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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Andrei Konchalovsky Keeps in Step With Art

Dressed in a fashionable three-piece suit, Russian film director Andrei Konchalovsky struck a commanding figure, if not a downright Napoleonic one with his left arm bandaged and hanging in a sling and his jacket draped across his shoulders.


In the elegant surroundings of the Luxor Club for the launch of the Obraz Zhizn entrepreneurial society, Konchalovsky, elder brother of Nikita Mikhalkov, Oscar-winning director of "Burnt By the Sun," is a celebrated director in his own right. He made several Soviet-era films, such as "Asya's Happiness," Hollywood action flicks like "Runaway Train" and "Tango and Cash," and a television adaptation of Homer's "The Odyssey," which aired last spring in the United States.


Konchalovsky, 60, said he feels equally at home in Moscow, London and Hollywood. "I strive to maintain joie de vivre," he said. "Essentially I live where I work."


While Konchalovsky said he currently is not involved in any projects, he hinted at directing a St. Petersburg opera, but declined to elaborate.


He reminisced about Russia's second city, its celebrated cultural life and traveling to Leningrad in the 1970s, "having very nice times taking girlfriends there and traveling overnight on the Red Arrow."


Russia has changed since then, however, and the film industry in particular has suffered.


"Russia has problems with self-identity," Konchalovsky said, "and, in the absence of a Russian market, film finds itself competing with other countries' industries."


Of his own activities, Konchalovsky said that while he's "not keen on the film industry altogether, it's still the best way for me to make money."


He said he likes to keep a hand in all aspects of the arts and multiple projects because "what I can do, I try to do successfully -- doing as many things as I can before I drop dead."


Also attending the club's opening were Russian painter Mikhail Konyevsky and Armush Simonyan, owner of the Armenian restaurant U Boky.


While Simonyan declined to comment on the rumor that his restaurant is one of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's favorite haunts, he said the patronage of Moscow's 50,000-plus Armenian community means "I have no complaints about business."


Having moved here from Yerevan with his family 10 years ago, Simonyan said sentimentally that his heart still lies with the Armenian capital.


"Moscow is for working, but Yerevan is for living," he said.


Nikolai Grankin, 47, president of Obraz Zhizn, also had no complaints about business in establishing his entrepreneurs' club.


A former colonel in the Soviet army, Grankin said he is used to hard work, and is striving for his enterprise, and Russia, to be the best, "just like Russkoye Bistro is working to be better than McDonald's and [the candy factory] Red October to be better than Mars."


Michael, Mikhail or Misha?


Unlike the majority of expatriates in Russia, Michael Falcone, a major account executive with Danka, has become less, rather than more, Russian in the time he's spent living in Moscow.


"I'm Mikhail or Misha to most American people but have become Michael here in Russia," he said at Thursday's opening of the capital's second Copy General store. The event was hosted by American co-owner Jeff Wheeler and business partner Roman Petr of Prague, who described his role as the "guy who's supposed to know everything."


Falcone was born in Buffalo, New York, to a Russian mother and Italian father. "We weren't allowed to speak English at home, and even my father learned Russian," he said.


Though his Russian is consequently near-perfect, Falcone said Russians can detect his American accent. "It's only when they get to know me, that I become Misha for them," he said. "And even then, when I hear them begin to say Misha, I have to look around because I still don't know who they're talking to."


Conversely, Eija-Anneli Rikala and her colleague at Kalinka-Stockmann, Maari Turki, said they've actually grown closer to their native Helsinki during the years they've spent in Russia. And their homesickness has manifested itself in some bizarre ways.


"We listen to Finnish songs that were hits in the '80s," Turki said. "We never listen to it when we're in Finland, and would be embarrassed to."


"I've started to like traditional Finnish food," said Rikala, describing m?mmi, a dish with the consistency or pudding or porridge.


"But you don't want to know about that," said Turki. "It looks like something that comes out of a baby -- you know which end."


Attack of the Rubber Chicken


Moscow motorists may have blinked twice Friday as a giant chicken scratched its way along the rain-slicked sidewalk at Triumfalnaya Ploshchad.


Asked if the fowl would care to answer a few questions -- Was it looking for worms? Cigarette butts? How did it deal with the capital's stray-dog population? -- the fast-food mascot's scrawny teenage handler squawked, "Talk to management."


The yellow, plastic chicken was on its way to the opening of the Patio Pizza and Rostik restaurants where hundreds of guests were sampling pizza slices and drumsticks.


American John Cotter, the marketing manager of RosInter, the restaurants' parent company, took a few moments to reflect on the reopening of another city institution: the State Historical Museum on Red Square.


"It's a beautiful building, and I'm looking forward to seeing the inside," he said. "I remember coming here as a student 12 years ago and asking, 'What's that building?' and being told, 'That's the museum, but it's closed today.'"


In fact, the museum was "closed today" for more than a decade, while undergoing extensive renovations. It reopened only last September.


Among the guests at the labyrinthian restaurant were David Morris, who hails from London, and his wife, Helen, who met and married in Moscow five years ago.


Commenting on whether the invasion of American-style fast food and oversized, inflatable chickens were good things for the Russian market, Morris, who is working on contract for RosInter, said, "It's a natural progression. You've got Russkoye Bistro and that's fast food. And Russians are taking over their own packed, frozen-food market."


On another subject -- where the 40-something couple will end up when their time in Moscow has come to an end -- they enthusiastically indicated they had somewhere more exotic than England or Russia in mind.


"We've thought about the Seychelles," Morris said with a gleam in his eye, "and a little place on the beach ..."


"... with martinis in the morning," Helen Morris added.


"... And we could just wash our clothes in the sea," Morris continued, "which won't be a problem -- as we won't be wearing much."


Friendly Expatriate Guards Pilot


Yes, the bar really does have an airplane hanging from the ceiling -- a Cessna -- set on a collision course with a dangling pilot hanging 20 meters above the dance floor.


Dim lighting, an all-black interior set off by glowing murals, pool tables and a wide-open dance area make the Pilot a perfect setting for an evening of musical entertainment.


Such was the case last week when the club showcased a collection of local talent including Kar-Men, Angel, The Sky Rockets and headliners Yu-La.


On hand to ensure the evening went smoothly was Mamadou "Max" Bobo Ba, a Senegalese-French expatriate.


A mild-mannered Moscow State University student by day, Ba serves as an authority-totin' Pilot security guard at night.


Slim and wiry and sporting a uniform that could be worn by a New York City cop, Ba may at first glance look the part, but his wide smile and friendly eyes betrayed the sort of easygoing, reasonableness that is rare among nightclub security staff.


Doubly unusual was seeing an African in that role.


"Man, is it tough being black in this city," Ba said.


Not only did Ba say he has to cope with frequent police checks but also the surprised attitude of Pilot patrons, "not at all used to seeing a black man in this position."


"Though that sometimes gives me an advantage, since they don't know what to expect from me either," he said.


Having received a law degree at University of Lyons, Ba said he is halfway through a two-year Russian constitution and language program, and is aiming to secure a position at either the French or Senegalese embassies.


Ba said he hopes that as Russians travel and get to know people from other countries they will become more accepting of foreigners.