“Would you like to have your gift wrapped?” a girl at the cosmetics counter smiled at me, her eyes beaming and cheeks glowing. We were in one of downtown Moscow’s largest beauty products boutiques that work 24/7. It was almost two in the morning, pouring rain outside.
As I was putting an artfully wrapped box of Chanel goodies into my handbag (I had realized I urgently needed to buy a present for a function to attend early the next morning), I wondered which other city in the world could offer such abundant shopping and entertainment opportunities. By the way, I wasn't the only one perfume- and lipstick-hunting in the middle of the night — there was a bunch of other customers in the store.
Still, Moscow's so often a target for complaints, first and foremost from Muscovites. Nasty climate and traffic, nerve-wracking stress levels, sky-high prices, a near absence of tourist infrastructure, prevalence of grey in everything — buildings, landscape, people's clothing, etc. Some of the most ardent critics like calling this city “unlivable,” especially when compared to Paris, London, Berlin and other large cities with a purportedly higher quality of life. Ironically, those same critics continue to live here in Moscow and enjoy to the fullest the possibilities the city provides.
But I personally think these critics aren’t exactly right. There're so many things that make Moscow absolutely, stunningly and disarmingly unique.
It's a city that never sleeps not only in summer when the nights are almost like daylight (yes, we also have white nights, just not as bright as in St. Petersburg), but all year long. On any given Moscow night one could go furniture shopping at Ikea, buy a fridge or a television at the multiple round-the-clock home appliance stores, do grocery shopping at countless nighttime supermarkets (I've got at least five in my neighborhood alone) or wholesale stores, get a tan, a massage, a facial, take a yoga class or have your nails done at one of the beauty salons. I’ve actually noticed that the store clerks in Moscow are much friendlier and more relaxed at night as if the stress dissipated with nightfall.
It's a city of the most extraordinary contrasts. Where else in the world would a brand-new $2 million Bugatti Veyron ride next to a vintage black Volga or a semi-broken Lada? (We call this 1972 Lada model “kopeika,” which in Russian means a coin of the smallest value.) And of course it’s only in Moscow that you could flag any of those vehicles and negotiate a ride and it would probably be cheaper than taking a regular taxi.
It's a city of most bizarre and yet remarkably curious architectural landscapes. In Moscow, a Stalin-era Orwellesque high-rise, a prison-looking former Soviet factory turned into a trendy art gallery, a quaint 19th century mansion and a baroque church might all stand tightly together in one neighborhood. A month later something entirely different, like a skyscraper, could be added to this hodgepodge, along with a bunch of brand new cafes, restaurants and shops.
It’s a city of the world’s most beautiful subways and of the most peculiar subway riders, too. As opposed to the other public transport users in large cities, Muscovites happen to be extremely inquisitive, almost probing, regardless of their exhaustion levels. Privacy is not an issue here: we stare and study each other with cinematographic intensity. “In Moscow, one could live through a love affair during a five-minute subway trip or an escalator ride. I find this really inspiring,” said Ivan Kurinnoy, one of Moscow's most successful photographers who works for top glossy magazines and does various city-inspired projects on a regular basis.
I could go on and on with my personal list of Moscow’s unique features. Take our girls who never tire sporting the world's latest fashions, even when it’s -30 C outside. Or the stray dogs who are amazingly apt in Moscow, managing to ride all kinds of public transportation, including the subway, and cross the busiest roads safely. Or take numerous tiny eateries where one could try authentic Georgian, Azeri, Iranian and many other cuisines, which is a great alternative to the city's ridiculously posh restaurants.
Still, it took me years to make peace with my city. When I came back to Moscow eight years ago after having lived in New York and Washington, D.C., it took me a long time to get tuned to Moscow's vibe, its noise, chaos and utter unpredictability. But gradually, I learned to accept the things I could not change (like the weather) and feel grateful for the multiple job and personal development opportunities this city so generously offers. I fall in love with Moscow every May when it turns all green and fresh, and in the summer when the city becomes hot and empty. But more than anything, I've learned to get a kick out of the way the city changes. Moscow metamorphoses constantly, at times dramatically, at times overnight, its pace not slowing down as the economy stabilizes. I certainly don't manage to keep track of all the changes but I find this energy incredibly stimulating.
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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.