Episode #7 Big Facts and b#tching/ranting about Moscow
Lately I’ve been asking myself, why Russia? My question to myself is more of a philosophical nature. But you can check my episode #1 to find out! But I’ll give you a hint – I’m from these parts. And in these parts. Mmm… That’s sounds weird, but anyway on with an episode #7: big facts about the enormous capital of this enormous country. I need emoji here…
Warning! The podcast contains explicit language. And a lot of my personal feelings and opinions. And this time it’s really a LOT!!!
So… You might’ve heard that FIFA 2018 – that’s European football World Cup has started on the 14th of June. And this time around it’s held in Russia in a bunch of different cities.
I can’t make much of the episode about the game itself – I’m not really interested in football. Not above general curiosity anyway. But I have been to seven out of eleven cities that will host World cup matches: to Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan, Samara, Ekaterinburg, Volgograd and Sochi. So I think in the next several weeks I’ll tell you about some of them.
And I will start with the capital. Moscow… Oh, Moscow. One could make a separate podcast just about it. It’s more than a city in this culture, it’s a symbol. And how to begin to describe it? It’s like when someone asks you to describe your life in 20 seconds using five words which are not about what you do. It’s hard to know where to start. So I think I’ll just start with some facts.
If you had listened to some of my earlier episodes, you might have noticed how often I say that something in Russia is the biggest in the world. Yeah… Can’t get away from it though. We are one of those cultures that confuses bigger with better. And I am the product of that culture whether I like it or not especially.
I don’t know if some of our leaders over the years were subconsciously obsessed with size of stuff for some private reason (all of them were and are male, by the way. None of the Russian royal ruling females ever had Moscow as their capital), or maybe this idea is overly simplistic. But in that place size apparently matters a lot.
I almost cut that joke out because of self-censorship. But then I thought, fuck this shit! What’s the point of having your own podcast and warning listeners that you will swear (and I did warn you!) if I can’t even make a dick joke? Also I hate the idea of self-censorship. So this is my rebellion.
I got that off my chest, now on with the biggest shit ever. And Moscow is the biggest in many ways.
Moscow’s real name
Oh! But first, I need to tell you that, of course, Moscow isn’t called that in Russian. It is called Москва/Moskva. What’s up with English pronunciation, I’ve no idea. I mean the Russian word sounds pronounceable enough. Doesn’t it?
The name most likely originated from the name of the river on which it stands. That would be the Moskva river. That’s the one closest to the Kremlin.
Now the city has grown quite a bit (to put it mildly) and it actually stands on a whole bunch of rivers. Though many of them now run through pipes. But you definitely can see more than one when you walk through the city.
The size of the Population
So, what’s so cool about Moskva? Well, it’s a state of its own. It’s like Washington D.C. in that the city itself is a federal district and not a part of any state, or in our case, Moscow oblast. Except, it’s bigger. So much bigger that actual comparison might offend any US citizens who also retains the belief that bigger means better.
Don’t worry though, Moscow is the biggest we’ve got. With more than 12 500 000 people it’s the most populated city in Russia. Actually, I think more people live there. Those are just officially registered ones. A lot of people come to work in Moscow and never get registered. And Russia, of course, has illegal immigrants too. They tend to come from former Soviet republics, especially ones that are situated in the Caucasus mountains. And the relationships between ethnic Russians and them are complicated. Because the history of our relationships (that’s a code name for frequent wars and unrest) is complicated. And long. And deserves an episode. Which I’m kinda scared to make – it’s so fraught with unresolved issues.
We don’t see it in the media much these days. I’m guessing the official policy is to pretend that everything is awesome in that department. But we do have our own analog of racial issues.
Anyway, after a number like 12 million you knew I was gonna say it’s the largest city in Europe, right? Although, probably to consternation of some of my fellow citizens, with a caveat. It’s the most populated city that’s fully in Europe. Istanbul is bigger by several million of people, but it’s right on the border of Europe and Asia, and the third of its population lives in the Asian part.
Still Moscow is also one of the most populated cities in the world. Different accounts put it either in the top ten or very close to it.
Who lives there?
