Friday, October 31, 2008

(----) In Russia Vol.7

You know you're in Russia when you wake up on a hardwood floor, still fully clothed, and you're in a bedroom full of sleeping people, and one of them, a guy you vaguely know, sits up in bed with nothing but black socks and tight black underwear on and asks you how you are, and all you can say is, "My head hurts," and you try to find your stuff, which has somehow been scattered all over this apartment on the other side of the city from where you live, and there's one guy still drinking by himself at 10 in the morning in the living room, and then the guy in the underwear shows up in the kitchen and now it's your turn to ask, "Is everything OK?", and he answers, "Well, there's no cigarettes and no alcohol left, so no, not really," and you stumble out into the street to find a bus to take you to the metro, and when you finally sit down, head still splitting, knowing that you look like you just slept on someone's floor with no pillow or blanket and you can't really see straight because your contact lenses are glued to your eyeballs, caked with a Russian apartment party's worth of cigarette smoke, you look at your phone and realize that sometime during the night you added a new contact into your address book: Boris. And you don't remember Boris.


Let's get right to the good stuff, shall we? The neighborhood these photos were taken in houses all the boutique stores; the Louis Vuitton shop was right around the corner from this fucking place. Remember our friend from the energy drink sign in the metro? Well, he's not just a model for Russian malt beverages.

Light fixtures in the Mendeleevskaya metro station, where I have to go every day to get to work. Every metro station is like a museum, honestly. Each one has a different architectural theme; I'm trying to get shots of them all but it's hard, because 1. you're not supposed to take pictures in the metro and 2. if you're taking pictures of light fixtures in the metro, you might as well put a sign on your back that says, "I'm not Russian; fuck with me."

I thought we had forgotten about these guys. Apparently Moscow has not. I love the title of the tour: "ALL HOPE IS GONE." Yes, the hope is gone, but someone's still paying for angst, so shut it.

I thought we had forgotten about this guy too. But again, Moscow longs for the mediocre.

Russian parking. This is the path I take to walk to work from the metro. This car has been here for several days. Also, there are often fresh human turds scattered around the sidewalk in this neighborhood. Almost as if they appear in the night, like the North Carolina legend of the Devil's Tramping Ground. Except that here, the Devil is pooping.

THIS guy.

And THAT guy.


A few landscape shots:

West Moscow at sunset.

South Moscow at sunrise, the day I moved.

The next 3 photos were all taken in a 2-minute span:

This photo of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is 4000 rubles ($150).

This woman is on a horse in the center of Moscow. She offered me a ride for 100 rubles.

This ad is slightly obscene.

So the streets in Moscow are huge, and the traffic is insane. And the driving is atrocious. A lot of people get hit by cars in the crosswalks because drivers just don't stop for pedestrians. So there are underground tunnels that you can cross streets with, and they often lead to metro stations. This one is at the Kitai-Gorod (Chinatown) station; I had been out with people from work and decided to try and find my way home on foot from the bar we were at. This decision turned out to be like a Super Mario game...the list of dangerous, freaky situations I experienced on my walk home was insane: police, drunks, goblin prostitutes, vomit, invalids in wheelchairs asleep on the street, etc. Two minutes after this photo was taken I had to turn around and exit the tunnel because the metro was closed, and the only people in the tunnel were a bunch of dudes drinking. I could hear them before I could see them, and based on their shouting, my instinct told me that if I didn't get the fuck out of there, I might very well be introduced to some discomfort.

This is a bar close to where I live now. "КАНТРИ" is not a word in Russian; it is a transliteration of the word "country", which means this place is simply called "country bar". As in, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, etc. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet checked it out.

This fucking behemoth is always parked here, a block away from where I live.

A few shots of my new home. This is the nicest place I have ever lived in. The irony.

The hallway.

The kitchen.

My room. I live with two British guys close to the center of the city. We can walk to the Kremlin in 30 minutes. Our building is pre-revolutionary, which means that it is classy: huge windows, high ceilings, radiators in every room, hardwood floors. Shit is unreal.

I went to Ashan City today, which is the Russian equivalent of Wal-Mart. Imagine Wal-Mart. Now imagine Wal-Mart without any organization. And these dogs chillin' in front of the place.

The beginning of the checkout line at Ashan. I went there to buy a pillow, a trash bin, and a shower mat. I was in line for 40 minutes. I am not joking. The people in front of me had so much shit that it took close to 7 minutes to ring the entire order up. And when the cashier finished, the total was 16,000 rubles ($600). Which was wrong. So the people raised a huge fuss, and the cashier then tried to figure out what had happened. He called the manager. She showed up and couldn't figure out what was going on, so she left. Then she came back 10 minutes later, tried to enter a few codes into the register, then decided that the best thing to do was to RE-SCAN EVERY ITEM AGAIN. Which they did. And the culprit was an 11,000-ruble sausage that was not supposed to cost that much, but whose bar code designated that price. At this point, all I could do was laugh, because there was no other logical response for such a situation.

