I have a confession to make: I have always been slightly intimidated by Moscow. A native of Saint Petersburg, i.e. Russia’s intelligentsia hub, I was practically raised to look down upon ‘Moskvichi’ for their (presumed) gaucheness and cultural deficience. And yet I always suspected that my closed-mindedness was partially driven by my own sense of inadequacy. In Moscow, an oasis of concentrated wealth, beauty and corruption, I always felt too lumpy, too naïve, too low on the totem pole.. And so, as God and human nature intended, I judged.
Alas, there comes a time when everybody has to face their fears. Mine came when my brother proposed for me to temporarily abandon family duty in Saint-Petersburg and hop onto his weekend trip to Moscow, a decision he later came to regret. Not only did I come, but I annoyed the living daylight out of him in the process, earning myself a firm placement into the “unmarriable” category. Marriable or not, I also used it as an opportunity to do some qualitative research into the curious world of Moscow men, which I chronicled for you, my dear readers! With pictures!
9am: I’m impressed. The Sapsan train, which whisks you from Saint-Petersburg to Moscow in 3.5 hours, is way nicer than any other train I have ever been on, Eurostar included. It is also flooded with decent-looking businessmen – why aren’t all Russian women riding this thing back and forth all day long?
1pm: Moscow greets me as one big clusterfuck of traffic and dust, and yet I don’t mind because it’s sunny and I haven’t seen sun in about a month. I check into my hotel, suspect that I may be the only guest there which means that I have a 30+ staff at my disposal. The porter brings me my suitcase and addresses me in French. Wait, how does he know I speak French? Are they spying on me? What’s this KGB sh*t?!
3pm: I wander around the Red Square, stumble upon my favorite place that is the GUM supermarket.
Walk over to Yves Salomon, almost accidentally buy myself a mink. Stop myself because robbing a bank in Moscow seems like a bad idea, KGB and all.
Do I look Russian or do I look Russian?!
8pm: Head to meet a friend for dinner at a place called Uilliams. Outfit: black top, blue jeans. Gianvito Rossi suede booties – this being Moscow, I figure I will still be the least dressed-up person there, right? Nuh-uh. Turns out, Moscow has become Marais over the past few years and the entire place is hipstered out with sneakers and mom jeans and muns. WTF? Is this an alternate universe?
9pm: A guy at the table next to us is yelling something into his phone. I give him a volume-altering look. He pipes down, gets off the phone, apologizes. I gracefully forgive him. He tells me that I seem too nice to be from Moscow – or even from in Russia. In fact, I have to hail from America, for it is the only place where smiles are that fake. We chat some more and I give him my number despite my friend’s protests. (According to her, he’s a loser. What she doesn’t know is that losers are my jam.)
10pm: The guys leave, we drink more wine and ask for the bill. The waiter informs us that it has been paid for by our former neighbors.
11pm: I return to hotel on a high horse, contemplate moving to Moscow. My brother, straight off a plane from Germany, attributes it to beginner’s luck and tells me I have no chance in this city.
2pm: I work in the morning then decide to pay my friend Putin an afternoon visit at the Kremlin. I’m just kidding, I don’t even know that person! Or maybe I do! I spoke to him once! Or did I?
In any case, I know that he works here.
4pm: On my walk to the Tretyakov Gallery, I ask my friend for advice about the guys from the night before. This happens.
I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering a- why I live in a place where I have to split the bill for nachos and b- how the hell Russian women are now so beautiful, considering that they used to look like this:
9pm: Dinner at Villa Sumosan (Go! The food is bomb!) followed by Klava, a cool fashion-y bar with a couple of semi-cute guys. The only problem is, everyone assumes my brother and I are a couple. I spot one semi-cutie, wait until my brother goes to the bathroom, and flash him all 28 of my teeth. Again, it works like magic! He is about to walk up to me when suddenly I feel somebody grab me by the waist.
“I like you. YOU ARE ALIVE. What is your name?”
I look at him. He is about 75. Salt & pepper hair, medium built, pleasant face. Again, he is about 75. Also, his hands are around my waist. Still, I was raised to respect the elderly so I tell him my name.
“Marina! I like you. You are the real thing, a real woman. Do you know who I am?”
(Sure I do! You are somebody who got a chance to witness Stalin in action!) I shake my head.
“I am like Diaghilev. I can change your life. We don’t even need to have sex.”
I wonder if the iconic art patron had used the same technique when offering his services. My brother comes out of bathroom, sees grandpa’s hands around me and almost spits into his drink. I take his number so that he leaves me alone; never see my hot man again. (Find me! Call me!)
2pm: My friend and I head to the Garage Triennial, where I see tons of cute hipsters. I also see tons of feminist art which makes me realize how terrible the situation in this country is for women.
14K women in Russia die from sexual assault annually; 30-50K women are raped annually, Russian women work 40 hours a week at their jobs + 20 hours a week doing chores. SHIT.
8pm: Our cultural quest continues with Black Russian, an interactive play based on Pushkin’s Dubrovsky. The plot: a man plants himself in the home of his enemy disguised as a French teacher, only to fall head over heels in love with his daughter, Masha. Five minutes after we enter the theater, a hot actor offers me a shot in French, then whispers “Je suis Dubrovsky!” in my ear and runs away. I feel like the coolest thing since baguettes – I have been chosen to keep his secret! During the last act he comes up to me and passionately recites a long Pushkin poem into my ear, then places a tiny object in my hand. I’m excited as I assume it’s his number. Instead, I open my hand and find a ring. (Before you get your panties in a bunch, it’s part of the book plot.)
Yes, I have a thumb, I just don’t like to show it.
10pm: My brother calls my mom and tells her that I may have come as close as I will ever be to getting proposed to.
11pm: We head to a bar called Mendeleev where all my brother’s friends ask me why I am not married, a boring and anticlimactic ending to an otherwise great night.
6am: I wake up from my brother’s snoring. He is the worst roommate and I feel bad for his wife. I head to the spa, sleep in the ladies’ lounge, then perch myself by the pool with a ton of complimentary snacks.
10am: Still at the spa, hanging out in the jacuzzi. A middle-aged man asks if he can join. We have a pleasant conversation. I tell him that I live in America, he tells me that he lives in a Moscow suburb with his family but he likes to occasionally spend nights in the city. Would I like to see his suite? I look at him, at the big fancy Jacuzzi, at the ostentatious Hublot clock on the wall ticking away the seconds of my youth. I wonder what Pushkin would have to say about all of this. Is this decadence? Tragedy? The demise of the human spirit? I wish he was still alive to tell me.
Also, since when do all the old men like me?
1pm: Brother and I attempt some sibling bonding, almost kill each other at yet another museum.
4pm: We miss our plane and bond on the airport floor.
7pm: We make it onto the next plane, establish that I am the cute one and decide never to bond again.