Moscow Never Sleeps

I loved this article on Moscow published in National Geographic Magazine. Here are my favourite excerpts. The full article can be found on ngm.

The clutter of the day is gone. The night brings clarity, and lights trace the future.

Well, as they say in Russia, “Those who know, know.”

What is certain is that Moscow is afloat in petrodollars; there are more billionaires in Moscow than in any other city in the world. More than New York, London, or Dubai.

Millionaires are as common as pigeons.

Together the rich and mega-rich constitute a social class who were loosely called New Russians when they first appeared in the 1990s.

Half of them are survivors of industrial shake-ups like the “aluminum war” of ten years ago, when executives were killed left and right. Half have discovered that starting a bank is more profitable than robbing one.

Half are young financial trapeze artists swinging from one hedge fund to another. (You can have three halves in Russia.)

Russians are over the top. They’re not “old money” hiding behind ivy-covered walls. In fact, they often refuse old money. It’s new money, crisp American $100 bills flown in daily and spent almost as fast. How much caviar can you eat? How much bubbly can you drink?

Clubs give the rich the chance to “flaunt it, baby, flaunt it,” assured that “face control” will stop undesirables at the door. Face control is executed by men who in a glance can determine your financial profile and celebrity status. And whether you are carrying a gun.

New arrivals are greeted by women who were beautiful on a surreal level. Big air kiss. Men sipping Johnnie Walker Blue, lighting a Cuban cigar, sipping brandy, unwinding, and making more money.

Billion-dollar deals await the cool hours of the evening. There is a Russian tradition that you can’t trust or do business with a man until you have been drunk together.

Food, vodka, money, they go hand in hand.

Every day thousands of commuters arrive and pour out from train stations. Every kind of face surfaces. Blue-eyed Ukrainians, hawklike men from the Caucasus, Uzbeks in caps, Mongolians, and especially Tajiks.

A demographic time bomb facing Russia is its declining population and the influx of Tajiks, who are known to be sober, hardworking, and willing to do jobs Russians won’t.

The drunks around Kazan Station were difficult to see at first because they were as gray as the pavement. These were not casual drunks or men on a bender but dedicated alcoholics literally pickled in vodka.

In the daytime you see only architecture.

At night you see blazing ambition.

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