October means back to Moscow

What’s this? You’re back in Russia after just three weeks? Yes, it was an accident of inefficient scheduling. But, hey, I’m now a Silver-level Aeroflot Bonus member!

October’s trip is for a conference, but first I’ve got a few days in Moscow. I’m lucky to have my old friend Jim along with me. I met Jim back in 2000 when he was my student on a study abroad trip to Petersburg. He is in sales and managed to finagle a work trip to Moscow. He sells medical models and other equipment. So, for example, when a medical student is learning how to insert a catheter, they practice on Jim’s models. His catalog of wares is….disturbing.

This time after arriving I did what I shall henceforth do forever: I took a nap. I ran to Anya’s and, bless her soul, she fed me a pork chop with some delicious pickled mushrooms. They made me feel alive. Jim arrived and we made him sit up with us talking—it’s easy to get him to do that because he is addicted to coffee. But around midnight or so we all faded so Jim and I went back to the apartment to sleep. Glorious, glorious sleep.

Magically, Jim got up and was out the door before I even noticed. He was meeting a female acquaintance (soon to maybe be lady friend???) and was anxious to see her. I worked on my conference presentation a little bit and then met Anya for lunch. I had been craving khinkali, which are Georgian dumplings. They are round with a little spiral “handle” on top. You hold them with two hands, take a bite, and suck down the rich, meaty soup inside. We went to this place that epitomizes the sort of fast-casual eatery that is taking Moscow by storm. I kept wanting to call it My Lai, but no, that’s a massacre in Vietnam. This place is called Vai Me. They were out of khinkali, but that’s ok because they had some delicious bean lobio instead (soupish-stewish-paste that is so much more tasty than I am making it sound). We all had headaches and, for some reason, thought we could cure them by drinking tarkhun, the bright-green tarragon soda. The food and the soda brightened up what was otherwise a very grey day. We bought some ice cream at the grocery store and wound up back at my apartment, fantasizing about real estate.

You see, the apartment I stay at in Moscow is dreamy. It has an enormous balcony that lets you see not just the Kremlin (if you squint) but also Moscow State University and the apartment building near Gorky Park. It’s bright and spacious and excellently located near the center. The building was featured in the 70’s film Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession, which is a goofy sort-of sci-fi time-travel comedy. The accordion-shaped crooked-ish building fits perfectly with the wonky feel of the movie and it makes me smile every time I look at it. Here’s my photo of it, but the lower photo, from the movie, is better.

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In fact, we just need to take a minute and talk about this gem of a film. It was produced in 1973, but its sensibilities are so modern you would never guess it is that old. Far from being a stodgy Soviet movie, it pokes fun at Soviet life. Here’s a scene where our hero, Shurik, hits the black market to buy a radio transistor for his time machine:

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And another character has a secret bar in his apartment with foreign liquor—it’s hidden in his wall!!!

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And look at this outfit!

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Is it really so different from Kerry Washington’s Prada Emmy’s gown?

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So, if you wonder what I feel like when I’m in Moscow, I’m in an ahead-of-its time world where anything is possible as long as you have a secret bar.

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