The adventure continues as Ann Hemsworth and I leave for Moscow on Saturday. This trip the agenda will be to follow up on the adjustment committee pilot that was established in Vladimir in December '92. Ann will work as a resource to the local vocational institutions and the Regional Employment centre personnel in developing an effective transitional program for those workers who will be displaced.
So how did it go? The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful and we rested in lounges at the airport waiting for our connecting flight to Moscow. The young men strolling about with sub-machine guns made us aware of the sensitivities in europe over the Iraq crisis.
We finally arrive in Moscow at 3:20 P.M. to our first lineup; that is the line through immigration. It takes about 25 minutes, not bad! This trip there is no one there with a sign to greet us , so Anne gets a taste of bureaucratic mis communication. We wait untill 5:00P.M. and then decide to arrange a taxi to the President Hotel. The independent cabbies were very interested in taking us to Moscow at $30 a go, but we managed to get by . It was interesting to watch the various groups being met with their signs greeting Coca Cola execs and visitors from a number of companies and foreign ministries. The atmosphere at the rather dark and dingy airport was more like an old bus terminal, with people waiting on wooden benches for their connecting flight. Fur hats of all shapes and sizes and individuals dressed in clothing ranging from heavy furs and bots to mini skirts.
I approached the financial exchange booth at one point but before I could get anywhere near it, a number of black market type guys approached to offer exchange. I quickly extracated myself and headed back to where Anne was waiting for our contact. We decided to take the taxi and headed into Moscow.
The trip into the hotel took yet another route and this time I actually got to see the Kremlin by night. A massive place high above the street level with huge spires at each corner topped by a large Red star. At the far end we pass a cathedral with several gold domes which was well lit with spotlights eerily shining up through the misty air. It was quite damp and the temp was about +2C.
The next treat was that our taxi took us along a very busy street and suddenly there it was MacDonalds, Moscow, shining brightly like a beacon in the night. Within a block we passed a Pizza Hut and suddenly I'm feeling right at home.
The hotel President is about a mile further down some backstreets and through some rather large iron (locked) gates. Another exeercise in elegance as you walk in the front door. A large marble staircase leads to the main lobby and the reception desk . This group isn't quite as fluent with english as the last hotel was. I'm booked into room 1003 , which is really quite a luxurious sweet. You enter a hallway which has large mahogany closets on both sides for about 12 ft.. Then you enter the main bedroom which has a desk along one complete wall with a portrait above it and two living roomm chairs around a fine coffee table. The bedroom had two single beds with a night table and a modern remote control TV; which had access to CNN and all the other european channels. I watched the Iaugeral ceremonies in Washington and the bombing of Baghdad at the same time .. Interesting juxtaposition, seeing all these things while in Moscow.
I spent the evening with the TV on and trying to get the computer to work again, I'll have to get some proper training when I get home so I stop running into these glitches. I Snoozed off around 11:00 but woke at 3:30 AM. and basically tossed and turned until wake up time.
I woke around 8:15 and went down to meet Anne at 9:00 AM., we had some buns , juice and coffee and proceeded downstairs and outside to meet our colleagues from the Federal Employment Service of Russia at 9:30. 10:00 o'clock comes and goes , so back into the hotel and arrange the cab at $8 to get us to the office. When we arrive on the third floor, Molly Meacher is overjoyed to see us, because she had tried to contact us at the hotel the night before and waited in the lobby after unsuccessfully calling our rooms, for 1 1/2hrs. Communications were not very effective and Jonathan Weiss' pick up time was 1/2 hr different as well, hence the need for a cab. Hopefully it will improve!
We discussed possible agendas and decided on going to Vladimir first to assess the pilot committee that had been started in Dec. This would be helpful in planning an approach to the problem in the siberian mine near the city of Komorov, north of Novokusnetsk. I will proceed to Siberia by plane Sunday and Ann will return to Moscow from Vladimir to work on a report and the development of materials appropriate to the needs of Russia, based on her experience with the pilot.
