It snowed yesterday! Big white tumbling flakes. I woke up to it and felt tremendously happy. Since the school is on a vacation (they’ve taken the national four-day holiday and extended it into a generous two weeks while my students and their families frolic abroad in Nice, the Maldives, or Dubai) there’s a lot less to do, and I was happy to watch the snow and have nowhere to go. This wasn’t even the first snow of the year, it was more like the third! But it was the first fairy tale snow and makes me excited for what’s to come.
Anyway, talking with one of my friends here has yielded some interesting stories about Moscow that I’d like to share. We had just switched from English into Russian, so I thought I’d ask about Moscow politics. “So, you’ve got a new mayor,” I began. (Medvedev recently fired former mayor Yuri Luzhkov after about 20 years as mayor of the city.) She told me that she didn’t give a crap and didn’t even know the new mayor’s name. So after I told her the name of the new mayor, she explained that she and her friends feel that there’s no use in following politics, because everything is just going to be business as usual, that whoever this new guy is, he’s sure to be just some puppet figure keeping things same old same old. University students don’t get into politics at all like they do in the US. I told her about how I knew some students in my class who campaigned intensely for Obama and even left school (!) for a semester to work for his presidential campaign. Here, that would be utterly baffling behavior. But even though I think it’s pretty extreme and rather silly to interrupt your education for any politician’s sake, at least people feel like they have some say in the matter. One thing that really shocked me (I shouldn’t be shocked, really, but it’s my naive and American reaction to hearing that democracy elsewhere turns out to be… not democracy) was when my friend told me that people are in many situations told that they will lose their jobs–and perhaps lose all chance of finding a job again–if they don’t vote for Edinaya Rossiya, Putin’s party.
Then I found out why the metro had been so slow in delivering me to that rock opera that I really didn’t want to see last week. (Being late was actually a bit of a blessing– I wasn’t trapped in my seat during the intermissionless performance and was free to go after a few minutes). What really happened was that someone threw himself in front of the train tracks on the red line and jammed up the whole system. Now, it seems that these metro-suicides happen not infrequently. A good friend who spent a year in St. Petersburg told me that they happened regularly there, too. Maybe there’s something about being run over by a train that captures the Russian imagination (see Anna Karenina) because I don’t remember hearing about it in New York. Anyway, before Muscovites found out that some poor guy had ended himself on the tracks, the rumor went about that former mayor Luzhkov’s guys had rigged the system to break down. Basically, the logic was that the deposed mayor would do that so everyone would think that Moscow was crumbling in his absence and would clamor for him to be put back in his place. It’s odd how people think of their mayors as being powerless to make life decent in their cities, but imagine that they are infinitely mighty when it comes to stopping a huge, sprawling metro system in its tracks. I guess that’s Russia for you.
And another thing about the metro. A lot of people beg there. Old grannies with cardboard signs (Radi Khrista, pomogitye na khleb – for the sake of Christ, help me with money for bread) and veterans without legs. It’s pretty sad. And what’s sadder is that I heard that these beggars, who actually rake in a good deal each day, have been taken over by mobsters and are effectively slaves who have to turn in their coins at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s true, or if it’s true of every or even most of the metro beggars, but Jesus.
to lighten the mood, here is a cat picture: