When you hear the phrase “real estate” you don’t commonly think “thriller plot.” Yet in Moscow, where prices are high, lawlessness in the private sector is rife, and the police are frequently too overwhelmed to pay any attention to what’s going on in the property market, any real estate deal could potentially land one in a situation more akin to an episode of “Law & Order.”
In order to discuss just how bizarre the so-called real estate scene around here truly is, I sat down with a glamorous woman whom I’ll call Alina – she is a real estate agent and, as she says it herself, “one of the good guys.”
I met an expat lady at GUM, Moscow’s fanciest department store, the other day, and wound up horrifying her.
She had asked me for directions in Russian, and I had noticed her accent, and spoke to her in English. We wound up talking.
Things were fine, until I realized that she was assuming that I must have come to Moscow attached to a foreigner husband. I corrected her – doing a fairly crappy job of explaining my complex biography – but I was friendly. What happened next pretty much floored me. Continue reading
Famous journalist Oleg Kashin, who works at Russia’s leading business newspaper, Kommersant, and lives in my neighbourhood, was badly beaten over the weekend in Moscow. So badly beaten – that doctors as of yet have nothing definitive to say about his chances of a proper recovery. This is the sort of incident that immediately makes you want to question everything – fate, God, justice, society, the future of journalism in Russia, the future of Russia in general.
In trying to come up with a proper response to this outrageous event, I looked to the blog of another Russian journalist – Alyona Solntseva. Solntseva wrote about how such violence is pretty much a “normal” part of our lives: Continue reading
The other day, I saw a pretty classic drunken fight.
I was just at the beginning at what I assumed would be a delicious nap – having drunk a concoction that contained heated-up rum, coconut milk and banana syrup – when these guys sitting at a table nearby decided to start punching each other. It took me a while to figure out the different sides involved in the conflict. Broadly speaking, there were two, with two guys against two guys. Since the fight went on for some time, though, I was able to understand that there was some nuance to what was happening. Continue reading
A few months ago, I insulted someone horribly. Darting about outside in a helpless panic, I had accosted a young man who was, by the looks of him, just trying to get home after a long day.
“Do you know how to call Information from a mobile?” I asked, in Russian.
He replied with a comment that, if appropriately translated, would sound something like – “No speak Russian.”
I did detect a familiar softening of the r’s, though. Continue reading
It was only a matter of time before ousted Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov became re-cast as the victim of “the dark forces that govern Russia” (as one person put it to me in an e-mail, preferring not to be quoted by name). It truly is terrifying – to be left with nothing but your wife’s $3 billion fortune, I suppose.
Luzhkov’s firing is plainly indicative of the way most Russian politics work – there were no big surprises there. And Luzhkov is no more a monster than any of your other regular corrupt politicians. And furthermore – the mayor’s legacy is very complicated; there were highs and there were lows and much talk of his pet bees, and a whole lot of terrifyingly ugly sculptures by his friend, Zurab Tsetereli, and also the general sense that Moscow developed significantly under his leadership. What’s really interesting to me is the rush to make Luzhkov out to be some sort of opposition figure. Continue reading
Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin once wrote a brilliant story that is the very definition of “shot.” In it, a nobleman riding alone sometime in autumn is nearly run down by a drunk peasant on his horse. The peasant falls to the ground just a few meters away, and, with tears in his eyes, screams out that “the cranes have flown away!!!” That’s it. The story is contained in just a few paragraphs.
Bunin’s tiny tale is so absurd as to be entirely realistic. It is one of his later works, written in a period when Bunin had become so utterly precise in his writing, that he didn’t need pages and pages of text to bring any particular message home to the reader. The cranes have flown away. What could be more tragic? Continue reading
Liza Fomkina and her aunt – a woman suffering from a disability – went missing on September 13 after taking two dogs on a walk in Orekhovo-Zuevo, a town in the Moscow region. The aunt’s body was found yesterday. Liza’s body was found today.
Liza was just four years old. Her aunt was 39. Continue reading
By the time my birthday rolled around this year, I was away from Moscow for a while – taking care of family business, mostly. Because the situation surrounding the health of a relative in Kiev was rather dire, I did not have the time to check the news for a few days. As birthday greetings began to trickle in for my 26th, I was struck by the comments from a colleague: “Happy Birthday!… By the way, we’re in hell here.” Continue reading
The train was departing at 11: 23 p.m.
At 11:06 p.m., I had just bounded out of my building, and was standing on the side of the road, hand outstretched. A small sedan heeded my desperate call.
“Can you get me to Kievsky railway station in 10 minutes, give or take a few?” I asked.
“Uh…” The driver replied.