Welcome to Russia, Mr. Snowden
First, I’d like to warn you about our summer: we don’t have one.
Three weeks of heat, five thousand Twitter and Facebook moans about how damn hot it is and then back to moderately frostbite-inducing weather, complete with just enough humidity to make your limbs get all puffy and sausage-like in appearance.
By the way, you've already missed the allotted three, but so did I (coincidentally, in the same locale, though I did get to spend a day in Cuba, so thank you for that) – see? We already have something in common.
Secondly, no matter what your plans are, where and however you want to settle in – most of your time will be spent in traffic.
You see, you’ll probably acquire some friends very quickly – what
with all the notoriety and knowledge of spiffy ways of getting
around computer networks, I’m assuming there is already an army
of people who are willing to bend over backwards in order to get
your attention long enough for an Instagram-Twitter opportunity.
They'll pick you up and take you places. Hold on to your glasses.
Your friends will explain that Russia sucks, Moscow does, too, and on a grander scale; the only place to be is Strelka (meaning Arrow in English, but also a kinda prison-slang term for a “meeting”) – a bar/restaurant/art institute for the hip, intellectually-upbeat and disdainful. But the cocktails are splendid.
You’ll get dragged to a seemingly endless number of bars,
restaurants and cafes – you see, Muscovites have just passed
through the either McDee’s and Cola or oysters and Petrus stage
of culinary evolution (depending on the budget or whoever happens
to be looking at the moment), and have finally evolved into
species capable of understanding that cuisine can involve a bit
more whim and fancy than a blob of mayo and some caviar on top.
They’re incredibly proud of a myriad of such establishments
popping up on every corner in Moscow, and are loudly proclaiming
certain neighborhoods to be the closest thing to Greenwich
Village east of Long Island.
After you’re done eating, the same bearded, boviating Strelkatians will quickly snatch you out of the hands of any encumbering security minders (or ten, or twenty, depending on the day and overall political situation in our neck of the woods) and will stream you through an endless arcade of exhibits, festivals, events, talks, open tables, discussion panels, ping-pong games, and interviews.
Relax – everything you say and do will be used against you in the court of public opinion, and every little sneeze will get as much criticism or admiration as Manet’s painting with a naked chick and erroneously dressed men on a picnic in a park, back when it was unveiled much to the chagrin of the (ironically also) bearded men at the Paris Salon.
Girls will throw themselves at you.
So will boys.
And older men and women.
If that all happens simultaneously, worry not – it just means you’ve happened to walk into the Moscow Metro system during rush hour.
You may have heard about it. You may have seen pictures. Your new
friends will explain to you that the Metro is just for tourists
and provincial mendicants who cannot afford a proper set of four
wheels. But the explanation, no doubt, will be delivered over an
extended period of time you will spend in one of Moscow’s
infamous traffic jams – harking back to where I began my
As a person who did her share in these life-killing, soul-eating spit-ups of civilization, I warn you: either live in the Kremlin, or DO ignore anti-metro slogans and use it. Chances that you’ll be recognized on there are zero.
And in winter you'll have an incessant cold and stuffy nose – so there's a solution for the whole "it reeks of high heaven" argument.
Basically, it’s as follows: it’s gonna be hard. You won’t find an organic anything that wouldn’t cost as much as a human kidney on the black market. Everyone smokes, but periodically quits, because of the law, and because it’s kinda trendy now.
Everyone runs – also, because it’s fashionable to be healthy. Communists spent 75 years trying to impose the idea of a healthy lifestyle onto the populace, but as soon as the USSR collapsed, that idea was promptly thrown out the window – only to make a grand comeback in recent years. Like a lot of reasonable ideas, really, but that's a whole other story.
Burgers will cost around 30 bucks at Starlite Diner. Drinking won’t be that big of a deal anymore – the country doesn't really support the idea of a "last call" but if you want to buy some vodka between the hours of 11pm and 8am – you're out of luck.
Most things written in English will be misspelled. Yet, most
things written in Russian are misspelled also, so that’s really
not worth pointing out.
Books to read – Dostoevsky is grand, and all, albeit rather depressing. Not to mention it'd be a good read on a 13-hour flight to, say, Cuba.
But I strongly suggest reading “Twelve Chairs” and the “The Golden Calf” to better prepare for the pandemonium that is the Russian psyche, also known as the Mysterious Russian Soul. And, of course, “Master and Margarita” – for all its otherworldly beauty, placed a hair-splitting pitch on that side of sanity, soaked in the mystic oil of the supernatural, a tragic farce, a comedic drama – really, it’s all there for the taking, and I strongly suggest you read it as soon as possible.
And if you need anything – just give a shout out to your fake twitter account. You won’t believe how many serious people still believe it’s real.
Irina “I spent almost as much time at the airport as he did” Galushko, RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.