Day 1, Tuesday, December 14JFK, 4:30 pm Monday, Alec and I on a plane chock full of Russians and a couple of wide-eyedMontana cowboys who had just sold the Russians 1400 head of prime, on-the-hoof Angus beef.We arrived 9 hours later at 10:30 Tuesday morning to be met by a Conference car and a driverwho spoke no English. Moscow is not English-friendly and having Alec and other RussianAmerican friends was really helpful. 1 1/2 hours to travel 15 miles on a road choked with trafficand fumes. And grey skys, grey buildings, grey faces. Grey.The Hotel Sovietsky is a legacy from Uncle Joe. It's 1950 solid and square, with many touches of Tsarist grandeur and Soviet shabbiness, a very good restaurant, helpful and friendly staff, and atop of the line Gentleman's Club, the first of many reminders that Moscow is the world's most transactional city. A charming and sedate young woman sits in the lobby greeting gentlemencallers and escorting them downstairs. Professional, courteous and part of the deal.7:30 that night Alec decided to walk. It's only his third trip back, and he's wary and sensitive tothe artifacts of the old world he left. We walk to Red Square, a goodly 4 miles in bone-cracking,eyelash-shattering cold. I get a wonderful monolog about the things we pass, Tchaikovsky Hall,the other Stalin-era hotels, the new crush of traffic, the Metro, Pushkinskaya Square, the Bolshoi,the Stanislavsky Theatre, the Karl Marx Statue, the old Lenin Museum, and then vasty, iconic RedSquare a a sparkling, crisp moment when he's glad to be back. Ate wonderfully at a little cafedowntown, fish soup, hot bread with egg and butter, grilled lamb. Cabbed to Sovietsky, and so tobed.The City is divided between the thin and the not-thin. It is a reasonably good indicator of status,money, and aspirations, but the divide between the really rich and everyone else is always visible.Sort of like Manhattan. The aesthetic is also notable. There are old, old Russian buildings that speak of the magnificence of autocracy; the merely old of Stalinist stolidity, usefulness and grace,and the newer Modern Misfit and Concrete Shabby of the late Soviet era. Musically, it's firmly inthe disco camp, and aside from the oligarchs, early Barbra Streisand hair and fashion rule
Thetraffic and pollution are shocking, and there's a greyness, grimness and graininess that is onlypartially attributable to the weather.Day 2, Wednesday, December 15Even colder, a stark contrast to the waves of dry heat that blast you in most buildings. The City isclearly on edge, as judged from television, newspaper and just-folks conversation. There havebeen a series of what can be called race riots downtown, with Russian soccer hooligans pittedagainst Ingushian, asianish minority hooligans from the Caucasus Another strange duality: theirethnic minority is called Caucasian. (There aren't a lot of them, and the streets are not raciallydiverse, a strange phenomenon if you come from New York). Chants of Russia for Russians, at least one murder, but it seems the kind of spontaneous lumpenproletariat violence seen acrossEurope. It gives the anti-Nazi Conference a push, but there's no certainty about how deep or widethe conflict may be. Troops all over downtown, heavily armed and being held in reserve areas.They look like kids, but they all smoke.