It’s in the European part of the country. That means it’s predominantly populated by Russians. I mean the people who belong to that ethnic group not just citizens of the country. And I think that point needs clarification. In Russian we have two separate words for the ethnic group and for citizens. The ethnic group is русский/rOOsskiy for males and русская/rOOsskaya for females. You also might notice that there’s no A sound in those words. That’s purely the English way of reading the letter u in that position in the word. I kinda think the English pronunciation of our nationality sounds ugly…
And in Russian Russia is called Россия/Rossiya. It’s written with an O, it’s just pronounced with the A sound because… well, of the phonetic processes in our language. And the word for citizens is derived from that one. It’s россиянин/rossiayanin for a man and россиянка/rossiayanka for a woman.
Which brings me to the main reason I told you all this. Media from outside the country often calls all our people Russian when they are not ethnic Russians. Only 80% of the population is Russian. And more than 186 ethnic groups live here. And if I were Tatar, for example, I would be kinda offended. Maybe I am over sensitive on the subject but… like I know you don’t have a different word for that but maybe you should get it. Or call them Russian citizens not Russians. Because they deserve to be recognized and represented.
Also from movies and news coverage people from other countries get the impression that all Russian citizens are white European. It’s especially ridiculous when terrorists from Чечня/Chechnya are played by blond men with blue eyes.
And that’s just not true. People from the Caucuses don’t all look like white Europeans. And that’s not because they are not the natives there. It’s just that the old white German dude who coined the word Caucasian didn’t bother going there.
Another group of our citizens that never gets represented in the movies made outside of Russia (well, and often inside of it as well) are people who look Asian. They are Asian but not in the sense that people in, say, the US are used to. Most of our country lies in Asia and we are closely connected to it. So there are a lot of people who look Asian but they are not immigrants. Not even a little bit. For example, people from the east, north, south… and, well, what the heck, west of Siberia. They and their ancestors have lived here as long or often longer than Russians did.
What I’m trying to say, is if you are from the US, Europe or some other first world country with a lot of immigrants, keep in mind, that your assumptions often don’t apply here.
Why the b#tching?
Especially because people who are treated like unwanted immigrants in Moscow are not just them but basically anyone who wasn’t born there. And that’s the point where I confess that I have very mixed feelings about the capital of my country.
Or maybe not yet. First I’ll make you hate it a bit. Imagine the most obnoxious rich person you can. Got it? Now imagine they are telling you the following facts.
BTW, why am I doing this? Why would I make someone hate the capital of my own country? Well, because Moscow for me is firmly associated with the Russian government. And I’m pissed at it at the moment. Ahh. Oh what the heck! They are trying to put a major reform through the parliament that has to do with the retirement age. That shit is going to affect so many people! And in many cases terribly. And I am one of them, actually. It would mean that a lot of people, men especially, will not live long enough to retire. Because average lifespan in Russia is 70.9 years. That’s almost 10 years less than in the US or the UK, for example. And men’s lifespan is shorter than women’s. For example, new retirement age for men is 65, and my grandfather died when he was 62.
So of course a lot of people are very angry. But we can’t even protest (not that it would change much) because that reform was scheduled so that the news of it were released while FIFA World Cup is taking place here. And while that is going on, it is illegal for us to protest. There can’t be any marches, any unauthorized public gatherings (and no one is going to authorize a gathering like that at this time). No way to express our feelings outside the Internet. The protest march is planned for the 28th of July and that’s more than a month away from now. Who knows what will happen in a month! Not to mention that some other terrible news will push that out of the mind of a lot of people. Because guess who controls the news cycle?
So to schedule such an important thing at such a time is… backstabbing. That’s a cruel and dishonorable thing to do to the people whom you ostensibly serve.
So, I’m pissed. But since I can’t be pissed at the people responsible I’m going to take it out on the city. It can take it. It’s not like it gives a shit about my opinion anyway.
The tallest building in Europe. Kinda
Remember, for the following information you have to imagine the most obnoxious rich person you can and pretend that they are telling you this.
Let’s begin! On of the most unnecessary money sinkholes in our capital in my opinion is Moscow International business centre. It is a bunch of skyscrapers about 4 km from the Kremlin. It’s supposed to be this unique (for Russia) mix of business spaces, residential spaces and entertainment stuff. Some of the towers are still being built. But already we have the tallest completed building in Europe. And the second-, third-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-tallest buildings in Europe as well.
Why do we need this shit apart from vanity reasons of some rich people? I can’t answer this question.
Anyway, the tallest is called Federation tower – Башня Федерации/Bashniya Federatsii. It’s actually 2 towers on one base. The smaller one is called Запад/Zapad, literally the West, and the taller one is Восток/Vostok, the East, and Vostok is 373.7 metres (1 226 feet).
