Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WEIRD MOSCOW




I shall miss Moscow. Not the Moscow of daily murders, exploding streets and mayonnaise-drenched crab sticks of suspect origin.


I won't miss the slush and the sweat or the bloody battle to board the No. 12 trolleybus every morning.


And I won't miss 9-foot blondes, boorish bouncers or leering barmen, who are hard put even to pull a pint.


It's the little things I'll long for after I have returned home to London. Like turning a corner near Kropotkinskaya metro at 10 p.m. and seeing a man out walking his two camels.


Tailing him as far as the traffic lights near the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, I asked him whether the dromedaries shared an apartment with him and, if so, did they use the lift or did they prefer to take the stairs?


"Mind your own business," he said. The last I saw as I headed for the metro, he was stopped by a traffic police officer, who scrawled lengthy details into his notepad. The camels waited patiently in front of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts as the two men quarreled. I think the traffic officer was fining their owner for trying to cross at a red light.


I'll miss the State Duma. Not the endless arguments about amendments to the bill on production-sharing agreements (second reading) when I have to guess which faction a little-known deputy comes from by the camera angle on the closed circuit television.


In the old days, journalists were allowed into the viewing balcony at the back of the debating hall - similar, I suppose, to the gods at the theater - but they got too rowdy, and were banned from the area long before I was let loose in the building.


I've often thought deputies should have to wear badges stating their name and political inclination, to make it easier for the hacks who have to interview them. Perhaps each party should have a different colored tie, or require deputies to cut their hair in a certain way.


Still, some journalists are unabashed about showing their ignorance. After a session down the road at the Federation Council, parliament's upper chamber, a cameraman from NTV television stood at the exit asking if anyone leaving happened to be a member.


"I'm a member," said a shy man with a toothbrush moustache.


"Great," said the cameraman. "Let me take your name."


"I'm the president of Ingushetia," he said.


But it isn't always heavy debate in parliament. The other day, the Duma passed a resolution demanding an explanation from the head of the State Cinema Committee for allowing "Armageddon" to be shown in Russia. The Russian cosmonaut who wore a fur hat and drank copious amounts of vodka was a gross caricature, they said, and an insult to the Russian nation.


Two weeks later, Stepan Sulakshin, a member of the Duma's industry, construction, transport and energy committee, gave a report about foreign companies masquerading as Russian ones by purchasing phony trademarks.


"Let's take vodka, for example," Sulakshin said, opening a carrier bag and setting eight types of Smirnoff vodka on the lectern in front of him. "How many of these are the genuine article, I'd like to know."


"Let's open them up and try them," shouted someone at the back of the hall.


"Don't let any of them break, for God's sake," someone else said.


I'll miss this column, too. An Australian student rang me this week to ask whether last week's Weird Moscow about Yulia "Hundred-Legs," who is incharg e of destroying radioactive money, was true or whether I'd made the whole thing up.


So, if you're out there Katerina in Room 377, this message is for you: Sometimes, say every Friday in Moscow, the truth is a whole lot weirder than fiction.


- Chloe Arnold