The Moscow Trip

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: December 09, 2019

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Submitted: December 09, 2019

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A few years ago, I was assigned to work in Moscow with a Russian contact; I'll call Anton. Anton, a short man in his 30s with a boyish face and stoic attitude, is very resourceful and dependable. The old Stalinist looking building that I met him at is in a busy district area. My office window had a view of a large set of hyperboloidal-shaped cooling towers in the distance, which I mistakenly identified as part of a nuclear power plant. I later learned from Anton that this industrial plant is a centralized heating thermal station that provides heat to Moscow's flats and public buildings.

One evening while working late, Anton orders us takeout and splurges on a meat-lovers pizza. It is a four-cheese pizza with spicy sausage, prosciutto, chicken, lamb, and pepperoni. I barely finish one slice and wash it down with a bottle of Aqua Minerale. Before we depart the office, I notice that the remaining half of the pizza is on the table. I wonder if Anton realizes this, or maybe he is leaving it for the nightly cleaning crew to polish off? When we arrive at the office the next morning, Anton asks me if I had breakfast yet? Not sure what he has in mind, he walks over to the table and helps himself to a heavyweight slice of pizza: a thin wet crust barely propping a heap of meat garnished with thriving pathogens. Not wanting to end my stay in an infirmary, I politely decline. By the way, weeks went by without any reports of Anton feeling sick. Quite an impressive microbiome!

Later in the trip, I was introduced to Anton's wife, Anna, a beautiful and smart young woman from Moscow that Anton had met in university. Anna, like most Russian women, takes fashion very seriously. It is not unusual to see them dressed up as if they are going to the Kremlin Ballet Theatre when, in fact, they are meeting up with friends for tea.

Anna took me on a walking tour at a nearby university. A beautiful campus with looming brick structures and a stunning landscape, she walked at ease with her stiletto heels. When we reached a break in the pavement and forced to go "off-road," Anna managed the transition gracefully in her thin high heels like a 4WD SUV.  I jokingly asked when she was a baby if she wore training heels? She smiled and responded, "No, not training, real stilettos." Anna pointed to a tiny residential house that seemed out of place for a campus environment. She told me a story about the man who lived in this house and refused to move when the university expanded its campus. I tried to imagine how much money this man had to pay to keep his home. Bribery in Russia is a time-honored tradition. Anna recounted a story about an Irishman who moved to Moscow and tried to get his driver's license. He had failed five times but wanted to earn his right to pass the driver's test without bribing the instructor.

Anna talked about different superstitions in Russia. One example I read online, she confirmed was correct, is not to greet a person at a doorway with a handshake or embrace over the threshold. You must pass through first before engaging, or you can create bad luck for yourself. Speaking of which, when someone in Russia wishes you "good luck," do not thank the person, otherwise, you may reverse your good fortune. The appropriate response is, "fuck it!" or something along those lines. I told Anna that I might be in some trouble as the police recently stopped me for a bag check at the entrance of the metro. After they cleared me to proceed, they wished me "good luck," and I thanked them.

My first trip down the escalator at Park Pobedy Station, Moscow Metro, was an experience I will never forget. Park Pobedy is one of the deepest metro stations in the world. The steep angle of descent naturally leaned my body forward, and it took all of my energy and concentration not to tumble forth, causing a human avalanche. The commuting time felt like an eternity -- Were we heading for the center of the Earth? What awaits us at the bottom? Willy Wonka and his Oompa-Loompas? Not sure I want to know, but there is no turning back. The trip was not so bad after all, and most importantly, I avoided causing a human catastrophe. At the base of the station, I discovered some beautiful mosaics depicting different Russian wars. I learned later that these stations also serve as bomb shelters to protect civilians from the after-effects of a nuclear attack.

I come from a generation in the United States whose parents had negative views of the USSR. I did not let those judgments distort my thinking and kept an open mind of respect and appreciation for the Russian Federation and its people. I enjoyed my stay in Moscow and treasured the experience of working with highly intelligent and beautiful people.


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