When Lakhta/Лахта center in St Petersburg will be completed, it will become the second tallest in Europe, but for now Federation tower can bask in that… glory. Well, if it (or rather people behind it) can survive the fact that it’s the tallest among buildings in Russia. The tallest structure in Europe is still Ostankino tower (Останкинская телебашня/Ostankinskaya telebashniya). Because it is a tv and radio tower and it has a spire on top and it’s not just for breaking records. It’s actually useful. And with it Ostankino broadcasting tower is 540.1 meters (1772 feet) tall.
But does it even matter when that tower is also located in Moscow. And just to show you how important the biggest thing is, that tower was built to be the tallest building in the world, taller than the Empire state building. And it held that record from its completion in 1967 till 1975. And in 1975 it turned out that size also matters a lot to Canadians because they built the CN tower in Toronto just 13 meters taller. Like… tell me, that wasn’t done just to have the tallest tower! Aha. Riiiight.
Although then the United Arab Emirates got really invested in the size idea and built Burj Khalifa. It’s 829,8 metres (2 722 feet) tall. That one shut everybody up real good for now. Don’t know for how long though. Guys and their towers…
Next one isn’t all that disgusting because it might be kinda useful. Moscow Underground or Subway called Метро/Metro is one of the most beautiful in the world (For real, though. You can and should just go down and have a tour of your own, pay particular attention to the old stations). It was created in 1935 and was the first in Russia (well, obviously). It’s the biggest in Russia. (Again obviously).
It’s also one of the biggest in the world. It spans 364.9 kilometers (226.7 miles). That’s with the Moscow Central Circle and Moscow monorail. There are 214 stations. And it continues to grow because new stations are being built (probably as we speak). And Moscow government plans to have the biggest Metro circle in the world by 2021. Yeah. Why on Earth would we let anyone be bigger, right? Someone might think we are week and not cool if we do.
The biggest library in Europe. Which totally depends on how you define Europe
Next one is an awesome example of how to achieve the biggest in Europe status without actually doing anything.
The Lenin library as locals normally call it or as it’s properly called the Russian national library is the largest in Europe. But with a caveat about it being “continental Europe”, which means that island nations aren’t included. Which conveniently leaves out the British library. Sneaky, right?
So, if you count the UK, it’s the second biggest in Europe and the fifth in the world after the Library of Congress, the British library, New York public library and Library and archives Canada. Aww! It’s nice to see that we aren’t the only ones obsessed with size! And that even library people aren’t exempt from these.
Moscow Botanical gardens
The one biggest thing in Europe that’s located in Moscow and that I actually like is Moscow Botanical gardens of Academy of sciences. They claim to be the biggest in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. And they are three times the size of the famous London Kew gardens. Don’t care if they really are the biggest or it’s just a boast, because for me it’s 361 hectares (892 acres) of pure bliss. I will definitely talk more about this place in one of the next episodes, because it’s in my top five Moscow parks. It’s not an amusement park, it really is a sort of outdoor botanical museum. Well, living museum.
It’s in the North of Moscow next to the ВДНХ/VDNKH park and exhibition area. That’s a densely populated part of the Russian capital, very busy with tons of people. But when you are inside, all that hustle and bustle fades away and you feel like you are in a forest. Depending on the part of the park you are in, it can seem like a magical forest. But it’s a forest with paved trails and occasional benches! There’s a gorgeous oak grove with trees aged up to 200 years old and a Japanese garden that opened in 1987. The last one is probably the most popular. Also walking in the park is free. You only pay to enter certain exhibitions like Japanese gardens.
And (of course) now Moscow Botanical gardens have the biggest glass conservatory in Europe called Фондовая оранжерея/Fondovaya oranjereya. But I don’t wanna bitch about it, I like it.
The Elk island park
Another huge place that I care about is Лосиный остров/Losiniy ostrov. That literally means the Elk island. It’s the fourth largest city park in the world. And apparently the largest in Europe because the only three parks that are larger are situated in Mexico, South Africa and Brazil. Though again there are some sneaky moves involved here. Or maybe there isn’t, that depends on the point of view. Only 30% of the park technically lies within the boundaries of Moscow and the rest is Moscow oblast, but Moscow is growing all the time, and in 10 years it might actually fully be within the boundaries. Plus Moscow oblast is basically Moscow metropolitan area.
