The Arbat is now smartly pedestrianized. Samoskvoretskye — across the river from the Kremlin — is a mix ofpale yellow stucco. golden-domed churches. a market with an excellent blini (pancake with sour cream)-shop and backyard light industry. The shops there are basic by Western standards and provoke an ambivalent response: seeming infinitely sad when you‘re there but refreshingly plain when you re-experience the glut ofa British supermarket or the sickly gloss of the airport duty-free. Russians must have a weather-eye open for quality and availability — people can dress very well. depending presumably on both income and luck. Lorries full of water-melons or cabbages turn up on street corners and do business there andthen.
The most consistently good shops seem to be the bakeries — about half UK prices — and the least enjoyable are the department stores. though opposite Leningrad's disappointing main Bazaar on Nevski Prospekt is Gastronom — an Art Nouveau foodshop to rival Paris or Vienna.
Food in hotels is adequate and filling, though limited when you discover the potential feasts ofa Russian cookbook. Restaurants resist passing trade and even cafes have queues on the pavement. On
l .wme .d'c‘
Smoenski Boulevard in Moscow we found an Uzbek tearoom ('l‘ashkent/Samarkand) that served delicious Middle Eastern cakes — subtle baklava without syrup. To escape the time wasting of a hotel lunch it was necessary to bring iron-rations from home (Ginger Nuts by McVitie) for midday propulsion.
Entertainment is available through central booking offices and requires pre-booking. though a tour may include options to visit theatre or ballet. The Moscow State Circus~ with animals— plays every night in Gorky Park and tickets can be bought at the door. A friend ofmine went in winter and saw bears playing ice—hockey. with the scorers eating the pucks.
Moscow and Leningrad are complementary cities rather in the manner ofGlasgow and Edinburgh. Leningrad (which is still. at heart. St Petersburg) matches Edinburgh‘s decorous facades. though where the Athens of the North has granite towers and colonnades. the Venice ofthe North has gold-leafspires and domes and bridges held up by gryphons and sphinxes. Charles Cameron. emigre Scottish architect.
designed some of the best rooms in Catherine the Great‘s Summer Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (now Pushkin).
Scots will be ﬂattered to find Robert Burns second only to Pushkin in the affections of the poetry-loving Russians. A few quotes would probably go down well at a social gathering. Given half a chance conviviality will break through the reserved Russian public manner and the restraints ofan organised tour. As we left Moscow on the night train to Leningrad. our carriage was noisy with the singing and the pop of Georgian champagne corks. Waiting on the open platform by the maroon sleeping-ears. with woodsmoke from the hot-water geysers flavouring the cool air. the romance of Russia was totally disarming.
The romance balances out the reservations -— for everything that checks your instinct for easy living. there is something noble or touching or simply fascinating: the entwined gold rings on the roofs of the wedding limousines at the Eternal Flame. the cheap cardboard icons and the pretty Komsomol propaganda posters. fresh-faced girls arm-in-arm rearranging each other's hair. gangs ofsturdy women digging the road or painting restored
Above: Rusakov House of Culture. Moscow. Constructivist building by Melnikov.
Left: Standard Russian truck.
Below: Russian Sunrise -standard grille on basementwindows.
palaces. Beethoven and tears at the
mass graves of Leningrad‘s
half-million war dead.
‘ As we went through Customs the
Q X-rays detected a sickle in a
; l-Iungarian‘s suitcase. For a moment
l itwasasifhalfthe(‘rownlewels were being stolen. ()fl'icials dithered and then waved us through to the waiting'l‘upolevs. ‘Dear Passengers . . .' began the announcements. Stirring music
; urged us up through the clouds and
i into the madly-bright impersonal skies ofCold Wars and Star Wars. ‘Forty degreesbelow freezing . . .'
Go East! a \
The List 17— 3(l()ctober45