On the flight between Paris and Moscow, I met a man traveling with his 12-year old son, he was from Bashkiria in the Urals . They were coming back from a World Cup match in Rio, I didn’t ask which or who won. No lack of money there and plenty of jewelry too, on the father at least. The boy had no need for jewelry: he had Caribbean blue eyes with specks of gold. The father’s name was Andreï and he seemed extremely puzzled that I too would be called Andrée: same pronunciation, different spelling. He asked me in approximate English: “Why Canada no like our government?” I tried to answer as diplomatically and slowly as I could that it was not so much their government as an abstract notion – if there is such a thing – as Putin’s politics that was getting our goat, as well as the entire western world’s herd of goats. He frowned at that. I’m not sure I made myself clear: he spoke about as much English as I speak Russian and we mostly communicated with the help of an electronic translation device. I tried to find out about what he did for a living but it seemed too complicated and multi-faceted to explain. Curiously, he didn’t reiterate his invitation that I come and visit his family in Bashkiria, a mere 400 km detour from Ekaterinbourg. It was not in the program anyway.
After 36 hours, I can say that I feel I’ve finally arrived in Moscow. The body was here all right from the moment I landed, but the soul took its own sweet time to catch up, with the result that, yesterday, I went through Red Square and the Tretiakov gallery in a daze. I don’t even know how I got from one to the other.
I meant, I really meant to take a picture of myself in front of St. Basil’s cathedral – everybody asked for pictures, I can’t fathom why – but there was something wrong with my cell phone. I think I fixed it. Maybe tomorrow.
I love Moscow! It’s warm and sunny and wherever a building is in renovation, they cover the facade with an architecturally correct and entirely convincing trompe-l’oeil covering with pedimented doors, windows and ornate cornices. You hardly notice. Potemkin-inspired for sure. If it fooled Catherine the Great for the wrong reasons, it fools me for all the right ones (Antigua, borrow a little from Potemkin’s strategies! your green panels are ugly!!!). but then, from what I’m told, Moscow itself is a Potemkin tromperie: opulent, very expensive, clean, pedestrian friendly with streets full of music, whereas the rest of the country is supposed to be another story. The girls here are tall, beautiful, with legs up to their shoulders and exquisite little frocks. The food is amazing, costly but amazing. I haven’t had a mediocre or even boring meal yet, it will probably be very different once I’m out of Moscow. Why hasn’t anybody ever thought of making lemonade with pieces of green apple, cucumber and kiwi before? That was the best drink I ever had in…my life?
My smattering of Russian is coming in very useful. I can certainly make myself understood. Curiously not as much English as I would have thought is spoken here. My problem is with the answers, they go on and on and I don’t understand most of it. But the Russians don’t seem to mind, even when I insist that Ya nye panimayoo, ya nye gabariyoo parusski, they keep going, assuring me that I speak very good Russian. Ahem! Some of them even asked me for directions. Anyway a piece of advice for anybody planning to come here without a Russian-speaking escort: brush up on your ciryllic. There is no way to find your way around in the city or in the Metro if you can’t read the signs.
I’m getting on the Transsiberian tomorrow night: destination Kazan. It should be a very different experience.