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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Tough Finding Rakhmaninov New Lodgings




My friend Vitaly went looking for a new apartment last week. Since the crisis, housing prices have fallen and he reckoned he could find a flat that would be a better value than the Khrushchev-era box in the suburb of Khimki for which he has been paying $350 per month.


Cost considerations aside, the neighbors in Khimki were growing increasingly intolerant of Vitaly, who is a pianist. "I understand that listening to the same passage of Rakhmaninov 100 times a day might drive you crazy," he said. "On the other hand, I listened to them getting drunk and fighting and throwing furniture at each other."


Before matters deteriorated any further, he decided to get out. He was preparing to move, not only with his suitcases but also with his grand piano - a complicated prospect. He preferred not to use a real estate agency and hoped instead to find a new home by networking among his friends.


Polina, a singer, came up with a one-room apartment going for $200 per month, right next-door to her in the Yugo-Zapadnaya district. The owners had rented it out previously through an agency, only to find that two call girls had set up a brothel there. They would be delighted to have a respectable friend of a friend whom they could trust. In addition, the building had a goods elevator, so it would be no problem to carry Vitaly's piano up to the 14th floor.


I went with him to look at the apartment. For a one-room apartment, it was spacious. On closer inspection, however, the stenka (suite of wall cupboards) turned out to be tightly packed with old clothes, Christmas tree decorations and empty jam jars, which the landlord refused to clear out. "I can't live with all that junk," said Vitaly. "And anyway, I hate stenkas. They go with mink coats and crystal vases and all the other trappings of constipated Soviet family life."


Well, perhaps this was not the right place after all. Polina was disappointed, as she said she had been hoping to have a nice new neighbor with whom she could drink tea and gossip everyday. That clinched it for Vitaly, who suddenly saw the danger of mixing business and friendship. "The greater the distance, the longer the friendship," he said.


Resorting to the property press, he found there were many other options. We went to look at another one-room apartment, also for $200, in the Nagornaya district.


The pleasant couple offering it had created a homey atmosphere, yet were quite willing to move their things out if Vitaly didn't want any clutter. The problem here, however, was that there was no goods elevator, so the grand piano would have to be hauled up 12 flights of stairs. The third apartment we looked at - in Kuzminki - was nearly perfect. True, the common entrance hall smelled like a stable and the bath was small, but in Russia you can't have everything. The main thing was that the two rooms were light and airy and it would not be too Herculean a task for workmen to carry the piano up to the fourth floor. Best of all, the new place cost only $150, $200 less than he had been paying.


Vitaly enjoyed telling his old landlady to seek a new tenant for her overpriced box. Now he is hoping the residents of Kuzminki will appreciate Rakhmaninov.