Since my love affair with Moscow began, all my international trips have taken a form of discovery. Now I’m unable to simply enjoy the benefits of free European civilization, but rather always estimate in my mind how great it would be to implement them in Moscow.
Recently I got the chance to visit Paris for the fist time in seven years, and I looked at the city from a very different perspective –not as a tourist, but as a discoverer, not as a post-soviet misfit, but as a Moskvaer.
However, no matter how you look at it–Paris is still beautiful! It’s such a rare case when the city is great in general features–atmosphere, rhythm, international color, as well as in the details. Here are just some of those French things, which I happened to judge and hypothetically apply to modern Moscow, anticipating that perhaps someday…
Yes, those glorified French salons–art, literature or political sections of jet set, that were so popular in the 16th-19th centuries. Salons took place in Russian culture as well and even were described in lots of classic literature. However, they didn’t make it to modern times in their original shape. Today, you can find discussion clubs, think tanks, literature or art classes, but they all miss that atmosphere of elitism and home-like coziness (salons are usually held in a private house)–elements that should be present in the ‘right‘ salon.
Speaking of elitism, I mean the high culture reflected by the joy of drinking wine from plastic glasses as a prelude, and also the high culture of speaking on some casual topic like string theory without any snobbery.
In Paris I happened to visit a salon, which is usually regularly organized there by young enthusiasts in the house of one elderly Frenchman. Entrance is permitted only with a special code. Visitors are mostly friends and friends of friends–a tiny circle of intellectual people with common interests.
So you can imagine, it’s the beginning of December and tragic Paris events are still a burning topic of the day. The problem of terrorism is like an axe hanging in the air and the organizers of the salon dedicate the evening to the subject of the nation’s establishment.
Max–the leader of the “party”–conducts a presentation, expounding his points of view while stating sometimes quite controversial theses. After, it’s time for the questions and comments portion of the event. During that, all the participants share their thoughts on the subject and then it comes–some might call it the closing, but in my opinion, the culminating part of the meeting–the conversations IN couloirs with wine and snacks.
Though this particular salon was super-international–with Asian-Americans, Afro-French, native Parisians, Californians, and me in the end–everything there at the same time was very French. So I thought that exactly in this condition–multinational, elitist and a little tipsy–salons could exist in the city of Moscow.
I can imagine how in one of the old rented flats of a Stalin building with a five-meter high ceiling, the young rebel hearts gather to discuss the current geopolitical topics and share two or three bottles of the same French wine. Code is “Let’s reach levitation in the Russian Federation.”
Terraces of restaurants and coffee shops should work year-round. In Moscow, as in Paris. Especially now that it’s easy to make them warm and cozy even in the winter. The French put special electric or gas heating devices above the terrace’s tables, so it allows visitors to enjoy the street view from outside, while being warmed by grog or hot chocolate.
By the way, the French manner of seating on the terrace also seems to be worth learning. The French usually sit not in front of each other, but rather beside each other and talk about their French things, staring at passersby. I swear, there is something to stare at! Like in Moscow. That’s why I believe that it could be a really pleasant and useful tradition to sit in a café with your face (not ass) turned toward the surrounding world.
Red Light District
Sexual culture in France is traditionally more diverse, open-minded and tolerant than ours–sex in Russia appeared only a quarter of a century ago, you know… So I do not suggest putting the Boulogne forest in the city center, but just a thematic lane somewhere in the Kitay-Gorod area (like Clichy Boulevard in Paris) might work. It could become a focus point for guilty pleasures and a center of the special, Henry-Millerish (or Esenin’s, if you want) romance.
I imagine it like this: any tiny lane like Podkolokolniy, along which there is a crowding of several flashpots like “Rhyth&Blues” bar, a couple of cocktail bars with fluorescent signs, a number of strip clubs with red lanterns and big guards at the entrances, dozens of sex shops with a truly diverse assortment–from a cheap tickling device with pink fluff for a dollar to serious BDSM gear–and of course, a ’round the clock “Shokoladnitsa” as a symbol of Russia’s urban vulgarity.
I do not know if you can relate or not, but I personally believe that such a place could refresh Moscow in a good way. And imagine how happy tourists would be!