Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Having spent most of the first week in Moscow unpacking, cleaning up the place and then enjoying it with the zeal of someone who hasn't had a vacation in years, I've only had my first subway ride today (no, yesterday: Monday). I would've postponed the experience for as long as possible, but we ran out of coffee, and to get to the place that sells the best beans, one has to take subway.

On my way to Pushkinskaya/Tverskaya Station, I kept thinking of ways to avoid going underground: a trolley was sure to get stuck in traffic for an hour, and its final stop was far from the coffee shop anyway; a walk there would take too long, and the freezing cold mixed with pollution would kill me; taking a cab there would mean spoiling myself too much. To postpone the unavoidable, I walked into a Benetton store and spent some time staring at all the wonderful orange stuff there, which I had no intention to buy.

The reason I felt like skipping Moscow subway was fear: roughly equivalent to my fear of the dentists, but very mild compared to my fear of flying. I knew perfectly well that the first ride was all it took to overcome it - at least, that's how it worked for me in March 2004. But taking that first ride seemed especially difficult today (yesterday) - because of the horrible explosion that took place exactly a year and one day ago, on Feb. 6, 2004.

When I entered the subway at last, a wonderful distraction turned up: it's been approximately two years since I last went to that coffee shop, and suddenly I realized I didn't remember which station I had to go to. I had a clear picture of the area in my mind, and I knew more or less where it was on the map, but all the street/station/line names have long been erased from my memory. So instead of worrying about terrorists, I concentrated on not getting lost - a typical, healthy Moscow reaction.

I figured out the route pretty quickly and bought myself a ticket for 20 rides - a good sign, a confirmation that my fear was receding and I was planning to use subway in the future. I noted that the fares seemed to have gone up (195 rubles, or $7), though I couldn't remember how much I used to pay before. Poor babushkas, I thought.

There were two cops by the turnstiles and two more by the escalator; the latter were checking the papers of a dark-haired young man. Ironically, this didn't throw me back into the panic mode but filled me with glee, reminding me that, as a Ukrainian citizen, I can now spend up to three months here without registering with the police - and Yushchenko is our president, ha-ha! (To those who don't remember, getting rid of the registration requirement was one of Putin's projects, aimed at making Yanukovych more appealing to the Ukrainian electorate.)

On the way to the escalator, I bought a Kommersant-Vlast magazine - and that prompted a vague memory of another subway explosion, the one in August 2004: didn't they threaten to remove all the vendors from inside the subway then?

But as I started reading the magazine, I again switched to thinking about something else: Are Jews making your life difficult? was this issue's regular survey question. Two of my favorite answers were these:

Yevgeniy Yasin, scientific supervisor of the Higher School of Economics: No, they don't - because I'm a Jew myself. In Russia, there've always been two things that make life difficult: bad roads and fools [dorogi i duraki], and Jews have nothing to do with that.


Igor Pisarskiy, head of the board of directors of the R.I.M. Porter Novelli Agency: There is one Jew who does make my life difficult sometimes: myself.

I took the train to Kuznetskiy Most Station, transferred to Lubyanka Station there, and on the train to Chistyye Prudy (or was it Turgenevskaya?) stood next to a man who was using a cell phone with Arabic script. I didn't grow suspicious, not at all, but experienced some frustration at only being able to see his cell phone's screen, not the keyboard (or whatever you call it in a cell phone) - I was really curious to know what it looked like and how it worked.

The coffee shop has moved recently, from Chistyye Prudy closer to Lubyanka Square, so I took a walk down Myasnitskaya Street, stumbled on a nice new English-language bookstore, bought a few books there, bought coffee, stopped by at another bookstore, and then took subway back home, fearlessly, from Lubyanka Station this time.


In the evening, I read on Gazeta.ru that around 10 pm a subway train caught fire. At Lubyanka Station. Everyone was evacuated and the station was closed for an hour or so. No one was hurt.


Scraps of Moscow has some wonderful entries about the Moscow subway, with photos: Shchyolkovskaya, Vyhino, Altufyevo, Medvedkovo and Park Kultury.

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