Typically there were various consultants buzzing around the office and Molly spoke on the phone with Washington , Australia and the Canadian Embassy. The latter call was in response to heer request for a Canadian sponsored under the Eastern Block Mentoring Program; a program of the Canadian gov't. It had been approved now they wish to deternmine who the pllayers may be. While this was going on we met a Charles Adams, an economist with the University of Ohio in Columbus. He had arrived on the weekend from Dublin Ireland and was in the process of completing a study of training initiatives in Belgium, France, and Ireland ; to identify which model might be the most appropriate to build on in Russia. His leaning was towards the Irish system, which had a high level of local control and input. When we discussed his project over lunch , in the basement cafeteria it became apparent that he really was an academic. He could turn the simplest conversation into a doctoral thesis, making little sense of anything, in my mind.
Finally it was decided that Anne and I should return to the hotel to get our belongings together for Vladimir and Sevra would call when arrangements were finalized.
Our first adventure in waving down a car began. The weather was pleasant enough at about +5C, and the traffic was flowing. The first car stop and seemed very appropriate but I was not ready with the address of the hotel so he moved on. About 20 minutes later we had landed a young driver in a Lada, who Anne remarked looked like Myron, from Job Readiness Training in Hamilton. He quickly got us back to the hotel although it was already 3:50PM.
As I entered my room the phone was ringing and it was Sevra telling me that Olga would meet us at the Somolenski, Metro Station at 4:00PM. and it would take us 10 minutes to get there from the hotel, so get going because the train leaves at 4:20PM. Now the communications play a key role. I couldn't remember Anne's room number and the floor warden on the 5th insisted there were no canadians on her floor. By the time she called around to all the other floors and re-checked her list 20 minutes had passed. Anne got her things together and we rushed for a cab and paid $8, and headed for what we hoped was the station. After two stations the driver let us out and a porter loaded our 5 bags. Fat chance we were going to find Olga. And we didn't!!! After an hour of running around while Anne guarded the luggage in front of the station; it became clear from the Intourist wicket (3rd one we hit in the station), that we couldn't catch a train until tomorrow. Somewhere in Moscow stands an Olga waiting for Ken and Anne!
It wasn't enough that we got lost but we had to suffer the further indignity of paying the porter who had helped us $5 and having him line up a cab for us. What a deal , the driver only wanted $30 for an $8 ride ; and we stood helpless with 5 pieces of luggage. Finally they agreed to $20 and off to our hotel again. This time with a driver who insisted on not using his windshield washer or wipers even though the windows were completely obscured. He almost ran over every pedestrian that crossed his path, and tried to sideswipe all the drivers which I'm sure he thought were simply in his way. We made it back to the President Hotel paid the porter for taking our bags back to the room and called Sevra. He was overjoyed! Arrangements were made to leave with the Russians , in the morning on the first bus to Vladimir at 8 AM.
We went for a drink. Which the waitress seemed reluctant to serve. One double on an empty stomach was enough to slur my speech so we zipped in for dinner. The Russian side dining room was beautifully panelled and had a central buffet which had huge carvings on four corner posts. Meals ranged from 150 rbls to 556 rbls( $1.10U.S.) for a filet. We chose some caviar for a starter and ordered the mushroom covered Sturgeon. When it arrived it looked an awful lot like a filet, they must feed their fish some strange food! Low and behold my superior communication skills were successful once more . Our fish was filet and the request to charge it to our room was missed as well, so it cost us all of 1,900 rbls for two filet dinners , caviar and tea. Thats almost $5 U.S. What a deal. Finally its time for bed . Do you think we'll be able to get this show on the road tomorrow?
Up bright and early at 6AM. to have a cup of coffee and get off to the Kurski Station for our bus to Vladimir. Breakfast was peaceful and uneventful. We carried ou 5 bags downstairs to meet our 7AM. taxi and were on our way quickly. Out into the grey dawn and a day that was cooler than yesterday with all the melted snow forming thick coats of ice on the roads and sidewalks. As we drove along we could watch all the pedestrians trying to manoeuvre their way along the unsalted streets. It looked like everyone was Olga Korbutt on the balancing beam as the move along the streets. I'm beginning to recognize some of the bigger landmarks around town , such as St. Basil's and Red Square and the Kremlin. This morning we also pass the massive skyskraper of the University of Moscow, which is just around the corner from the Kremlin. The taxi gets us to the Korski station at about 7:30 and we ask a bus where to catch the bus to Vladimir. He points us in the right direction and we stand alongside what we assume is the early bus. We want the 8 AM. unit. As it later turned out this was the 8 o'clock bus. Commuters in fur hats and touques and fur coats were scurrying about in every direction as the various morning trains arrived in Moscow.
