Even though I am home now and can call on the phone, I wanted to get down on paper (at least electronic paper) my last thoughts on Moscow before I forget them.
It is a place much more cosmopolitan in some ways than it is here. Here in Lake Elsinore, there is no 24 hour drug store- the nearest one is in Temecula. Vons and Albertsons are back to closing at midnight – after that, you only have a few circle K’s open. The most common sign I saw in Moscow was “24 YACA” – Meaning “24 hours”. Many drug stores, all supermarkets, a small store on about every block, the casinos, and even a few Kiosks run 24 hours a day. Did I mention Casinos? Lots of them. Only slot machines, but a lot of them. In shops on the street corners, down town, in the train stations, lots of Slot Shops. No one seems to know that gambling is “morally reprehensible, breeds crime, and is a blight on society”. So it isn’t.
On the other hand, you can’t buy packing tape or get a key made unless you know where to go. The supermarkets are better than they used to be, but the stores are very specialized. When we needed packing tape for a painting that Larisa bought, I couldn’t find it anywhere. We finally borrowed a few feet of tape from our landlord, but I have no idea where he got it- by the way, plastic tape of all sorts is called “Scotch” in Russia – talk about the power of American Advertising.
I got a chance to chat with the driver who took us back to the airport. He was a man of about 30. I had been noticing that about a quarter of the billboards and other advertising were in the Latin alphabet – and many of them were in English. I asked him if most people could now read the Latin alphabet. He said, “Da” and read a few of the signs hat we passed. He said that many Russians are worried about the “Americanization of Russia.” They think of all foreign products – even Sony and Pokemon – as “American”. This has caused the usual division between old and young people. Old people still detest the western influence. Young people want to be western. You hear more American music than Russian and even rap is popular with the young. They buy magazines about American movie stars, American music, and Harleys. Every news stand has copies of “Cosmopolitan” and “Playboy” and “BAM” and dozens of other American magazines with the cover in English and the text inside in Russian.
It reminds of the Rock and Roll controversies when I was young. I was too tactful to mention that that was how we won the cold war. One of the most popular shows on Russian TV is about three Russian policemen stationed in Las Vegas and catching bad Russians doing nasty things there.
Maybe that’s why the fanciest casino downtown is called “Super Slots” (ok, they spell it “Cynep Clotc” – but you pronounce it “Super Slots”)
Russian TV is pretty good – if you speak Russian. You get seven channels in Moscow without cable. Unfortunately there isn’t a single caption or any programming in English. What the Russians do is up to American standards of TV production, but about 1/3 or all programming is from the US – mostly our old cop shows. The Russian idea of dubbing is to turn down the sound on the original tape (but leave the sound there) and a couple of Russian speakers speak over the English during the show. I even saw one program where one Russian speaker spoke all of the parts – men, women, boys, girls, all in the same bored monotone. Larisa believes that sooner or later everyone will understand English from subliminal learning – because so much of their TV is simultaneous English/Russian and you can almost make out the English in the background.
I did see one news program that I think I understood in spite of no translations. A news program showed a gasoline pipeline that runs through a large open field or park that we had passed a few days before. With good old Russian engineering principles, they had not buried the pipe. It was suspended on rusted supports about 3 feet off of the ground. The segment began with a pan of the pipe and then focused on a leaking joint. The picture then panned back to show two Russian women with jars, pails, and buckets, collecting the leaking gasoline. Then it panned back further to show that the women had set up a very professional gas price sign next to the road.
They interviewed several people who were walking past or purchasing gas. I couldn’t understand the Russian, but it was obvious that they were asking people if it was wrong to sell or buy stolen gas, and the people were all shrugging their shoulders and looking confused. The last segment was an interview that I could not understand with an official at the police department. He looked both confused and concerned, but I will never know what happened to the resourceful old ladies
Good old rugged capitalism and communist “ethics” seem to work well together in Russia. Still good to be home. I actually drove to the store today surrounded by drivers who drove only on the road, avoided the sidewalks, and drove mostly between these wonderful white lines that they have on American roads.