Odds and ends from the first few weeks in Moscow.
In the weeks that led up to my departure from the United States, a lot of people, my family particularly, asked if I was excited to be off to Moscow. I must confess, I feel a little guilty about the fact that Moscow has mostly lost its sense of adventure for me. Last year, of course, I returned to Moscow for the first time in over four years. This year, I find Moscow looks mostly like I left it last June.
That is not to say I don’t like Moscow. In fact, I’d say it’s improved considerably upon better acquaintance. Each of the three times I’ve been in Moscow has been, largely, an improvement on the last, most especially in terms of my living situation. My first time round I had little choice, and lived with a mostly absent host mother in an apartment far from the center and pretty far from the metro. I had lots of adventures, but they were mostly outside of Moscow — that is, it was too much a hassle (and some 60-70 minutes) to get to the city when I didn’t need to be there, so my weekends were spent in various cities in Russia.
Last time ’round, I improved by living in the northern part of the city, generally better than the southern part, and slightly closer in. This time, my apartment is a little far from the metro (15 minute walk to one, 20-25 to the other), but it makes up for it by being only one stop out from the ring line. I can get to one archive in some 35 minutes, less than 15 minutes of which is on the metro, which is practically a Moscow-miracle. So that part is very nice.
I live in an area that just borders on Moscow-City — the newest, flashiest part of the city that has sprung up since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most days, I walk 15 minutes to the metro station that is located fairly close to the copper building pictured above.
Other days I walk the longer trek to Ulitsa 1905-goda, a longer walk, but just four stops on one line from the archive, not far from where the picture two above (of Moscow-City from a construction site) is located. I like that picture mostly because it says a lot about where I am currently living — that part of the city awkwardly sandwiched between new and old, an old working class district that was once home to countless factory workers that operated plants and factories that no longer exist — presumably occupying the very land where those skyscrapers now stand. I hear more Central Asian languages being spoken around me than I often did in Almaty — in this case, mostly Kyrgyz.
Despite vast improvements in accommodations, Moscow continues to be first and foremost a daily grind. I wake up, I often go running, make breakfast, and then proceed to sit in archives for most of the day. I take breaks for lunch or a snack, or, more frequently, to go to other archives or the library. I chat with the old ladies, the keepers of the keys to all documents. I order files. I get corrected when I have made mistakes on the order form or have misunderstood procedures. I read lists of files. My life, to be honest, is pretty humdrum. Which is largely why the inspiration to write blog posts has mostly been lacking.
But, starting out in archives is always somewhat inefficient, and the inefficiencies — waiting for files, waiting for permissions, and, of course, inevitably, the countless holidays and non-working days — which has given me at least some time for exploration and adventuring. I paid a visit to the one-man wax museum the week after I arrived, my first visit to Lenin since 2007. He looks much the same, which is to say, totally fake and wax-like. No pictures, obviously, as cameras are not allowed within any reasonable distance. I’ve wandered Red Square, I’ve returned to supermarkets to pick up my favorite Russian treats and to restaurants for my classic standards, and I’ve resumed my (sometimes twice) daily ice-cream-on-a-stick routine. I spend a lot more time cooking basic items, as my standard protein basics — black beans, chickpeas — come only dried, which takes a little more work. Most Fridays, I hang out with historians, and I’m hoping to catch up with some long-lost friends and acquaintances in my remaining time here.
In short, life is good, if somewhat predictable and generally uneventful. Moscow’s managed to grow on me over time. I didn’t really like the city when I first lived here almost six years ago — I coped with it, I didn’t ever love it. I wouldn’t say I love it now either. But I enjoy being here, even in the daily grind of my current existence. I’ve got a lot to keep me busy for the next three weeks before I move westward for most of a month in Ukraine, ready to hit a similar daily grind in Kyiv.