I'm safe and sound in Moscow, in a pretty soulless, 4 star conference hotel a short way away from the centre. We went through Domodedovo airport, which can be pretty strange when there are a lot of young, dark-browed males lounging about. You're getting that distinct feeling they aren't hanging out there for fun or to wait for family.
The jovial arm of the law kept the taxi drivers at bay - telling us they'd drive us with a "Lexus, Lexus!". All communication failed. I don't even remember how to say "Sorry" in Russian. How DO you say sorry in Russian? Smiles and nods get you far, otherwise. Worked with the room maid just now.
The immigration officer fit the old stereotype well, visually, at least.In my mind, he looked like Nikita's younger brother. Food so far is decent, even the Italian in the hotel. I had to chuckle when I saw that the "pancakes" they serve with maple syrup looked like blinis on steroids.
What is very striking on the 40 minute drive from Domodedovo to Moscow (we're on Olympinski street - next to an old Olympic stadium) is the clash between "old", Stalinist and current. There are picturesque churches in pastel colours - looking like the love child of Byzantine and French architecture - brightlylit. Then the landscape tears open and reveals... hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vast beehives - habitation silos, featureless grey concrete blocks, lots of flats warmly lit, hinting an individual fates thus sheltered. Driving past those beehives for half an hour makes you want to run screaming back home and embrace your little terraced Victorian.
The architectural violence of a totalitarian system is heavy on the mind. The churches act like breathing spaces - something fancy and ultimately useless in the drab utilitarianism. I'mnot sure how else to house 13 million - certainly not the way London, half as big, does it. Then the modern buildings. Industrial quarters off shopping centres, like the worst of out of town, corugated iron development. There are German tech shops here (Media Markt), and in between, the brightly lit restaurants in yellows and reds - usually reds - as gaudy and loud as the worst in Turkey.
The Russians are either rude and graceless, or gracious and warm in ways that invites an embrace. I've not yet encountered middle ground. Worst was the passenger on the flight behind us, bitching loudly at a hold-up, sounding like those three minutes would cost her a fortune. Most people are great though. I've noted that kids are generally better behaved than anywhere in Britain, or at least a lot less loud when they have their "five minutes".
Otherwise, the frustration of being unable to communicate outside of English - my fault, not theirs.
I've read the "Moscow Times", and the human interest stories are quite different. Gangster got shot on the street with his bodyguard. Silenced Kalashnikov assault rifle (why silence an assault rifle? Must investigate. Residents fighting plans for an unnecessary kindergarden, Putin welcomes Arab money in Sotchi. Pensioner's only possessions - three pedigree Shar Peis - about to be seized by authorities as she's owing the state money. Authorities said they'll sell the dogs for a thir of their market value "to attract more interest". Politkovskaya, abbreviated, the tone is half amusedly resigned and ironic, hiding a deeper weariness and lots of scars. You can touch so much scar tissue in this country, it would be enough for anybody. I really want to learn more.