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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Trades Thick Journal For Glamour

Seven years ago, when my Dutch friend left Moscow to return home, as a gift she bequeathed me an enormous stack of Dutch and French magazines. I think she was a little uncomfortable presenting me with these old papers, but I was simply delighted.


Even just a few years ago, the popular periodical press in Moscow was limited to the so-called "thick" literary journals and a plethora of newspapers. Riding in the metro, on trams and busses, and during lunch breaks, people scanned the leaders in Pravda and Izvestia and devoured serialized novels.


Copies of Playboy brought in by the occasional lucky stiff were pored over and re-read until they literally fell to pieces. Those who knew English read the articles, those who did not ogled the photographs.


Almost none of my friends could read Dutch, but this did not prevent them from quickly carting off all of the magazines Heidi had given me.


The times have changed. These days one friend of mine spends about 200,000 rubles ($36) a month on fashion magazines. In the bathroom of any apartment you can casually page through periodicals from Playboy to Newsweek, depending on the taste of your hosts.


The appearance of glossy Western and Russian magazines has served to remove the boundaries of the world and the limits of consciousness.


I recently discovered that a male friend was secretly studying the contents of women's magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and Elle, in the hopes, as he said, of making some sense of the incomprehensible structure of the female mind. True, he has yet to make any particular discoveries, but he does clutch his head less often declaring that all women are monsters.


In the metro, passengers feel almost no compunction as they look through Playboy, the same magazine that once could have brought them no small unpleasantness among their envious colleagues and family members. When I talk with my friends on the telephone, we now discuss the latest Hollywood gossip, an interview with Bruce Willis or Sofia Loren's wardrobe.


It's strange to imagine that our parents made do without all this. Without gossip magazines, without scandalous revelations of the stars in various interviews, without news from the Paris catwalks and the stock exchanges, without the advice of cosmetologists, psychologists, sex pathologists and fashion designers.


Without the best magazines of the year and girls of the month, without the announcement of the season's national sex symbol, without details about the private life of Madonna and the death of Freddie Mercury, without models, fashion photography, young venomous critics and popular authors. Somehow, they got by.


Instead of fashion magazines, they read Dostoevsky, instead of watching videotapes at home they went to the cinema, instead of going to the Bahamas they vacationed at the dacha in the countryside.


They did not feel cheated of anything -- although my mother said that if her boyfriend had had the chance to read Cosmopolitan in those days, she might have had far fewer problems with her husband now, and life might have been a little more interesting.