Olga arrives and quickly loads Anne and I onto the bus. Interestingly this time it cost 300 rbls. to put my luggage on the bus. It was free in Dec.. I'm seated in the front seat behind the driver with a gentleman who is about 6 ft. 10 in. tall and the size of an NFL linebacker. He takes up about 2/3rds of the seat but luckily leaves for a smoke because the bus is delayed, and I get my fair share of the seat.
The trip to Vladimir is mostly uneventful , other than the upset of a lady because the bus is delayed because we are waiting for Eliana . She had trouble with her transportation but makes the bus 15 min. late. The lady two seats back starts ranting and raving about people who think this is a private bus; quickly she gains vocal support from a number of other passengers. They settle down once the bus leaves , although as she gets off the bus she takes a solid verbal parting shot at Eliana.
We have to call the Regional Employment Centre to get our ride to come bedcause the previous day he had waited for 3 trains and 2 buses and we didn't show. We met with the regional Director and reviewed our agenda for the next week in her office. They have really bought into serving tea and cookies during their meetings. having set the stage we are off to the enterprise for lunch and our first meeting.
Nothing has changed at the plant . It still appears to be physically on its last legs but the warmth of the people certainly gets past the physical state. Valentine , the committee chair quickly convenes a meeting and establishes that the only members available would be the communications sub-committee and the Human Resource\employment sub-committee. This was the result of everyone else connected with the committee being pulled away for critical meetings about the privatization of the facility. The setting was the pannelled meeting room at the back of the plant; and when we entered the room we found the table set with several red and white tea cups, and cookies . It was like old home week . Again the warmth and genuiness of the people made a simple room , a very comfortable environment.
The business of the day was to assess the activity of the committee since I had left. Were they able to achieve any of their objectives? What had they achieved? What difficulties had they encountered? Moscow had been quite negative about anything happening in the time I had been away. In fact the opposite was true.
The committee tabled their first Newsletter, which looked much like a professional newspaper. It had two main articlees outlining the establishment of the committee for all employees to read. An article on the various programs and services available paralleled this article. Feedback from employees was in fact very positive.
The other things they did on their own over the past month included: development of two Moscow partners and a german partner for raw material supplies to replace the materials lost through the finance fiasco; several information sessions were held by the committee to explain the survey questionnaire and have it completed; 135 employees were given the questionnaire with 100 being returned and an analysis being completed; two training courses were mounted(one in lace making, the other in new machine operation at the plant), with twenty two employees creating new positions for themselves; physical renovations will be completed on an employee Action Centre which will open to help the employees in early February. Really a major achievement in activity over the short time and with the minimal resources they had available.
Tere was considerable interest in the Transitional program offered by Anne Hemsworth as a way for people to cope with the difficulties of the job loss. The afternoon ended with further review of the life skills program. The committee members really seemed insatiable so we made certain to make arrangements to get as much material as possible to them .
We wrap up the meeting and head back to our hotel in Vladimir. As we approach the facility we cross the Klysma River to the hotel. Turn up a long treed driveway to a four story hotel. the lobby is decorated with panelling which is heavily inlaid with dark wooden patterns of local cathedrals. /really qutie beautiful. Irina has her office here and arranges for a discount rate the equivalent of $15 U.S. for Anne and my rooms for three nights, that's about $2.50 a night each. Then there was the room. Get on the elevator(that was the first clue). The elevator would absolutely freak JoAnne; it was no more than 2 feet by 4 feet. Small what? No question , this place was well maintained and oriented to tourists. thenI open my door and find a neat tidy little room. Would you believe about 6 feet wide by 8 or 9 ft. long. A single bed across from a basic 18'' table to work on. So now I'm expected to be a monk! Oh, well.
I spend the next 5 hours working on my report and the size of the room didn't make any difference . I slept well.
It's alight snow , on a cooler morning than we have seen since arriving in Russia. On the way into town I snap some pictures from the van to give me a new perspective on the Assumption cathedral at the top of the hill.
