone and is truly spectacular.   







Although on the whole I've found Moscow to lack some of the magic of the provinces, Christmas Eve was an extraordinary exception.  Right before midnight, on my way to mass, directly above Moscow's oldest monastery, my friend Tim and I spotted these pillars of colored light in the sky. The streets were empty except for a single old babushka, also walking to mass, and she hadn't noticed them until I stopped her to ask what they were.  She said she had lived in Moscow her entire life and had never seen anything like them; that they were clearly a sign from God, and that clearly we kind Americans were sent to reveal it.  She then began crossing herself in a state of rapture, only slightly more rapturous than ours - it's worth noting that the lights were far more vibrant than they appear on film, and that the brightest orange-gold ones in the center appeared to be in the shape of a church organ.  After about ten minutes, the lights dissipated.  In the morning, people all over the city were talking about them.

Whoever can correctly identify the cause of these lights can guest-write the next blog entry. I'm off to Siberia.


Carrie said...

Love it! Keep them coming. Yours is the only blog whose partial content on RSS feeds shenanigans I play into. All others are quickly dismissed! Well done. Have you considered video segments for an upcoming edition? Or a selfie with Mr. Snowden?

sylvia said...

i TOLD you to go into the flag business when you were in college. remember that? deep six the dissertation. maybe there's still time!


Joseph said...

Carrie, hello! Unfortunately, the upcoming edition is probably a history monograph, to be published in 2025.