Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Europe pt. 3: Russia

Thank god this infernal series is almost over. The good news, however, is that we are covering the granddady of them all today: Russia.

I've spent a total of about a month and a half in Russia, starting in the Spring of 1999 on exchange, and going back twice, with the final trip in January of 2001. What I've leaned is that Russia is a glorious contradiction. In some ways, post-communist Russia resembles the absolute worst elements of capitalism (rampant materialism and oligarchiasm), yet the average person is grounded with a sense of morality and humility that is unmatched in most western societies, particularly the USA. Case in point: If you walk on the street in Russia acting all loud and arrogant, taking up all of the sidewalk, you will be regarded as an irredeemable piece of shit by everyone. The rule is keep your mouth shut, your expression straight, and keep moving.

Behind closed doors, however, Russians like to play hard. Hard drinking (of course), hard fucking, and hard violence is the norm. Your average Russian does not go to the 'pub' or 'bar-hop', and the clubs are usually nothing more than ridiculously overpriced havens for mafia and indifferent fashionistas. Most of the hanging out, then, is done at someone's tiny flat in some neighborhood outside the center of Moscow. Behind closed doors, people are warm, intellectual, creative, and if they are women, hot as hell (until the age of 35). There is the specter of violence hanging over everything, however, as you never know when an armed heroin addict might sneak into your apartment building behind you, or if a gang of Chechnyians might kidnap you off the street, or if the police might try to extract a bribe from you. Trouble with the police usually only occurs if you look Chechnyan, so you are all in the clear.

Did I mention the warm personalities? Well, you have to be careful of that too. Russians are a manipulative bunch of fuckers, and although they are quicker to welcome you than the average American, they are also cash-trapped people who will try to take advantage of you if you portray weakness. I believe it was De La Soul who once said, "it's a dog eat dog competition".

If you are a decent looking American guy who is not a total fool, Russian girls will love the shit out of you. Of course, finding the right context for meeting a Russian girl is very difficult, because you if go 'out' in a Russian city, it'll be filled with mafia-connected girls whose status is so high, they could give two shits about you. Your best bet would be to go on exchange in High School, like myself, and meet some nice middle class girl. This is not going to happen to you. I'd recommend learning some Russian and going to Brighten Beach, Brooklyn, Northeast Philly, or somewhere in the Washington DC area where there are Russians (sorry DC readers, but I don't know where your Russians are at.)

A sidenote: What is it with girls that have Eastern European blood in any context? They are either the coolest girls you meet, who are talented, smart and beautiful, or they are completely vapid and materialistic...Contradictions again.

Now; to the two Russian cities that I've been to:

St. Petersburg - Washington, D.C. for the freezing set

St. Petersburg is a close kin of D.C., due to both the fake Parisian 'charm' in their respective architectural lay-outs and the sheer amount of hatred and satire these cities have inspired from those who have lived there. There's a reason Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Pushkin set most of their famous stories in St. Petersburg, and not Moscow: To them, St. Petersburg represented every vile element in Western society that Russia falsely aspired to, from the forced European appearance, to the vast, status-obsessed government bureaucracy...Sound familiar? Most Americans look at DC the same way, except substitute "American" for "Western" in the previous sentence. Well, I guess there's a whole mess of substitutions to make in that previous sentence to complete the DC analogy, but who the fuck do you think I am? Don Nelson?!

Nonetheless, like DC, People outside of St. Petersburg are quick to bash it. And like DC, People who live in St. Petersburg are eager to move out. But in the end, no one can stop talking about either city, and beneath the bullshit, there are plenty of redeemable elements about both places. The only problem I have is this: Why did St. Petersburg get all of the good writers out his deal? Who the fuck does DC have for great art, Fugazi?!!

Quick sidenote: St. Petersburg was the absolute coldest place I've ever been.

Moscow - No Red Square for you

Quick facts about Moscow:

-Contraband street vendors: I once got Ok Computer here for 20 cents. Cigarettes on the street go for about 30 cents a pack.

-Ridiculously overpiced Department Stores: I once got the Verve's Urban Hymes for fifty dollars. Yeah; that's stupid, but I had just gotten laid and absolutely needed to hear "Lucky Man".

-The food is indeed terrible. God, Russians can't cook. Their American-style supermarkets just don't feel right, either. Also understand that whenever you read some article on Russia gastronomical revolution, those cushy food critics are talking about meals that are upwards of 150 dollars.

-the subways are nicer and cleaner than the actual city:

I've go to get back to work. Happy Russian Day.

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