This time in our meeting we get into some real serious discussion about the training options the committee wants to develop and finally the chairperson relents to the wishes of the majority. They will advertise a number of possible programs in their next newsletter to see if their is an expansion of interest from the other employees not yet surveyed. While we are meeting there is a sudden flurry of activity around the phone and a loud dialogue keeps interrupting the meeting.
It turns out that Moscow has called to request me to get back to moscow to prepare for the trip to Komerova in the Kusbas Region. So I'll be returning to Moscow by bus with Eliana and Sergei, with some intent that Sergei may go with me. So we move up our shopping agenda to tonight so that I might find some gifts for my trip home given that I won't have much time to shop in Moscow. Interestingly I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable with the cyrilic alphabet. We wrap up the meeting by 4P.M. Oh yes, lunch was an absolutely wonderful mounded salad; followed by the most delicious noodle and beef soup; with a main course made up of crepes, veggies ,and beets. The dark bread was especially fresh and tasty. Mmmmmh.
Shopping was different this time. Most of the shops had sold most of their materials over the holidays and so the items I thought I might get were in fact not available. wwe hit all the same shops but everyone is spending all the money they have because inflation has taken off again. It crashed the 550 rbls level , to the $ just 2 days after we arrived , and its climbing unnabated . People are quite concerned. So we went back to the hotel where I tried , unsuccessfully to get some water in the restaurant. No luck! They did have a nice disc jockey playing great music and there were a few young people sitting at the tables. Off to my room and report. Anne dropped in to discuss the days activities and we killed a tin of tuna on crackers while we talked. Hit the hay at midnight.
The day began with breakfast in the lovely restaurant of the hotel. Communications being what it is we again had one of our exciting surprises. We thought we had ordered toast and coffee and an egg. Close but no cigar! We were delivered two full breakfasts, starting with smoked meats and followed by an egg soufflet with juice and bread and jam. Certainly more than Anne wanted and I wasn't about to eat both! It was very tasty. The van arrived and we were again off to the Employment Centre to spend some time with the regional staff to bring them up to speed on the process and to do some specific program review.
The people were very enthusiastic and interested in any info. we could give them. Tea and cookies were the order of the day, and nicely complimented the meeting. It looks like we'll be sending them materials for the next century, given their lack of resources.
We broke for lunch at 12:00 and I quickly headed down the street to a few shops I had visited previously, but our luck wasn't any better they were out of most of the types of gifts I was looking for.
Lunch was in our restaurant with all the trappings. We had a potatoe salad mound followed by delicious noodle soup, and then by a tasty potatoe pancake and meat patty, with no time for dessert if we were going to catch the 2:00P.M. bus. Away we went just so we could wait in the cold for the "3:00P.M." bus. Sergei, Eliana and I weathered the snow flurries as they smoked and I lectured about the evils of smoking. The trip itself was quite comfortable and uneventful as things usually are when your sleeping.
Back in Moscow at the Kurski station by 6:30P.M. and a cab for $10 takes me back to the fortress hotel President. This time I'm in room 416, a single room as opposed to my palatial previous facility but quite comfortable. Some T.V. and then I hit the hay.
I take a $9 cab to the office Friday morning and they are in their usual state of chaos. Molly and Sevra are preparing documents to leave for a conference in Hungary on Monday. At the same time they are trying to make plans for me to get to Komerov Saturday night and they are still uncertain whether they can get tickets for me and Sergei together . As it turns out sergei cannot get a ticket so I'll be off into the wilds on my own once more. I'll be leaving on an 11:00P.M. flight from the Domedidova Airport, one of the two domestic airports in the city.
I head back to the hotel with Chuck Adams and his interpreter as our guide for my first trip on the Moscow subway. WOW!! I mean this thing moves 8 million people per day and goes well down into the bowls of the earth. I don't know how we would have got along without the interpreter? Up escalators , down escalators ,so deep and steep that you could not see the bottom of the escalator. Lovely heavy glass encased lights occurred about every 10 ft. and as Chuck commented they wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes in a north american facility. The people seem to have a respect for property here that we have clearly lost at home.
