Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

22 Jul 2001, 4:27 a.m.

Moscow Last

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Last part of my Moscow Travelogue.

Day the Last: Monday & Tuesday Morning.
Reclaiming a word, e.g., "queer," that was used in a derogatory manner previously -- it's kind of like off-label prescription of drugs, no?

I marked down more stuff from Katie's Lonely Planet before breakfasting on a surprisingly edible omlet (and bread and cheese and tea, of course.) Then people set off on their own.

The metro in Moscow has something like ten lines. One of them is a circle -- very useful. They call it the Ring Line. I've taken it so much that I'm the Lord of the Ring Line.

I've seen very few really attractive Russians here. In St. Petersburg or in Moscow.

I think it's hilarious that many of the stations still have Communist names. I mean, everywhere I go I see labels marked "CCCP" (USSR) or the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed star, or in St. Petersburg "Leningrad," or the like. But when I give or get directions like "Get off at Proletarian Station" or "I'm sure there'll be a cafe near Place of the Revolution," I crack up.

There is lots of book-reading on the metro here, and less newspaper-reading than I recall from St. Petersburg, D.C., or San Francisco. Books take up less room.

"A three-hour tour" in Russian is Tri-chasa exkursiya or some such.

Kate lost her shirt. Literally. On the train on the way here. And lately, someone gave us the slip - literally, the one we needed to get in someplace. Very funny. (Amelia Bedelia, the children's book series, is basically a bunch of case studies on the dangers of idioms.)

I can so easily imagine a Salon story about sex on Red Square. Communism, sex, travel, etc -- it's all Salon. Related: recently I read some Salon teaser that, while only two sentences long, satisfied me such that I felt that I did not have to read the story. What a failure of a teaser! Doesn't the front page have editors to prevent this sort of thing? We wouldn't have done such a thing back in high school at the Tokay Press! Goodness.

I'm remembering a conversation that Alexei and I once had about kitsch and camp. I noted that loving camp and laughing at yourself for living it might be considered evidence of self-loathing.

I took a boat tour on the River Moskva. Alone. It was a pleasantly brisk day. I got to sit alone and breathe river air and look at lots of sights. I even discovered a brand of chips that I like -- Estrella. A European make, I imagine.

Last night -- I remembered -- John and I had decided not to visist the Bely Dom at night, even thoguh I read that it's spectacularly lit up then. We'd already seen it, not knowing what it was, whilst searching for a bokostore on the previous day. See, the White House was the scene of one of Yeltsin's coups. He shot at the building! From a tank! I think. Anyway, that's partly what reminded me of the Crichton Travels chapter on missing what's right under your nose.

I'm sure that there's some continuity between the old Russian tradition of making icons of Christ and the Lenin fetish in Communist art. Lenin as saviour! And over the weekend I mused that perhaps the Lost Seventh Case (the vocative) in the Russian language disappeared because Stalin didn't like it. (You stll hear the vocative in old constructions, often referring to God. "Bozhe moy!" --My God! Curiously enough, in Fonetika before we left for Moscow, we saw in our old Soviet textbooks that only four examples of the "soft g" were given, omitting the fifth, "Bog" -- God.)

I had thought of the Stalin-didn't-like-the-vocative thing whilst on the bus excursion on Saturday. We saw a Bog-awful statue of Peter the Great. It doesn't even have the virtue of being old -- it was commissioned in 1990. What a boondoggle! Some anarchists tried to blow it up recently. My sympathies for anarchism just went up a notch.

I'm sure you can find a picture yourself.

The hotel window opened out, and was big, and had no screen. We were on the 23rd floor. Easy opportunity for death! Katie is too well-adjusted to see how this is different fron everyday life -- she said, "Yuo have yuor life in your hands every moment of every day." Well, yes. But it just makes one pause to think, "It would take so little, right now. If I really wanted to die."

Note that I did not take the opportunity.

John isn't suicidal. As he said on Sunday, "I would not go on a Societ roller coaster for all the money in your pockets." (We saw one on the way to Gorky Park.) I also saw a Ferris [Bueller] Wheel. Whee!

I've mentioned the weird TV.

I'm reminded in this country of Neal Stephenson's remarks in In the Beginning Was the Command Line on the virtues of transparent failure.

It's overcast today. You wouldn't think it, but perfect boating weather -- for the sole passenger. I liked the lack of a tour guide, the solitude, the sitting.

I've been confusing "ruble" and "rupee" and inordinate amount. Well, it's about the same exchange rate!

I need to tell Lonely Planet and Rough Guide about cafes and such that no longer exist. For example, the netcafe "Chevignon" doesn't exist anymore. I was directed to "Nirvana" (ha ha) a number of blocks away.

I had dinner with Susanne. We met up, discvered that the restaurant where we had planned to eat didn't so much exist, and ate somewhere else, which was more than adequate. We saw/heard a verb that we were pretty sure didn't exist. I made a pun involving the word for "diverse," the word for "vegetables," and Izvestia ads saying "We Have Different Interests." We headed back to the dorm to go back to St. Petersburg.

I volunteered when I heard that someone had to be the only American in a coupe of three Russian strangers. I ended up with a Russian family that was very nice. A man, his wife, and their two children, one of whom was so small that she slept in the mommy's arms. I understood a great deal, and talked in Russian (the dad understood and spoke a wee bit o'English, the older daughter a bit more), and even made them laugh! I learned words for "sour" and "opposite" and got their address. During a mix-up with bedding, I got to say, "I only seem stupid. I'm not, really!"

Oh, and I got to use something from Oral Culture class -- dogs in Russia don't go "woof," but "gaf-gaf-gaf." When telling them my age, I told them that I often confused numbers such as "twelve," "nineteen," and "ninety" (they sound alike in Russian). They laughed at the thought that I might be ninety years old! And then I explained dog years, and said that if I were ninety, I wouldn't speak Russian or English, but only "gaf-gaf."

I thought of hijacking scenarioes when I woke up. But we got back to Piter fine. But then I had to go to class. Argh. Grr.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at