There is something both sad and comforting to drive down the streets of Moscow and see a Sbarro sIgn in Cyrillic

First impressions – there are a lot of signs in English here
almost as many as there were in Amsterdam. Despite the old-world concrete
frowning feeling of the Passport Control Center in the basement of the airport,
you can’t feel too intimidated if, while standing in line, you can look up to
see two brand-new Panasonic HDTV plasma screens playing an endless loop of ads
for expensive consumer products.

Apparently, it’s a big deal here to have dirty keys on your
piano – luckily, they have special attachments to the vacuums (courtesy of some
Russian company) designed expressly to clean the keys on your piano.

There were lots of Mercedes and BMWs in the airport parking
lot – alongside a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator with oversize chrome rims. Someone here has been watching MTV.

There are a lot of big car dealerships on the outskirts of
Moscow – it looks a little like Tony Soprano-area New Jersey that way. And the people scurrying around these
environs look a little like extras from the Sopranos as well.  Near the airport, the highway is smooth and
new. Closer to Moscow, the streets are
rutted, jammed and potholed & patched.

The radio stations in English play a very eclectic mix –
from The Bangles doing “Eternal Love” to Beyonce and Eminem.

I can’t get over how many international brands there are
lining the big highway into town. Pioneer car stereos, Samsung computer monitors, DHL couriers, even a
Sbarro (although that was the one sign that was in Cyrillic – I just knew it
was Sbarro cheapass pizza from the color and typography of the sign. Now there’s a case study in branding, if
anyone wants to tackle it.)

The river (Volga? Home
of the storied Volga Boatmen? I think I
faintly heard their signature dirgelike chanting…) is sluggish with ice still –
I didn’t want to look too much like a tourist, and take a picture on the way
in. I later overcame my reticence in
this area – only to find that I had neglected to pack the cable to scarf the
pix off my camera – luckily, the Vaio has a nice little slot in the front where
you can click in the fragile little wafer. It kinda clicks in like the glass
doors on stereo cabinets – you know, you push once and it goes “cli-CLICK” and
is kinda recessed, and to remove it you push on it and it goes “CLI-clunk” and
pops out. And the damn thing was only
$14 at Circuit City? 

Anyway, back to the ride into Moscow. There are still the
big high-density apartment buildings lining the roads – but not as many nor as
dense as I had been led to believe. Which is no big deal, really.

It’s weird to see these fearsome Red Army soldiers in full
battle rattle on the street, getting yelled at for knocking over a ladder.

I can quite connect what I’m seeing on the streets to the
world I saw in the movies or on TV. Can any of these be the snow-choked streets
that the Bolsheviks marched down in 1917?

This city just sprawls – block after block of frowning brick
buildings, with Westernized ads and signs; some in the process of being spruced
up. How much blood and history took
place on these streets? Is history ever
done with us? Or are we all making history right now, every second of the day,
without really being cognizant of it? Freaking out and thinking all the while
that we’re desperately improvising and that at any minute the whole house of
cards is going to collapse on us. Meanwhile, the past seems to have so much clarity. There’s a lesson here for those wondering about what to do about the digital revoiution…