When asked about my trip to Moscow, I feel as though I’m always pressed for time to answer. As Winston Churchill said, “Russia, it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” After traveling 1600 miles from Moscow to St. Petersburg along the Volga river, I found this to be true and so much more.
Entering Moscow from the airport is like entering a city made for and by giants. The word “massive” comes to mind. Twice the size of New York and home to 12 million people consuming 2 million bottles of vodka a day - No easy task! A virtual sea of people stream in on 10 lane highways complete with center lane cable cars, giving you the feeling you’re within a megatropolis as the heights of buildings shrink in comparison to their shear mass.
That cool gray morning my wife and I arrived by bus, Brides in white wedding dresses along with their entourages laid flowers on the patriotic monuments of the city, it’s a tradition and this is a country rich in tradition. It was a bizarre sight to see these brides cavorting about getting their pictures taken on Tank Traps left from WWII.
Capitalism and the free market are very much alive here, as alive as the now free citizens of this new Russian Republic. There is too a great and voracious appetite for fashion, both in hair and clothes as well as democratic freedom. When Natasha wants something today, she wants it now, not at all like her grandmother.
The women of Moscow are as beautiful as any in New York or Paris and just as conscience about their appearance. The first thing that struck me was how physically fit they are. No Babushkas here! There is a sophisticated air about them too, as if instinctively they know what looks good and how to walk to get attention. Blued eyed blondes and dark eyed brunettes share the city’s avenues with equal enthusiasm and command. Hair is not cutting edge; it is sleek, basic short or long and just appealingly fresh. Many wearing the shortest of bangs as much as two inches above the brow cut straight across or in an inverted V. Reminiscent of 50’s Bettie Page the Queen of Pinups. Salons in the city abound, 54 at last count, with familiar names like Jacques Dessange on Radischevskaya Street. I was surprised to find hairdressers getting $32.00 for a cut and blow-dry in up-scale salons while physicians were charging a mere $5.00 for an office visit. Welcome to the free market Boris! Boot cut jeans; mid to short skirts with lots of leg appeal was a common sight – along with black leather everything to include the ever-popular straight cut scooter jacket. These Russian fashion seekers are crazy about shoes too. After all who can blame them after 80 years of Soviet rule with two state run shoe factories making just a simple pump and a lace-up work shoe?
Are these Moscow ladies happy with the new Russian republic? Beaten only by New York, Moscow is the happiest and in some respects the most optimistic city in 10 major metropolises in the United States and Europe. This according to an October 2003 survey in the Moscow Times.
Interesting Bits: It was the USSR’s KGB that established one of the most sophisticated secret services in the world. It trained female spies to outright seduce both men and women. There’s a book about them. The author named simply Vera tells the story of a ruthless Soviet KGB and how they recruited pretty women, promising them that they would receive all “the benefits imaginable” for their sacrifices. Translation: money, if they would just agree to fulfill their civil duty to the motherland and become sex agents for the KGB. What a way to warm up the Cold War! By the way, if they chose not to they were sent to labor camps in the Gulag.
Final Note: I was told that in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the salons are required to burn the hair they cut at a crematory north of the city for a fee. Already the Russians are learning the true meaning of capitalism and how to levy a Nuisance Tax!