Monday, August 29, 2005

Russian reality & the impoverished world of the rich

Since my trip, I've noticed that articles about Russia, in the US, sound completely insane.

Especially travel writing. Take this one, from the NYT/IHT.

"I remember when Tverskaya was dark," said Carrie Barich-Hart, a transplanted Minnesotan who has lived in Moscow since 1992, referring to Moscow's main boulevard, "when there were no restaurants except for a few hotels. In the last three or four years, Moscow really started coming alive again."

I think everyone should visit Moscow ... but, you know, here's a Reality Check. Never believe the New York Times.

Everyone in Moscow eats in the most drab, low-quality fast food restaurants imaginable. Because they are kind-of affordable. The slightly better restaurants, are usually terrible, and ridiculously expensive. There is nothing like the small "excellent food, reasonable price" family-restaurants that you can still find in, say, Paris, New York or Naples. The single best thing I ate in Moscow was some kind of hot freshly-made flatbread, at a metro station, for 10 rubles. The second-best thing, quite far down, was a crepe from a "Russian Blini" stand ... which tasted only like an approximation of the real thing. The best food in Russia can only be found outside of Moscow. And it's not in restaurants, but in homes.

Both these spots are D.J.-soundtracked restaurant-as-theater spectacles of bankers, models, stars, molls and hangers-on nibbling $30 salads and coolly ogling each other. "Right now, Moscow is younger and wilder than ever," said Barich-Hart. "It's as if the whole city just turned 21."


I'm sorry to be burdening the Internet, by repeating this kind of crap. People who write for the New York Times travel section live in a kind of "Sex in the City" pseudo-world, where rich people can always buy better lives than the rest of us. Luckily, the world isn't really like that. You can get better experiences simply by meeting some Russians, and hanging out with them. Do it in the countryside, and it will be even more wonderful. Russians love to go to the country, and that's where the real culture is. DJ's & performance artists in snobby clubs, trying to impress the nouveau rich, is a pretty thin, Las Vegas-L.A. limo lifestyle, where nothing is real. Far better to just wander around Moscow on the Metro, meet people randomly, try to find colleagues in your area of interest, and try to understand what's going on. That's travel. The rest of it is mindless, tasteless, meaningless consumerism.

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