Finding Nemo

Monday, November 17, 2014

Moscow by Night, Part I

Moscow nightlife is, um ... legend
A night out in Moscow! This called for the one decent shirt I owned and ... oh splurge of splurges ...a new pair of black shoes. Now, when you are backpacking buying a pair of shoes is not something you do lightly. You have to consider where the hell those shoes go when you are loading up your backpack. Odd things come to mind like: can I use these shoes for clubbing AND horse-riding? But I was in Moscow, MOSCOW! and the night awaited. This was serious business. I did not want to get denied at the club because my old sneakers might still be carrying bits of Yak poo from Mongolia.

I gathered a buddy from the hostel and we headed to a bar halfway between our hostel and Red Square on the main drag called Pokrova. Moscow is actually pretty easy to navigate: it's laid out in a series of concentric rings with Red Square in the very center. Pretty much anything that is interesting is within the center ring, so that makes things easy. The metro runs around the center ring and a few lines criss cross through it along the main streets. In other words, it was a piece of cake to get from our hostel to the bar, a mere 2 stops.

We walked in, sat at a table and ordered some beers. Across the room were two cute girls who gave us a look. Now, I have to admit, with my beard and long hair, I either looked like an Eastern Orthodox priest or a homeless man. I mean, compared to the standard issue Russian buzz-cut I could have been Gandalf.

After our second beer, the two girls came over and sat down. 

"You speak English? Where are you from?" said the brunette with long hair and highlights.

Good to see locals are not frightened by the beard
I explained I lived in California. Apparently that was the correct answer. After a few more rounds, they grabbed us and took us downstairs to a club that was attached to the bar. They went straight to the dance floor and gave us a the "come here" wave. We looked at it each other. I mean, we were pretty much the kind of guys that created the white guy dancing stereotype. This called for shots. I waved over the bartender and tried "Cheetireh stopkoo pahjalsta". He raised an eyebrow and said in perfect American, "you want shots?" In a moment he returned with four evil-looking black things, smiled and said "These are very good, you will like!"
Do not fear what you do not know. Or, ya know, fear it.

We put them down. It was actually quite sweet, with a strong black licorice taste. And... wow. Very strong. A few drinks later, funky chicken dance restored, I tried to find the brunette on the dance floor. Instead I found myself face-to-face with a stunning tall high-heeled blonde (do I even have to say that anymore? High-heels are a given here). We started dancing. And danced some more. And things were looking promising when a large hand suddenly appeared on her shoulder. The hand belonged to a man with a face that could have just won the middle heavyweight on Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was perhaps in his late 40's, built like a tank, in a crisp soldier's uniform. But not just any uniform. Judging by all the bars and ribbons, this was a BFD. His face was twisted into a glare, which fell straight on me.

Oh. Shit.

And somehow I end up with General Orlov's girlfriend
I put up my hands like "Who? Not this guy!" and backed away. He grabbed her by the neck and shoved her back into a booth at the far end of the bar. Then he sat down and commenced yelling spit into her eyeball. As he did this he kept glancing up at me. Woah. It was time to leave. Immediately. Tangling with an drunk angry official in Russia seemed about as smart as kicking a honey badger.

I popped out into the cool night air, and suddenly felt very alone. It was very late and very dark. Garbage littered the street. Across the way a group of men stared at me. I walked faster, looking over my shoulder. The candy glow of St Basil's in the sun seemed like a distant memory. This was a different side of Moscow altogether. Then, up ahead, a golden glow appeared, with a crowd of party-goers lined up in front.


Never had I been so happy to stumble into a Makdonalds.

It's funny how shots make you grow a fedora and red sunglasses
It wasn't the last time I witnessed violence in Moscow. The next day after coming home from my tourist jaunt, I saw 3 men walking quickly in a tight group. They crossed the street towards me, walking up from behind. My spidey sense started going off, and when I turned around they pounced. But it turned out I wasn't the target. Just a foot behind me was another young man. Before he realized what had happened, he was on the ground and the men started taking turns punching and kicking him. This was happening literally right in front of me. I was in shock. But in a moment I felt a rush of emotions. Half of me wanted to bolt and escape, yet half of me couldn't stand to watch this man get beat to death. I wanted to rush in and help. I wanted to run away like a chicken. So I just stood there, frozen. I wasn't the only one to do nothing. People on the sidewalk quickly got out of the way. It was understandable, I guess, this instinct to protect yourself first before risking everything for a stranger. But it was cowardly too.