Yet another amazing grammatical find in a Moscow mall. I can has 2 words in lowercase separated by a symbol and then one word in CAPS?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

(----) In Russia Vol.6

I stumbled upon this corporate party on the basement floor of the Renaissance Moscow Hotel, an appropriately swanky joint full of expensive-looking people and expensive-looking bathrooms. The group hired to perform seems to have some issues with their identity; we're talking Dirty South aesthetics combined with Kylie Minogue. The chorus is in English ("What a beautiful life!"), and the ladies only seem to serve the purpose of having an alto or soprano to offset the grunting of the very, very white dudes, who are unknowingly doing their best to replicate the Cosby dance. My favorite part is when the dinner napkin gets thrown onstage in tribute, prompting one of the dudes to sniff it.

Scenes from a metro:

Lenin, currently immobile in statue form, continues to be forced to look at images of capitalism.

What does a $15 cheeseburger look like?

Menu from the "Amerikanskii Bar and Grill", which features extremely puzzling interior design (half ski lodge, half Outback Steakhouse) and equally puzzling service (a beer somehow takes 15 minutes to procure, after being ordered twice).

Really stuck my neck out there for you people with this one; could've gotten spotted objectifying this tiny dog in a tracksuit (not pictured is the man accompanying this woman holding the leash, who has no problem dressing a dog in a tracksuit and probably would have been equally comfortable breaking my thumbs, thus preventing me from ever putting a picture of a dog in a tracksuit online), but I thought it was worth it.

Detail of dog.

Fashion-conscious devushka, flanked by the always-willing-to-punch-a-foreigner babushka she will one day become.

Scenes from my current hood (moving tomorrow, where hopefully life can actually begin, as opposed to waiting for life to begin on a couch with a stuffed pig for a pillow):

Nakhimovskii Prospekt, 9:30am Sunday morning.

NovocheriYOmushkinskaya Ulitsa, where my hosts live, 11:40pm Tuesday evening. It took me about 2 weeks to be able to pronounce the street name. Emphasis is on the "YO" part of the word. For realz.

Yet more graffiti from my hosts' building. If you can't read it, it says, "Da, bro." Some things are universal.

Graffiti on Nakhimovskii. This is the Russian word for "cheese"; this tag is actually all over this street. It would be awesome if there was a street gang on NovocheriYOmushkinskaya called "Cheese."

"Adios, dad."

This is the "police station" on Nakhimovskii. 1. There are never any police in it. 2. There are always rats swarming out of it. 3. This car is blocking the entrance, so if there were any police in it, they'd be in there until the owner returned.

This is one of the biggest streets in Moscow, Tverskaya. At midnight on Thursday evening, this hose was running out of of a bank on Tverskaya, spraying water into the street. You can't really tell from the photo, but the force of the water pressure is lifting the hose into the air; it's not on the ground. No one appeared to be responsible for the hose; it was completely unattended and the bank was closed. And everyone driving down Tverskaya seemed to have no clue how to deal with water coming from a hose. It's one thing to have water fall out of the sky, but from the side? The traffic panic was incredible -- people were braking, then trying to comprehend how to avoid getting their cars wet, then swerving into the other lanes with the usual disregard for other vehicles. It was glorious.

Truck on Tverskaya.

Bro on Tverskaya.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

(----) In Russia Vol.5

A babushka punched me yesterday coming out of the metro. This particular metro stop was just a madhouse; it was impossible to walk in a straight line without bumping into someone or getting plowed into. I bumped into this lady and she hit me, not even breaking her stride or checking to see how the blow landed. I think she represents the overall attitude this city has to me. I keep stumbling, and it keeps punishing me for doing so.


Graffiti close to the stop where I was punched.

My favorite contemporary Russian musician, Mujuice, playing at a really cool space called 1980, which is basically a museum dedicated to Nike Air shoes. You can buy tons of Nike gear there, and they have a bunch of "artifacts" related to the birth of hip-hop in NYC in the 80s.

The shoes at 1980. I had Adidas on and therefore was not cool enough. See? Once again, Moscow smacks me in the face for trying.

A trip to a mall in Russia proved fruitful:

No comment necessary.

--"Vladimir, what should we do for the new window display? We gotta spice up our presentation. Just having some mannequins wearing suits is not enough."
--"Hmm, good point. People won't buy these clothes that we have marked up 300% from normal retail value unless we entice them somehow. Do we have any watermelons we could put around the mannequins? That might do the trick."
--"Fuck yeah, dude. I'll send Zhenya to the market right now. We're definitely getting promotions for this one."

Nothing makes a bag designed specifically for Russian women to drape across their arms while looking bitchy look better than an oil drum that some lazy fucker spilled paint on and called it art.

Sign says, "Opening soon."

Emerging from the metro. Some stations have really elaborate halls, like this one, with a floor-to-ceiling tapestry that has Lenin's visage on it. He's probably going nuts witnessing what has happened to this place in the past 10 years.

It costs 15 rubles to take a leak in a porta-potty. But all amenities are included, like mood lighting.

This is the building I work in. It houses The Moscow Times, a financial paper called Vedomosti, and 10 magazines, including the office for the Russian version of Esquire.

The newsroom. News is occurring.

A recent cover of Vedomosti. Pictured is Oleg Deripaska, the richest man in Russia ($28.6 billion). The headline says, "They didn't call Deripaska." The financial crisis here is hitting him hard. He might only have $20 billion by the end of the year.

I leave you with this series of photos. These are instructions on the soda machine at work. Now, I understand that buying a soda is complicated. We've all had to do it at some point. The confusing part is why the instructions have been translated into English. As if any native English speaker would not know how to do this.