MOSCOW FOR PEDESTRIANS and the brave

31 Jan

Moving to Russia is easy, but walking in Moscow is an adventure every step of the way, literally. I would even go as far as to say that it is more exciting than the couple of hundred soldiers (bullet proof jacketed and helmets at the ready) that swarmed the square just outside my office today, setting up makeshift metal detectors and ineffectual road blocks.

You may think to yourself, why?

No, not why the hell is she out is this godforsaken country which has more security scares than Jerusalem during a ceasefire… Why is walking in Moscow an adventure at every step? Yes this is the real question, because, despite the occasional bombing and/or shooting, gang and/or alcohol related crime, Moscow is an effing awesome city, where brutalist skyscrapers tower protectively over centuries old orthodox chapels.Moscow is the bowl to this giant bubble and squeek of the old, the new, the beautiful and the wrong (there is no other word to describe Kruschev unsavoury taste in architecture). But this is not the point of this article, this is a lesson in life for any wannabe muscovites/tourists or persons who have a particular interest in the science of walking. When you live in a city where the temperature can go from -26 to +0 during one day, once you have the right coat, hat and gloves, your main preoccupation is how to get around without looking:

a- like a complete tourist (inappropriate clothing, shivering and waddling)

b- like a retard, otherwise known as mong (waddling without the shivering and the camera)

Whether you be a or b, chances are you are going to slide your way through a third of this incredible city. You may feel reassured by the fact that even Russians slip up, but don’t stare too much, you might end up getting a close up of their shoes. I know you are doing it again, and again, no they will not beat you up, attack you or pour vodka in your eyes before poking them out with sticks, but as soon as you take your eyes of the ground, the ground will generally recall your attention in a not so subtle fashion. Also, you should probably prepare yourself for the pang of jealousy when your first 75 year old babushka slides graciously past you, mastering the ice like a seasoned penguin, whacking you unconcernedly in the shoulder as she advances towards her destination.

After six days in the capital, I have acquired some experience and understanding of this science. I believe my duty to share this knowledge with all aspiring ex pats, because your life, and probably mine, may one day depend on it!

Rules of living – rules for life

I- NO CHEAP SOLES, you need real soles, the riveted ones that actually look like the shoe designer has actually made an attempt at creating footwear and not slippers. The shoes should also be waterproof and warm, made of natural fibres, if not, YOU WILL CATCH FOOT ROT! Because once inside, the temperature climbs at least about 20 degrees.

II- DON’T THINK, KNOW! Reading the footpath is an art, it is a skill acquired over time, helped on by a pinch of common sense and a big dose of OCD. The best way to avoid falling over is to stick to the footpath you know, or seek out a new one if your current one is having an identity crisis and is convinced it’s an ice rink, because the grass can be greener on the other side… of the road. If you don’t know where you are or where you are going; well actually I can’t help you there, but I can at least stop you from bruising more than your ego.

All the colours of the grayscale rainbow:

1- White: fresh snow, to be avoided if you want to keep your toes dry. If they get damp, you might lose one. The least bad option: choose white snow over crossing large patches of black ice (when you can cling to a building and shimmy along the wall).

2- Grey: this is slush, it is dirty and wet, to be avoided for the reasons above but also because it may contain salt which damages leather and it will dirty any shoes that are not within the colour scale of dark brown to black. It is, however, preferable to black ice, if not too deep. How to choose between snow and slush: choose the option closest to your shoe colour.

3-Brown: this is your second best option. When it is ground into a footpath, it can be slippery, but generally it provides that extra grip that will allow you to cross over ice ridden footpaths previously barred from your route for fear of death. It also gains points for the agreable crunching sound it makes underfoot!

4 Black: This is the tricky part where your instinct must take commande and assume full responsibility for your health and saftey, youu are not in England anymore…

Option a: it is black and smooth therefore it is a footpath. It is flat and generally smooth with some pockets of very noticeable ice.

Option b: it is black and lumpy, therefore it is an icy footpath. Correct. If the footpath is covered in a lumpy 2 inch layer of something that looks exactly like the footpath, this is ice. You should avoid this unless it is covered with brown snow, even then you should avoid if there is an ice free footpath (unlikely) or track.

Option c: it is black and smooth therefore it is a footpath: einnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, wrong. You thought you had it there didn’t you? But that pretty sheen you can see is the reflection of the devil and this is the worst sin you could commit. This is not a footpath, this is the march of death. Remember when the Death Star blows up that planet in front of the princess? And you can’t help but imagine all those unsuspecting people lumbering through their to do list of the day. Well pity them no more for you too are as unsuspecting and innocent and this will cost you, if not your life, your dignity and probably a healthy sum in medical bills.

III – Looking where you are going is overrated and will probably land you arse up in the street. The only near misses I have yet experienced are those when I would, by chance, forget about walking and admire the view instead. Remember the risk of falling increases proportionately to the angle at which is directed your sight. In others words, don’t look up, lood down, all the time!

IV – KNOW YOUR ENEMY: this city has a thing about polished granite and marble. These materials are no man’s friend in PYCCKNN (russian) territory. They provide a friction free surface so it is better to free your arms, walk slowly and be ready to grab the nearest railing in case of emergency.

V- BE LATE, BE SAFE – DON’T HURRY, BE HAPPY: hurrying on ice is the equivalent of standing in front of a firing squand with 9 blanks and 1 bullet; the most likely scenario ends up with you injured. Small steps are the key to a successful walk, the bigger they are the further you balance is off which and the more likely and more often you will slip. If you must hurry, your feet should barely leave the ground, your eyes should be firmly fixed the earth beneath you and your steps should be small and concise, like a little japanese geisha tottering along the footpath in high heels.

And for those who are actually interested in the architecturals sights, while awaiting my own snaps of course, check out this blog I found. Worth it, at least for the title of the article:

http://www.readrussia.com/blog/architecture/00181/

Next time on The International Potato: how to offend your neighbour with a pen, a paperclip and a broken exhaust.

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