The beating continued, with people continuing to walk by, and me frozen in indecision. It was terrible, seeing this man getting hurt and no one stepping in.

Then the spell was broken. Someone honked their horn. In a moment, all the passing drivers started honking. The three men looked up and realized the gig was up. They ran down the street, turned a corner and were gone just like that. The police would never find them.

I walked over to the man on the ground, but he was already up and walking away. Blood streamed down his face. And in a moment it was all over as if it never happened. Why he had been targeted no one would ever know. 

My body was lit up like a Christmas tree, almost shaking. I walked back to the hostel, wondering what kind of place was Moscow. There were clearly gangs and mafia running around the city. And yet, there was no graffiti, anywhere. What an odd paradox. On the surface this an open welcoming capitalist society, teeming with gorgeous sights, dancing ballerinas, wonderful music, flower-filled gardens, glittering gold-domed churches and palaces. Hell, even the metro was a work of art. But yet, underneath it also felt alien. The hard-faced men all wore buzz-cuts and track suits. No one smiled or said hello in passing. There was an edge to the place, especially outside the main tourist areas.

I spent the next day seeing the sights, but also looking a bit closer at the people who lived here. But my poor little brain came up with no grand conclusions. And I've found by far the best way to meet locals is to meet them intoxicated and dancing on tabletops. So, that night, I decided to step it up and hit a big-time night club. I took the time to wet my eyebrows, brushed out all the knots in my mane, and even decided to comb my beard. Best not to take chances.

(to be continued ...)

Oh sweet Maccas, never have I been so happy to see you and your shiite burgers


  1. Nice to hear even more about your time in Moscow Nemo! I’m very happy you found some more pics (that were not only on the laptop that was stolen) and experiences to share. You really make things come alive, as if the reader was right beside you!

    A comment about one remark. It regards your somewhat profound comment/question, “Why he had been targeted no one would ever know.”

    Are you sure? No one? What about the victim? Or the attackers? Why didn’t you ask him why they did that? Did *you* not want to know? Do you have a fear of knowing about injustices? Do you want to turn a blind eye or be ignorant of the evils of the world?

    IMO, the attackers were bad. If you will, evil, although this word is stigmatized. IMO this is obvious. (If not, realize if they were good they would have probably sought or threatened to have sought justice via the judicial system or its equivalent. Anticipation of a loss there was why that was ruled out. So, the victim was opposing evil. Therefore, the victim was good or less evil. IMO he was perhaps threatening to expose them or something along that theme.) You surely knew this. And if you were really capable of thinking independently, which I could argue is merely a delusion, you perhaps would have helped the good person in need. But nobody told you that you had permission to get involved, so you were unable to do that, to step outside of society norms. You knew you were only “allowed” to call the police. And, as your post about war and peace implies ( ; about your real reason for traveling the world), this is all inherited, for had your ancestors acted in similar situations they would not have existed or have been able to ever create you in the first place. So you did nothing. As I’ve argued elsewhere in a now-deleted post, this is the same as we who decide to not protest clearly misplaced wars. They expected this; they correctly expected the other sheep like you in the best position to do so would not help. So they knew they could probably get away with shunting his opposing efforts. “So I just stood there, frozen.” Indeed. I cannot deny that I am ashamed, but on the bright side, at least you were aware, in reflection, of your “crime” of silence or inaction and were willing to admit your own weakness and/or failure here, arguably one of society at large as well, although IMO that does not make it correct. (See, e.g., background pic of and link about war therein below.)

    Jason Arthur Taylor

    1. I think that Nemo had the correct response.

      No one calls the cops in Russia (see any messed up Russian youtube video). The cops will just shake you down. (Most places American will have immunity, dunno about Russia.)

      What happened to Russia is that glasnost that is so warmly perceived in the USA was the "great robbery" of Russian wealth by the oligarchs.

      I also think that Nemo is very brave to have traveled so far and wide, compared to me.

  2. Saber, I disagree. Sorry. As to why, firstly, the more anarchist a society is the more important it should be for one to personally stick up for those in need. So your argument goes against you.

    Secondly, calling the cops is indeed IMO better than watching. Videotaping is the first step. Then shouting "help" or "stop" is the 2nd, IMO. Third is asking for help. Silence, avoiding protest, is merely a form support, IMO. Your endorsement of an admittedly cowardly act is IMO shameful.