Russia, May 31, 1999
I was hoping to escape suburbia when I left the States!
|I've always hated the suburbs. I spent too many years living
in the suburbs of a small city in Florida to ever want to go back to the
monotony of suburban living. Across the river from DC, I saw the ultimate in suburbia, Northern Virginia, and I was horrified.
I just cannot understand how people can live in those look-alike houses; some of which are made with windows that do not open! Yes, people go from their sealed, air-conditioned homes into their attached garage, get in their sealed car to drive to their office parking garage, and suffer the 30 seconds of unfiltered air before entering their hermetically sealed buildings for the next eight to twelve hours. At the end of the day, they repeat the process, with maybe a stop at a sterile strip mall for double plastic-wrapped hormone/antibiotic injected square of meat. The whole time, they never encounter anyone not of the same socio-economic situation, even stomping on the gas and locking the doors if they see a bum. Return to that? Shoot me first, please!
Therefore, it is with painful irony that I am living in the suburbs of Moscow these days. I came back here after a wonderful trip to Kyiv and Yalta, in Ukraine, to spend time with Lidia while she studies for her ACCA exams. I used to live in downtown Moscow, Taganka to be exact, and I was in the middle of this vibrant and intriguing city. Since I quit my job to go traveling, I had to leave my swank expat apartment and move what little stuff I didn't ship home or sell, out here.
Where is "here?" Well let me tell you! "Here," is the Tushina region of Moscow, which like the rest of the city, is experiencing the first building boom since the 1980 Olympics. Lidia's parents moved here in the middle 80's, attracted by the cheap housing prices and all the green around. Just like all the other suburbs in the world, they were surrounded by other couples raising kids and sought stability and safety from the "dangerous" city nearby.
When Lidia and her sister came of age, her parents presented them with something most Russian kids can only dream about: an apartment and a car. Now their parents weren't stupid, the kids' apartments are very close by, with the sister's apartment literally next door to the parent's place. Lidia was lucky, or smart enough, to wiggle her way into what are commonly called "visoki" or tall, apartments. At twenty floors, her building is a bit taller than the average five floors in Moscow, or ten floors of her parent's building. Actually, Lidia just said that the three sections of her parent's building have seven, nine, and eleven floors each. Figure out that logic!
Her parent's apartment does evoke the best in centralized planning though. The building is served by one trolleybus and three bus lines, a school for it and the next building is in the courtyard between them, and there are several grocery stores around the base of the building. What surprises the first time viewer is the size and state of disrepair the buildings. Each building has several entrances, with each entrance containing elevators that service only one section of the building. Lidia's building, for example, has four entrances, each leading to a hall with four apartments. If you do the math, and figure that each apartment has at least three people in it, then you realize that one small building like hers contains around one thousand people. Multiply that over the thousands of buildings exactly like hers (and they are all mind numbing alike), and you begin to understand how twelve million people fit in this city. Unfortunately, many of those 12 million are buying cars now that they are affordable, and the traffic jams are getting ridiculous!
So anyway, I'm out here in suburbia, and its getting a little boring. I wake up with Lidia each morning and head out to a huge park next to her house, to read and type all day in the sun. The park is actually a depression carved by a river, and so steep on its sides that the Soviet planners couldn't put anything there. The people who live around it staked out farming plots years ago, though most have let their section revert back to nature since there is food on the store shelves now.
I'm turning a golden brown in the long days of sunlight, currently twenty hours and growing as we head to the summer solstice, but I'm getting a bit bored. I'm not traveling around the CIS or even Moscow, so its getting hard to come up with topics to write about. Lidia's apartment doesn't have a telephone because even a year and a half after it was built, the local telephone system still hasn't laid cable out to it yet, so I can only use the internet or e-mail when I find a free phone line. And my contact for the next leg of my trip is not home, so I'm stuck here, tanning in suburbia, for the next two weeks.