We transfer trains and she takes us up into the transfer area and the ceiling has huge brass and glass chandeliers and in between there are giant scenes made from inlaid tiles of all colors , and depicting a number of historical events from Russian history. Absolutely spectacular. I take a couple of pictures of the area because I'm certain it will be something people would love to see. Amazing that within all of this infrastructure collapse there are vestiges of a quality of life which we rarely get exposed to in the west. We reach the end of the line and Chuck wants to do some shopping and does. There are street vendors selling various art , pottery and crafts and he purchases some pictures, blue pottery and a clip pin. We go into a shop which has a large variety of arts and crafts where i buy another shawl at a reasonable price and am tempted to buy a persian rug at 62,500 rbls., or about $125 US. Its 2m x 3m so it certainly is a good size, but the colors are beiges and reds, and I'm afraid it won't match JoAnne's color scheme.
We end our shopping and bid farewell to the guide and proceed the few blocks left to our hotel. When we arrive chuck decides he wants to give a tip to the chambermaid but she is not around so he tries to explain this to the ladies who are the floor wardens. I'm sure they thought he was trying to offer them money for some services as yet unreceived and it took us a good fifteen minutes and a phone call to someone who spoke Russian and English to finally get the message across. Thank god we didn't get into trouble on this one. Chuck and I shared a beer as we discussed his project and mine and how they both cross over in a number of areas. then he headed off to dinner with Betsy from the World Bank and I went to prep my report and went to bed.
Well finally a day where I have enough time to go shopping for the entire day. I stroll up Demitrova Street towards the Kremlin which is about 10 minutes walk. As I cross the Moscow river I take a picture of the Kremlin with Assumption Cathedral in its midst. I continue on my way past a couple of grocery stores certainly nothing like what we have in Canada. I plan on stopping in one on the way home to pick up some bottled water for Kemorova, Siberia.
I finally arrive at the famous ARBAT or shopping street in Moscow, its about 10:30 A.M. and already it is packed with vendors and tourists. the walls of the street are draped with all kinds of t-shirts, flags, icons, Balalaikas and art work. As you stroll past the stalls its as though I'm wearing a neon sign , the vendors talk to me in english and offer all kinds of deals. The variety of Matrushka dolls is unbelievable as are the lacquered boxes, and fancy decorated eggs and hats of all kinds of fur. There is no question that the prices have gone up almost double since the last visit to Moscow. So I'll have to shop more carefully than before. A couple of well dressed matrushka artists convince me to buy three of their dolls for about 8,000rbls($16); and I dicker with a guy over a watch for 5,000rbls but leave it. This time I drop into a couple of the stores that face the street and find that their prices generally are cheaper than the street vendors. For example decorated balalaikas on the street range from $30 to $60 and a reasonably decorated one in the shop was 6,000rbls($12). Maybe when I get back from Siberia, I don't want to have to drag it around the country with me. I do purchase a siberian Fox hat for mom at a good price and a musical instrument with a Siberian motif for $15, so it seems like a good day.
Many of the vendors are quite young but they all seem very polite and tolerant if you choose not to buy. One element that was disconcerting was the street urchin prescence. The day was relatively mild at about +5 and drizzly and this brought out some of the street children. They are quite accomplished beggars given their need to survive. Again the mark on my forehead must be clearer than most as I was approached directly by several in spite of all kinds of shoppers being around. Finally one very persistent youngster probably no more than six years old latched onto my coat and literally dragged along with me for about a half an hour . He was dressed in a rather dilapitated overcoat with sleeves reaching outside the coat and tattered and torn shoes and the usual runny nose. I lost him by going into an established store that had personnel who basically stripped him from my coat. Poverty , anywhere is not a pleasant experience and it is particularly disconcerting when its a small child who clearly has no care or support from an adult. I continued my walk up the ARBAT and managed to pick up an icon I think JoAnne will like, and a couple of hockey shirts for Heather and Daniel.
