Saturday, 18 June 2011

Does Size Matter?

Hello there. I realise it's been a while since I updated this. You probably would like to know what I’ve been up to and have no doubt been on the edge of your seat waiting to find out whether the saying yes thing landed me in any dangerous and/or hilarious situations (it didn't). Unfortunately you'll have to wait a little bit longer for that. I promise I'll provide a more general update in the next few days, OK? In the meantime I would just like to say:

Moscow is big.

Unfathomably vast in fact. For a country that is over 6 and a half million square miles it's not all that surprising that the seat of power is such a sprawling expanse of spacyness* (that's ignoring the fact that Moscow has not actually been the capital for all that long), but this is a different kind of big; psychologically big, conceptually big. Giant fuck-off onion domes, main streets with six lanes of traffic, 1940s skyscrapers as wide as they are tall big.

I suppose really I should point out that I'm making a distinction here between size and scale. Yes Moscow is 500 square miles and the city and the surrounding area is home to around 12 million people, but it doesn't feel that big; as in many other cities, when you stop relying on the metro and actually travel above ground, you realise that the distances are not as great as they first seemed. When I flew into Mexico I couldn't actually see the city boundaries at any point, but on the ground it's busy narrow streets made it feel, if not exactly small,  certainly much closer.

What's different about Moscow however, is that in what is a relatively average sized city centre, everything is so much more spread out. Huge roads slice through the centre while soviet era blocks loom over the smaller streets. The squares are often large, fairly empty spaces (Red Square doesn't even have benches!) and most statues are at least three times the size of those in Europe. All this can be a tad daunting and sometimes leaves me feeling a little lost.

Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful city, the big imposing structures are interspersed with glittering church domes and the pastel facades of baroque town houses. The parks are lovely, and although they are currently plaguing us with пух (fluff, or summer snow), the poplar trees make the more residential areas wonderfully green. And of course Moscow Metro stations are infinitely more attractive and far more spacious than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

Maybe it's the fact that I come from a country where anything above 4 hours travel time counts as an epic journey, or the fact that sometimes I feel pretty cut-off by the language barrier, or just that I tend to go wandering around the city at weekends, when many residents retreat to their dachas, but I can’t quite pin down the character of this place yet; I still haven’t figured out what's going on within all this space. I know it's not as empty as it seems. I must be missing something, but I'll keep looking.

* To any of my students reading this - spacyness is not a real word. I made it up. Please don't use it. I was too tired and too lazy to find something better.

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