Moscow far surpassed my expectations. There was stunning architecture, classy, fashionable woman, self confident and busy. Beautiful cars on the streets. Fabulous restaurants at night. Spectacular hotels. The latest technology.
Everybody has their own points of reference and therefore their own first impressions when visiting a new city. My visit to Moscow last May was influenced by my childhood in France. I only moved to America 22 years ago when I married Doug, so most of my ideas of Moscow and the Russian people were formed earlier.
One of the great surprises was the risky and sensational architecture of the many new buildings rising above the city. On the one hand there are the monotonous rows of Soviet buildings from earlier times, although the size and scale and sheer numbers of them far exceeded my expectations, but on the other hand, there are amazing new buildings with daring style. While most cities are staid and tradition bound, with changes only made after great political and public debate, Moscow is obviously still a living city, with enough freedom for very dramatic things to happen.
The traffic was worse than I thought it would be. The pollution was assaulting.
But the greatest impressions were the prosperity, the advanced technology, the flush of success and self confidence of the people. Moscow is booming, one of the most dynamic cities in the world. If Paris has a self confident, even lazy sense of pride and tradition, Moscow is a city of the future, a city on the move, a city that is going somewhere and it knows it.
Our favorite restaurant was The Academy, which was walking distance form our hotel, The National, overlooking Red Square. The Academy had wonderful salads and pasta, call it “Moscow Italian.” We ate their six times and never tired of it for a moment.
When we came out of the restaurant one night the street was packed with tanks, military vehicles carrying rockets and towing howitzers. They had turned this grand boulevard into a parking lot for the next morning’s May Day parade through Red Square. The young people and older citizens alike expressed no awkwardness about this old Soviet tradition. If anything there was a sense of community pride at the show of strength. Still a super power with which to be reckoned.
My husband has visited the far reaches of Russia and I know there is poverty only miles from the city centers, I just was a little unprepared for the beauty and prosperity of its two jeweled cities.
In St. Petersburg I was as impressed by the Hermitage as I expected to be. And as I compared in my mind the glories of that great museum with the Louvre of my own country I was amazed at how a few generations of rulers grew so competitive and so corrupt, each trying to outdo the other, that their egos and ambitions bankrupted their countries and reduced masses to extreme poverty, early death and eventually ended their forms of government.
It is old history but it never seemed so connected, Russia, France, Austria, Britain, how the ambitions of each monarch impacted the others and how they all brought revolutions down on themselves. The irony of how they competed and thus ensured their own mutual destruction became suddenly clear.
When I visited Florence last summer, I could see it all over again.
One other thought. As a new American citizen now I was struck by how generous America still is and yet how bankrupt she is. It is as if she gives out of habit. As if she still thinks she is rich.
In Russia the people have a more realistic and less arrogant view of themselves and their role. They are focused on taking care of themselves. Not the world. One can see the determination in their enterprises and in their faces. Where this will all lead will not probably be known in my lifetime. But I imagine my children will see its impact.