It started to drizzle more vigorously so I decided I'd spent enough and should head back to the hotel. I crossed the main street by a subway passage that was absolutely lined with adults and children, male and female, each with a puppy or a kitten peeking out from under their jackets. This seemed to be the Russian variety of a pet store,only there were at least fifty of these people and they had animals ranging from poodles to spaniels and shepherds,and siameses to persians not to mention the budgies that were freezing in the cages near by. It really was very strange to walk through. Just as I got to the other side of the bridge I found myself in the midst of a street that seemed to be reserved for gamblers. Young men had set up stacks of cardboard boxes in the middle of the sidewalk that served as gaming tables for a game played with the five dice that had card faces on them. The street was almost impassable with the activity they generated, and every once in a while someone would be arguing with a kid about the results. The name of the game seems to be survival anyway you can and given the kind of inflation one sees here its no wonder they'll try anything.
I continue on my way to the hotel and reach a grocery store just across from the Kremlin. It is closed for another 10 minutes so I wait watching the various people young and old gathering for the opening. Some are well dressed and some look a little dishevelled . A grandfather type is holding the hand of his grandson and I catch that they are hear to pick up bread for todays supper. Quite a contrast to the little urchin I saw on his own only a few blocks away. The store opens and everyone rushes in. This place doesn't sell any water so I head back up the street and buy a bottle of carbonated grapefruit drink. I imagine it will do. Back at the hotel I pack away my booty in preparation for the trip to Kemorova.
I rest for awhile and then go down to the restaurant for my dinner. This was to be my undoing. I ate soup and chicken which tasted just fine but by the time I got back to my room I was having fairly severe cramps. The next couple of hours I kept testing the facilities. I had to cancel my taxi to the airport as I wasn't going to risk getting a) sick on the plane, b) sick in Siberia. I finally got hold of Jonathan Weiss of the World Bank to let him know of my status and rebook my Moscow room so that I would have a place to stay. I religiously took my Imodium which finally allowed me to get to sleep by 3:30 , but i awoke with a headache and terribly upset stomach. We'll have to play the Siberian trip by ear.
I basically stayed in my room all day Sunday and rested as the bug went through its cycle. I say bug , because in talking to Jonathan Weiss , it turns out that he had the runs and a headache as well. I felt a little better Monday but also stuck to my room.
What can Ii say , it has been very difficult to keep my daily log on this trip because of my familiarity with the terrain and I think because I've had another person to talk to in the evening. I've done some taping but I find it much more difficult to verbalize what I want to say.
Tuesday, we visited the office for part of the day and met the World Bank Mission from Washington. The office as usual was in complete chaos with Swedish lawyers crowded into one small office; the financial people in another ; the Irish Training Program team in and out and Anne and I trying to find a place to work. We finally left the office for our hotel , hiking a ride with a guy who really seemed to know his way around , because he followed a canal which wasn't far from the office which led back to the Moscow river and then to the hotel. $4 and he got us home quickly!
On returning home we decided to visit the Kremlin. It was about an half hour walk from our hotel to St. Basil's and Red Square. The bridge we had to cross is the one you will always see newscasters using when they broadcast from Moscow. It provides a backdrop of the Kremlin for most of their stories. Again snow was falling quite vigorously, but the weather was quite mild at -2C. We strolled along the north wall of the Kremlin to get around to the entrance to Red Square. It was very impressive as the wall is about 50 ft. tall and the facades of cathedrals inside and administration buildings peer over the top of the wall.
By the time we got to the square it was snowing heavily and we were trudging across the cobble stones to the edge of St. Basil's . A very pretty and intricate building and an unbelievable contrast to the huge expanse of the Kremlin. The next building was the Lenin's Tomb, which was very simple and placed about mid way on the square right next to the wall of the Kremlin. We took a couple of pictures through the snow and commented how interesting it was to be in Moscow in the winter months as most visitors from abroad would be visiting in the summer because of the history of Russian winters. A sense of satisfaction like conquering Moscow in winter when the armies of history couldn't do it.
On to the GUM Department store, which is immediately opposite the Kremlin , on Red Square. Now this place is massive! It has three levels of stores and three full parallel corridors which are about three times longer than the Eaton Centre in Toronto. Each of these massive corridors is enclosed by a full length glass dome. The GUM celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in 1992, eat your heart out Eatons. The shops on the first level all seemed to be western fashion shops like Benetton,DeLaurentis, and all kinds of appliance stores. All purchases on this level would have to be made with hard (U.S. & D.M.) currency; it seemed to us this was a bit of an afront to Russians who clearly don't have that kind of money. So to get to the things they can afford on the next level they have to walk through brilliant western style displays of merchandise most of them cannot even begin to think about buying. The next levels had little Russian shops selling clothing, utensils, appliances and the usual array of souvenirs. We picked up a fur hat to match JoAnne's coat at one of the shops and bought a few small souvenirs.
