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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All the Fun That Money Just Can't Buy

Khalyava, popularly meaning to get something free, is one of the more obscure words in the Russian language. It's not listed in authoritative etymological dictionaries but all Russians know what it is. When it comes to having fun without paying for it, they're in a class of their own.


Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one man who definitely understands khalyava. He arranges regular meetings called khleb i zrelishche, or bread and show, on Komsomolskaya Ploshchad, usually between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. People don't go there to hear the LDPR leader's banter so much as to gorge on free food served straight from a mobile army field canteen.

"He [Zhirinovsky] is a very nice guy," said Valery, 45. "If he were president, we would always have enough food and something more in our houses. He is for us and unlike all the others, he understands the working people."

If you're cheeky enough, more sophisticated spreads are also within reach for the penniless trooper. Irina, 29, is an experienced tusovshchik, or party-goer. As a former newspaper journalist, she was invited to numerous openings, press conferences and presentations, many of which included free meals and drinks. She recommends the major hotels for crashing press conferences - even if you can't muster up some sort of ID. (On your way you might pass the check-in desk, where in some establishments various tidbits are served in the early evening ranging from champagne to cookies - for guests, of course.)

Irina got hooked on this kind of life. Soon her social life was so busy that journalism started interfering with it. She eventually gave up writing altogether. Always dressed well and carrying a mobile phone (which, acquaintances say, was disconnected long ago), she is a regular at lavish parties and sumptuous buffets.

"The main thing is to know where and when and what is going on. All the rest is easy," she believes.

She gets the information about future events from her friends who are still in the journalistic world. The schedule of events is hardly top secret: Most information agencies publish it daily.


Khalyava means food for the soul as well as the stomach. For music lovers, Moscow is a pauper's paradise. While Red Hot Chili Pepper fans can take in a free gigoff Red Square this Saturday evening, a few hundred meters' away, in an underground metro passage near Manezh Square, classical music buffs will probably be listening to Mozart.

A chamber group made up of two violinists and two cellists is a fixture in the busy long corridor connecting Tverskaya Ulitsa and Manezh Square. From about 6 p.m. to midnight, this small part of the metro turns into a genuine concert hall, with most people enjoying Mozart, Rakhmaninov and Bach for free despite the violin box lying open on the floor.

The impression made by the music is difficult to convey. Listeners, caught on their way back from work or a theater, seem hypnotized.

"I was very impressed," said one tourist from Spain. "In my country we also have street performers but classical music in such a professional performance is another thing altogether. You have to pay good money and go to the concert hall to enjoy something like that in Spain."

The rubles occasionally tossed into the box are the musicians' main source of income.

"We're students and graduate students at the Moscow Conservatory," said violinist Yelena, 23. "Playing here is a tradition, established many years ago. Summer is OK but winter is very hard because there is an awful draft here and we often get very cold."

If you'd prefer a seat and some warmth to enjoy classical music, the Conservatory also regularly offers free concerts. The International Summer School Music Festival is running at the moment with recitals and master classes all open to the public free of charge. During the season (which picks up in September) the Conservatory's Rakhmaninov Hall usually gives three free concerts a week. Khalyavshchiki report that sneaking in for the second half of other concerts is also easily done.


The pedestrianized Arbat, with its street performers all but tripping over one another, is the historical heart of Moscow khalyava. Starting perhaps with a jazz band at Smolenskaya, you can spend hours among the street entertainers and conjurors before you come out at the Arbatskaya end where two students from the circus school can often be found demonstrating yoga tricks.

Along the way, you might well come across Sergei, who likes cutting his stomach with a knife before lying down on shards of glass. His last trick is the most exciting and sends girls crazy. Merrily swigging from a bottle of gasoline, Sergei sets fire to his mouth, producing a flame huge enough to warm the onlookers. He then swallows it.

Breakdancers provide another regular attraction. Teenagers stand around in a circle sipping beer, taking turns on the dancefloor, where they breakdance to the kind of music that was fashionable in the '80s. A small hat with a few coins at the bottom gives just a shy hint for money.

The Arbat, busiest in the evenings and on weekends, is loved by very different people. Young guys with mobile telephones and the very old - all can be found here.

Vladimir Mikhailovich and Yelena Stepanovna are pensioners living in a neighboring lane.

"I think that the Arbat is a magical place which exists nowhere else in the world," Mikhailovich said. "It is a place that conveys exactly the Russian soul and the national spirit."

The total income of the couple is just 1,000 rubles ($40) a month, and like many they cannot afford paid entertainment.