However that might be, I’m going to visit Лосиный остров/Losiniy ostrov next week when I’ll be in Moscow. But it’s kinda obvious to me even now that it’s more of a forest than a park. Its total area is 11 600 hectares which is 28 717 acres. And 83% of that space is covered in forest. And 5% is a swamp! It’s one of the superfew places in the Russian capital where you can see animals in their natural habitat. Including, obviously, elk or moose, 44 mammal species and 170 types of birds.
Almost half of the territory is closed to visitors though. Because it’s a specially protected area. 27% is open to restricted visits along the special routes. That’s not because park administration is mean or something. That’s just necessary to protect the animals. And 26% is open to everyone without any restrictions.
Also apparently Moscow is going to have the biggest cemetery in the world by 2020. Well, at least it’s presented that way in the media. In truth the Wadi-us-Salaam in Iraq will still be bigger by 20 hectare. It’s our 580 hectares against their 600 or more. This is just… good lord in heaven! Some people in Moscow feel the need to boast the size of their cemetery… I can’t even…
And that’s just a few of the size-related facts. I feel like that wasn’t enough bitching. Hm. I blame the parks. Just thinking about them calms me down and I don’t want to look for ridiculous facts about Moscow after that.
I mean, it is a great city with tons of really amazing things to see. But there are so many issues that wouldn’t let me personally enjoy it without feeling conflicted.
Why I feel so conflicted about that place?
Yes, it’s beautiful, yes, it’s prosperous and it looks that way. Or maybe I should use a word “posh”? Yes, there are so many amazing things to see there! So many museums, theaters, parks, architecture. So much culture and history and beauty. But the cost…
There was a scene in the last season of Downton Abbey, when the stately house was opened to public. And the public wasn’t portreyed flatteringly. But I can well imagine the mix of admiration and resentment they felt. Because that beautiful place was built with their and their ancestors sweat and blood. Not with those who owned it. It was maintained through backbreaking labor that was done by servants, not by owners. And it was not made for them, and they weren’t truly welcome there. They were intruders, dirty people who came to gawk on a world of upper class privilege. The privilege that owners considered their birthright and obviously didn’t want to share.
Not every part of that… speech applies to Moscow and provincial people. And many people that weren’t born there do, in fact, move to the capital and make a place for themselves. But to me it always seems… unwelcoming. You can look but you can’t touch. You can come to visit but if you want to become a part of the privileged class, you would have to fight tooth and nail for it, sell your soul to the devil and do all sorts of nasty things. Not my idea of fun, you know.
A lot of it, of course, is my perсeption. But I am also a product of Russian culture, I live in this country in a provincial city. I see how that place is perceived by a lot of people around me.
I do know that a lot of big cities have that ruthless side. But… well, do they also suck all juices out of the country? And then people there pretend that it’s not privilege but pure hard work. And that the rest of the country is poor because we are lazy. So yeah, there’s a lot of that oppressed people and the clueless or in denial oppressor dynamic going on.
And the most ridiculous thing is that you can’t blame all the people who live there. They are not all the same obviously, they don’t all behave horribly towards newcomers. And a lot of them are surviving like the rest of us. Still, I’ve met a lot of people in my city and during my travels who hate Moscow and people who live there passionately. Because there really isn’t a place quite like it in all the huge Russia.
Don’t think you’ve seen Russia if you saw Moscow
Don’t worry, though. None of it truly applies to tourists and visitors. That’s mostly a scary game for locals.
But there’s one thing I want you to understand with all of this: don’t think you’ve seen Russia if you saw Moscow. If you saw Moscow, you saw Moscow. It is a country within a country. What’s outside it is different in many ways.
And that’s the end of my bitching session. My next episode will be about the history of Moscow. Because Moscow is so big that I couldn’t fit it into the single episode. Gawd, it’s like yo mama is so fat joke… Crap.
Anyway, t’s time for the segment: How do you say it in Russian?
Today I’ll go with What is your name? And My name is… So, What’s your name is Как вас зовут?/Kak vas zovut? – That’s formal Or Как тебя зовут?/That’s informal. The answer is the same though – Меня зовут/Meniya zovut…
Till next week.
Gigi, from Russia with love. And FIFA world cup at the moment
Instagram account of the Moscow Botanical gardens conservatory. Descriptions are in Russian, but the pictures can speak for themselves, don’t they?
Losiny Ostrov National Park
Elk island’s official page – Also in Russian, I’m afraid.
Their Instagram account Captions are in Russian, but again! The pictures!!!