Time to head back home. Although it is interesting that the GUM store was absolutely packed as Russians are trying to spend every ruble they have because of the extreme levels of inflation day to day. This week the inflation rate was about 28%; can you imagine your pay doesn't change but in one week you have lost 28% of your purchasing power. I hope they can get it settled down, so that the average person can settle in to just living instead of being frightened day to day about basic survival.
The snow was about 6" deep as we walked home but it provided a beautiful white cloak for what had been a quite dull city that looked rather grey. The crisp fresh air and the snow cloak created a bit of a Russian Wonderlan with the lights that played on St. Basil's and the towers of the Kremlin.. Back along the wall and over the bridge stil crowded with hundreds of Ladas heading home from work; and many pedestrians and young Russian soldiers strolling to their destinations. Russia is certainly not the harsh place it has been made out to be by the decades of propaganda we have been exposed to. Just another community where people very much like us live and try to raise their families day to day.
We proceeded immediately to the art and craft shop up the street a few blocks. some interesting architecture along the way. In the first block we passed the French embassy which had a beautiful engraved pink stone facade and a French Provincial design, with the high sloping roof. Beside the older building the French had built a new office facility which in contrast to the classic structure it has to be the ugliest building I've ever seen.
The shoppping was really quite reasonable with great prices on shawls, boxes , matrushkas, and various carvings in ivory and mastodon tusk. We were in the store until they closed at 7:00 P.M.and then went back to the hotel for supper. The walk back was quite comfortable with light snow falling, and a temperature around -4C.
Had black caviar and sturgeon for supper and it was very tasty. In the midst of aupper a russsian official with a Chinese delegation got up from his table stumbled towards the door and collapsed on his face. I ran to his aid and helped him up although he was very grey and his eyes were becoming dilated. I went back to my seat and Anne quickly pointed back to him just in time for me to run back and catch him as he fell straight backwards unconscious. Then his friend and the delegation ran to his aid and it became apparent that he had a heart condition .. The hotel called for emergency assistance as his friend moved him to a couch in the lounge area. Things seemed to settle down after this time.
We sat in the central lounge and had a drink and talked about the days activity and commented on the anomally of sitting in this luxurious hotel in the middle of Moscow , in the middle of winter, while the country struggles with inflation projected to be up to 10,000 % in 1993. This hotel , it turns out was the facility used by the communist party Central Committee and the KGB during the hayday of Communism. Really a strange sensation when you realize the kind of intrigue that represented over the years. Oh well, off to bed and goodnights sleep.
Thursday we worked at the hotel for most of the morning and then walked up to the ARBAT for one last shot at the marketplace before we head home. It started off quite comfortably as we walked across the bridge over the moscow river; uppast the Kremlin and the side street past apartment residences of various shapes and colours. We past by a large multistorey stone structure that appeared to be the head office of the military in Moscow, based on the number of officers with briefcases walking on the street from one building to the next. Kind of the Pentagon of Russia. It was about one block away from the ARBAT.
As we strolled the market the slush and wind seemed to increase as we shopped. Student sales types hitting at us from all directions: look at my matrushkas; my laquered boxes; my military hats and medals; so on and so on for the several blocks of the market. Anne purchased a few matrushkas, 2 Uzels, and I got George a hat and Bud a Yeltsin doll. Boy was it cold! We continued on to the Hotel Slavjanskaya to show Anne the western style luxury and then took a cab to the office.
A short trip ended up in a traffic jam that took us through god knows how many side streets and passed twenty different embassies. The exposure to such a rich variety of architecture from simple two storey walk ups to unbelievably elaborate national monuments and the varied architecture of countries embassies. Little parks with older people walking, children play ing and some kids cross country skiing. that was possible mid day because half the kids go to school from 8:00-1:00 and the balance from 1:00-6:00. Finally the Ladas start to move and we move past buildings and stores that are vaguely familiar as we reach the familiar offices of the Federal Employment Service.