"We leave the apartment in the morning," said Yelena Stepanovna. "By the end of the day we feel as if we've visited many different shows without paying anything. It's very good for us. Not just the young but also old people need entertainment from time to time. It charges us with energy for the next week."

"It is a lovely place to visit," said Sergei, 21, who came here with his girlfriend Olga. "We had such a good time here but spent only 20 rubles to buy an ice cream and a bottle of beer."

The Arbat also swarms with portrait artists, although for a free browse among some serious paintings, your best outdoors bet is Izmailovsky Park. Rows of painters exhibiting and selling their art have filled the west part of the park and have turned it into a real art gallery.

"The existence of this place is very important, especially in a country where not everybody can afford to go to museums," said Professor Alexander Olchovsky, who brought his granddaughter here. "It is like a small Hermitage. Of course, not all the pictures are masterpieces but there are many which are really interesting even for a professional." Olchovsky believes that the place is very important for the younger generation.

"It is a place where youngsters can get their first knowledge of art," he said.


While the snow stays off the ground, there's little need to pay for your exercise in Moscow. The summer season opens up endless opportunities for sports lovers in Moscow. Almost all the main parks - among them Izmailovsky and Tsaritsyno - have soccer fields and volleyball courts open to the public, while tennis courts can also easily be found (at Sokolniki Park for example). For less demanding exercise, head to the small field just south of the main Moscow State University building where ultimate frisbee enthusiasts meet at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoons (from Universitet metro station walk along Lomonosovsky Prospekt and turn right at Lebedeva Ulitsa - you'll see the field on your right after 1 1/2 blocks).

For the more adventurous, one possibility is some amateur mountaineering in the picturesque Tsaritsyno Park. The park's beautiful castle, disliked by Catherine II because of the Masonic symbolism in the architecture, now has one 20-meter wall covered with climbing equipment.

"It is a good challenge for people starting out on rockclimbing," said Sergei, 26. "Clambering up over the wall, you can feel the fun of scaling high, vertical obstacles."

Regulars are always on hand on weekends to help beginners who should, however, bring along their own equipment.


Skimping on It: a Mini-Directory


The Gorbushka music festival takes place Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. at the open area at DK Gorbunova. 27 Ul. Novozavodskaya. Metro: Bagrationovskaya.

The Moscow Summer School and International Music Festival is running at the Conservatory Rakhmaninov Hall: 11 Bolshaya Nikitskaya. Tel. 229-0294/7795. Metro: Pushkinskaya.


The Moskva Movie Theater frequently has free showings. A program of documentary films about Pushkin is currently running at 10:30 a.m. daily. 3 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Tel. 251-7222/5860. Metro: Mayakovskaya.

Dom Kino often has films accessible to the khalyavshchik: 13 Ulitsa Vasilyevskaya. Tel. 251-5889. Metro: Mayakovskaya.


Moscow has plenty of free museums and galleries. Among them: the museum at the Christ the Savior Cathedral; the Business Plaza at the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel; S'ART gallery; A-3 gallery; DAR gallery. Check our listings for addresses and times.

The Bulat Okudzhava Memorial Museum has free readings and concerts for the public, often on Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. The museum is closed this weekend but next weekend there will be anniversary celebrations for the great bard. Take a suburban train from Kievsky Station to Michurinets. The museum is at 11 Ulitsa Dovchenko. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tel. 593-5208.

Literary Evenings

Nearly always free. A full program of the addresses and activities of the salons and clubs can be found at or in the monthly paper Literaturnaya Zhizn Moskvy.


Serebryany Bor, Metro: Polzhayevskaya, then trolleybus No. 20, 21 or 65.

Sokolniki Park, Metro: Sokolniki.

Izmailovsky Park, Metro: Izmailovsky Park.

Tsaritsynsky Park, straight on under the railway bridge outside metro Tsaritsyno.

Free tennis courts: Metro Kashirskaya, then any bus going to Borisovskiye Prudy. Exit the bus at Borisovskiye Prudy, cross the road and go up the hill.


If you're bored and frustrated of an evening, we recommend joining the throng outside the nightclub Carousel (11 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya, Metro: Mayakovskaya). At around midnight, the strippers perform for the nonpaying public, causing car accidents aplenty.

For more live action, try watching lifeguards pull people out of the water at Serebryany Bor or observe old people ballroom dance at Sokolniki Park. Hell, join them for 10 rubles.

The weekly journal Dosug has a useful listing of free events.