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City Beat October 2, 2003
Walk On The Shy Side
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 4

Not that I really thought they would. What I was really hoping is that native Muscovites reading my inept attempts at ethnography would (a) find my misreadings amusing, and (b) write in to tell me what it was that I was actually seeing. And if any of you can spare the time to send me a better explanation of what I saw, I'll print it in the next CityBeat.

Note: Kitai-Gorod station is on Lubyanskii Proezd, a very wide avenue with a park-like green strip down the middle. The entrance I use is at the uphill end, the corner of Maroseyka St. You enter the station from either side of Lubyanskii, then walk through a perekhod to a central Metro entrance. Along the perekhod are little stores and kiosks selling clothes, food, books, DVDs, CDs and leather. And speaking of leather: Kitai-Gorod is supposed to be a big gay pickup spot. Many of our DeathPorn stories start with a pickup at the Plevna monument on the Maroseyka corner. So it was with high hopes for some good scenes of decadence that I began my first scientific stroll....

7:00 pm

The station's not busy. Why not? Moscow's rush hours are strange. The Metro is packed at noon and all but empty at 5:00 pm. I heard that's because most people's working hours are still 10-7, but then why is the perekhod so uncrowded now, at 7? It could be that they've all gone to the dacha, but still, in a city of 10 million, you'd expect this downtown metro to be packed, dacha or no.

Two women are smoking at the entrance to the perekhod, which made me realize people take the no smoking rule in the Metro very seriously. Smoking makes sense at the entrance, because it's where men like to drink and piss, and the counter-odor of tobacco smoke is welcome.

The kiosks along the perekhod are still open, pop music blasting, and people walk quickly toward the entrance. Two militsia in gray Afrika Korps caps are standing right by the entrance, scanning the crowd like bears on a salmon stream, looking for a juicy victim.

There are lots of pairs of young women, some groups of three or four with arms linked, heading for the station entrance. Excited, going somewhere.

8:00 pm

Darker outside, strange sight on the way to the perekhod: cars parked everywhere around my alley with men in them, reading books. They weren't there an hour ago. They don't look poor. Don't they have something better to do?

The perekhod is even less crowded now. Where is everybody? There's room for some very strange people to squat, literally, in the perekhod. For example, some guy has set up a cutoff cardboard box right on the dirty concrete floor of the perekhod and he's playing some sort of three-card monte game with a sucker who's also sitting on the floor. Russian men don't sit on concrete, they squat. These guys sit. Does that mean they have no self-respect?

No luck with the urban squalor, damn it. Everything's very cheery and peaceful, so much so that I decided to go up topside to see what's going on in the Plevna Monument and the park.

It was different up there: faster, more nervous. Dozens of people standing around the monument, an ugly Victorian Dalek with a gold dildo tip. There were men chatting in pairs, and others hovering around looking over newcomers. Or at least that's what I thought they were doing. Maybe they were just standing around. Feeling a little awkward by the Monument, I strolled downhill, toward the bottom of Lubyanskii. Very shady among the trees. At one point an aged man who looked like an exiled Oxford don, maybe the legendary fifth or sixth man in a British spy ring, veered sharply across the path toward me. A real journalist would've engaged him in conversation, gotten some good Graham Greene stories out of him, but your intrepid CityBeat reporter isn't quite that intrepid. So I out-veered him, zooming down the path before he started reminiscing about his weekend with Waugh at Balliol.

This brought me down to the other end of the park, where an even bigger monument honors Kirill, creator of the eponymous alphabet, and his sidekick Mefodii. Here I made my first discovery: the park is bipolar! This pole at the lower end, this monument, is hetero and slack, with lots of lolling and guffaws, in sharp contrast to the alert and quiet tone of Plevna, up the hill.

9 pm

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