A christmas tale from Moscow

by Greg Goldenzwaig, Moscow, Russia

She calls me dear and I don’t know her name. She might be 45 or 70 and would be a disaster for any age, her eyes lost in the web of wrinkles, her voice resembling of a steam train alarm signal. Sometimes she sings for public. She’s never sober. She lives in the tunnel. I meet her every day when going through the tunnel, on the way from the metro station to the office. I do metro. May be because I’m too impatient to kill hours in jams. Maybe because I like tiles.
Russia is one of the few countries that has a taste for tiles. Moscow metro, the glorifying monument to semi-forgotten dictatorship, the modality of the future in the past materialized in mausoleum style, is so much about tiles. Tiles are shaggy, broken, unevenly coloured, somewhere with thick layers of dim old paint – but carefully put in row, in strict order, in the amount uncountable. Tiles were not what it started with; bronze and marble for Stalin’s exclusive metro was coming from recently demolished church decorations and church bells – but the pompous epoch could not last forever. And then came tiles. Luxurious and utilitarian as hell. A dream of every Soviet housewife pre- and after WWII A sign of nobility. By the time I was a kid, by the sleepy impotent early 80s in the Soviet tiles were best associated with bathroom. How boring.
When I pass her in the tunnel, hearing her voice long through the aerodynamic tube I imagine my pals, party heads who never go underground and never take metro – along a sound system in a club decorated with these nasty, anti-sanitarian, ex-white tiles. Minus the lady. They would go for it and spend more per night than she for her whole life.
I live in the city of clusters and communities. It’s out of measuring average income, establishing general trends and shaping public opinion. So impossible. Stinky ruins of glorious Stalin’s metro and always jammed eight-lane avenues – these two worlds do not overlap, most of the people are ascribed to one or another. Either – or. In the anarchic early 90-s a gang of party heads rented a metro station for a night party. I would be really curious to be at a party like that. We do not really need to go abroad for exotics from this city. Hopping off the beaten track, off your Ford Focus, off your blue stuffed metro train, off nine to five (which in my city is at around eleven to seven) is enough of exercise. We do not have a clue of what happens in the parallel world, a generation of kids that never locate themselves by the metro grid as they’ve never been there has grown. And my only friends who would be regularly doing metro are university folks and foreign diplomats. University teachers are rebellious through the whole of the world. And diplomats save time. Or may be they just like the tiles as I do.
I’m stressed when at peripheral stations tiles get covered with ad posters. As the musician Momus put it: imagine any decent amount of advertisement, lit it bright, multiply it by five and you will get Moscow. When making my way through the covered tiles I’m normally being persuaded to take a loan. When my friends get stuck on the road in a car they would see a gigantic casino advertisement with illumination enough to lit up the whole of Monaco. Bank nearly-charity-loans hinder the design of nameless Soviet construction bureaus. Casino posters steal panoramas and architectural views. Today I was returning from an embassy reception. Being a snob, taking the metro, looking at people who will jump out of their shoes to get out of here asap and people who also would – but would never ever make it. I smiled to the bronze dog at “Ploschad Revolutsii» and I traced the signs of the old letters on the wall of «Teatralnaya» – the old communist name of the station. I rejuvenate recalling the metro full of my peers. As it used to be still fifteen years ago. Youngsters and pensioners – that’s what remains now. And of course, She in the tunnel. She doesn’t look like she’s here for tiles. Winter is coming and I can’t honestly be sure she’ll survive. I will not be missing her or feel obligation. She and I are not more than posters on old tiles. Parallel worlds – glued too well to the same wall.


The Russian author Greg Goldenzwaig, Ph.D., has been involved into music business in his country since mid-90’s as a journalist, promo manager for a record label, concert and festival promoter at different stages. At present Greg Goldenzwaig works for IKRA club as art director and organizes Afisha Picnic and Finnish Independence Night festivals in Moscow. His ex-collaborations include Snegiri record company, Caviar Lounge concert agency and InterMedia news agency. Having lived and studied in Scandinavia Greg Goldenzwaig also writes about tourism. His travel guides to Helsinki and Stockholm were published by Afisha.

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