Saturday, 12 January 2008

Emails to the Big Chief: Day 8 - On the Road Again

As I returned to Moscow, I saw two sides to Russia. Many of the houses, especially in the countryside, are falling into disrepair. There’s a high level of engineering – but little regard for aesthetics. The snow has mostly gone, but a resulting layer of dirt remains on all surfaces.

On the other hand, exquisite carvings or painted decorations adorn many of the houses; the carpets are being beaten and paintwork cleaned; scaffolding around many of the churches points to repair work in progress when money permits.

It’s as though Russia is waking, not only from the long hard winter, but also from the harsh realities of Soviet times. Could it be that this country’s journey, if not ending, is at least going places at last.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Emails to the Big Chief: Day 7 - Dancing Shoes

Everyone passed their final tests today and proudly received their certificates. Ten years ago, we had ransacked one of the warehouses, a real Babushka’s Bazaar, for prizes for each delegate. The guy with the highest marks got a guitar and the top woman got an ironing board. Despite my misgivings, I was assured that she would appreciate this – and they were right.

We finished today with a small party with Boris.

‘Elizabeth' he said, looking at me over his thick Georgian moustache, ‘have I told you the history of this project and how we got to be where we are today?’

One hour later, he presented me with a beautiful gold watch and then sent us into town for a celebratory dinner. He said he wouldn’t come with us in case he got drunk. Seemed to think we would lead him astray.

At the restaurant we were seated next to a table of twenty, a raucous birthday party. Since most of the group was male, we were much in demand as dance partners. There was little time for eating but Russian restaurants are always like that. Dancing to music frequently deafening, drinking and food – in that order. I finally got away at 02:30, aware that I had to hit the road early in the morning.