Trend Spotting in Red Square
Day 39: Moscow's fairytale, onion-domed masterpiece is called St. Basil's Cathedral, and contrary to popular opinion it is not Vladimir Putin's house. (Though if he were to suddenly claim it as such, no one would be too surprised.) Few other structures inspire as much awe or appear so vivid in real life as St. Basil's. If Disney's Magic Kingdom rates a 12, it rates a 94. It was built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan; an event that took place in the 16th century. I don't know where Khanate of Kazan is, but I imagine it didn't meet a good end because "the Terrible" wasn't a reference to Ivan's tennis serve.
St. Basil's sits at the far end of Red Square, the first place I visited upon arrival in Moscow. It was also the last place I visited, because my stay in Moscow was way, way too short, and it's all because of Ukrainian ferry schedules. (More on that later.) I had barely 18 hours to soak the place in and the questions was--as it always is--how can one come to know a city's soul in such a short span of time? The answer is this: One cannot. But if you drop the sense of mission and decide to enjoy yourself instead, you can get breathtaking inklings. This is what happened to me.
Red Square is situated directly across Mokhovaya Street from the hotel I was staying at, and I spent the early evening seeing what is likely the most seen tourist site in all of Russia. The problem was getting across Mokhovaya Street. There was no crosswalk or crossing guard, and Moscow driving style isn't the kind that invites J-walking. And yet, there were lots of people milling around Red Square, some walking towards it, some walking away from it, and others just generally milling around. How did they get there?
By underground pathway, that's how. And after three to four minutes of paralyzing befuddlement, I figured it all out, ventured below ground and here I was very satisfyingly overwhelmed. Below street level was not only a passageway; it was also the entrance to the Okhotny Ryad Metro station. By all accounts, rush hour was in full swing and the tide of Russians--real, live Russian-speaking Russians--was impressive to say the least. They swept forward in schools, like reef fish, moving in all directions. Women talking on cell phones. A young couple discussing something intently. Men talking on cell phones. A middle aged man so drunk he was walking in perfect slow motion. More couples. A gaggle of blond high school girls, all talking at the same time. It was a standard urban scene, but exhilarating just the same.
I spotted a smallish herd moving in the right direction and joined in at the rear, following them through a small maze of corridors that flushed us into an underground shopping complex. Making a broad, circular tour, walking at a quarter the speed of everyone else, I stared wide eyed at the festival of Russian commerce taking place, then found a door that took me outside to Red Square.
Would it be crass to say that I'm craving
birthday cake right now?
Every Muscovite I talked to kept saying what a cold day it was, but the thing about Moscow is that the women dress in such a way that a man welcomes the odd cool breeze to take the perspiration off his brow. The look in Russia these days is boots. Stiletto boots. Some rise as high as above the knee, other feature tassels. In all cases, the heels are so tall and thin that I think they must be reinforced with titanium rods.
The boots are matched by long, slender coats and tight-fitting yet still tasteful clothes underneath. In roughly half the cases, these women were wearing the oversized sunglasses that have been the rage for something like five years now. They wear them outside and in, and I bet some of them are still wearing them when their head hits the pillow at night. Overall, they seem to be cultivating the same glamorous but slightly tarty look of a young Zsa Zsa Gabor. I hope the same is not true of their personalities.
It was also in Red Square that I made my first eurotrash sighting. A man, in his twenties, and with the requisite markings: expertly gelled hair; an earring; pointy-toed white leather shoes; jeans reminiscent of acid-wash; and a serious yet sultry look on his face. As I was upwind, I could not measure cologne levels, but my guess is they were high.
It surprised me to see eurotrash this far north and east and so early in spring. Perhaps it is yet another ominous sign of global warming.