Happy Birthday Moscow!

City Day celebrations are being held across Moscow this weekend. Source: Ajay Kamalakaran

City Day celebrations are being held across Moscow this weekend. Source: Ajay Kamalakaran

As the Russian capital marks its 866th birthday this weekend, the city gets a well deserved tribute from a long- time admirer.

For a long time Moscow remained one of the most enigmatic cities on the planet. Centuries before it became the capital of the Socialist world, there was a certain mystery and allure about the city. While St Petersburg reflects a European aspiration, Moscow in my humble opinion is really the quintessential Russian city. Nowhere else will a visitor find what can be classified as both the best and the worst of all that Russia has to offer. Thankfully the city’s historical architecture, great museums, wonderful cultural centres and theatres, expansive parks and the metro with its ornate stations more than make up for minor irritants like traffic jams, neurotic residents and a general air of busyness.

Over the past ten years in visits that have ranged from hours to months, the capital has grown on me. Moscow feels like different cities in different seasons, with each having a peculiar charm.  866 years is a long time and the many characters, both visible and invisible, have left a long-term presence in the city. There is the Moscow of Boris Pasternak and Lev Tolstoy, but not all the characters in the city are necessarily Russian.

Cupid roams around the streets of the city and is known to strike his arrows on unsuspecting couples especially in the month of May. When the weather warms up and spring gives way to summer, the arrows of the god fly in all sorts of directions. Cupid conspires with other gods to create perfect summer evenings with a lot of daylight and then goes on the prowl in popular locations like cruise boats on the city’s river. Moscow, unfortunately, is a mix of good and evil and sometimes the good work done by Cupid is brought to death by another foreign influence, a banshee, the mystical Irish spirit that manifests itself in some Moscow girls to wreck the happiness of couples. You can see the effects of Cupid when taking an escalator ride in the metro as some couples like to kiss all the way from top to bottom. The banshees are also around and sometimes can provoke the worst of break-ups all by invoking girl power. The evil spirits also conspire with the weather gods to create stretches of cloudy days that can even give cities like London a run for their money.

The capital is also a city of hope and ambition. Like it was perfectly displayed in the Oscar-winning classic ‘Moscow doesn’t believe in tears,’ it takes a tremendous amount of patience, persistence and inner strength to make it big in the city, whether it is socialist or capitalist.

The lack of respect or knowledge (read snobbishness) that some of the capital’s residents have when it comes to the rest of the country can be baffling and annoying. Such attitudes make those classified as “provincials” want to use the city as a stepping stone to allegedly greener pastures in Europe. But even those with the greatest amount of dislike for the capital’s residents would have to begrudgingly admit that Muscovites by and large are a mentally tough and thick-skinned lot.  Making it in the city is the ultimate sign of success in a country where the capital commands such daunting respect.

Moscow has the energy of a Mumbai or New York, the history and architecture and art scene to compete with many European capitals and the dark sides that would put it on par with some of the greyest places in the Warsaw Pact area. The city can be refreshingly friendly. Where else on earth is it possible to get smiled at by some of the most beautiful women on the planet in the underground metro on a daily basis?

There is also the roughness that is part and parcel of any big city. It’s never a pleasant feeling to get a door that opens two ways to get slammed in to your face while leaving or entering a metro station.  There’s the huge number of people who are always running to get somewhere and in most cases are late no matter how fast they run.

For a crowded city, there are times of the year or even times of a day when Moscow can feel completely empty. Try walking the streets of the city on the third of January or like this writer does, go for a 6 am run in the summer.  The crowds and the collective energy, however, make what Moscow it is: one of the greatest cities in the world.

Happy 866th Birthday Moscow- There’s absolutely no place on earth even remotely like you!

Tailpiece:

To truly love the Russian capital, you have to accept the good and the bad.  The overall result for me has been the ability to become even more optimistic and find the good in every situation and the beauty in every place.

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