We go through the usual greeting ceremonies and then basically work on consolidating our reports. Late in the day we have a meeting with Zenya(an interpreter) and Olga , who visited Vladimir with us. The review of our report and the feedback from Olga which gives every indication that our combined efforts have been very successful. Back to the street and another adventure in capturing a ride back to the hotel Moscow style.
A car quickly pulls in and only wants 1,500 rubles($3), So away we go! This guys Lada is on its last legs. At every stop he has to gun it to keep it running. Luckily he doesn't have to use his windshield wipers because the two metal stubs in their place would only serve to engrave his windows. But, he gets us there and that's all that really counts, isn't it?
We immediately stroll up to the small art gallery shop for one last kick at the gift cat. Anne has purchased soome fine carving necklaces and a vest while I pick up an intricately carved box for 700 rubles or about a buck and a quarter. I also find a piece of Mastodon tusk that Kristopher can add to his key chain collection. All and all a sucessful expedition. On the way back we stop in a small grocery store that is the only food facility that we've seen in Russia modelled on a north american grocery stor. Although it isn't much larger than a Macs Milk Store. Everything is sold in dollars and the prices range from comparable to prices at home to very expensive. Back to the hotel and dinner and then we call it a night.
FRIDAY has arrived and we go home tommorrow, yeah! I contact the office to arrange a summary meeting with the director of the Federal Employment Service, Feodor Prokopov. That's set for 12:00 noon so our agenda revolves around that. We catch a taxi to the office and tie together my final report and expense claims. The logistics of payment are nothing short of mind boggling. But they keep telling me they will pay! Good, I don't like debtors prison.
The paper work is done so we prepare for our meeting with Feodor. We enter his outer office as the U.S. Ambassador leaves and then are hustled in. He comes around from his large officious desk at the far end of the office to warmly greet us. He points out he can only meet briefly because of ongoing commitments so we are off and running. The gist of it is he receives the report with considerable enthusiasm and is clear that he has talked to the field offices we worked with and comments that it isn't often that he has had the pleasure of working with people who are not native Russia who have generated such a warm response from his federal staff and the regional office. We warmly receive the compliment and express our pleasure in having had the experience of working with the Russian people and being of some assistance. He expresses a strong wish that we might return to assist with future efforts. It leaves us with a warm feeling and a sense of satisfaction that is really quite a reward for our efforts.
On leaving his office we immediately proceed back to the world Bank project office on the third floor for a meeting with the world bank's mission to Russia. Typicaly we meet in a 5'x9' office with Timothy King(WB-Director for Eastern European projects), Bob Hall (U.S. consultant on the Mass Redundancy project, former Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan administration), Lyn Wardell(WB-Russian project coordinator), Anne Hemsworth and myself. Again I find myself shaking my head wondering how did I get in with this crowd? Our meeting reviewing strategies for community development and early Response Team establishment go very well, and we seemed to have helped to clarify what the World Banks next move will be in the Russian project. I submit my final report and we are off to flagging down cars again.
Now it is noticably colder and the forcast is for it to drop to -22C. I think it is definitely going to make it. After about five minutes a young man in areasonably sized sedan offers a ride for 2,000 rubles($2.75) agreat deal . Typical of virtually all the drivers we've had so far he has a totally new way to get us to the hotel. I think I could be in Moscow for a year and never travel the same route to a destination. Once back at the hotel we go to our rooms and wait for a call from Molly Meachere who arrives back from a German conference at 4:00PM. and wishes to take us out for dinner. I doze for awhile and Anne drops in around 6:00PM. and Molly calls at 6:30. We take a cab to the Hotel Metropole where we will have dinner.
Another experience from a time warp. This hotel is straight out of James Bond. Absolutely the most luxurious marble and chandeliered foyer, with several plush leather couches to sit in waiting for Molly. Just to observe others around us , one gets a sense that the business that is going on is of the greatest importance and the players are invariably of significant influence. Time to pinch myself again. Molly arrives in her usual flurry of pleasantries and we proceed to the bar to catch up on activities while she has been away. The lady is unbelievably focused and develops loads of information for the next steps on a piece of paper 3"x3". Her husband Richard is meeting with the chief advisor to Sergei Vasiliev , economics Minister for Russia to discuss strategies.
We move to the dining room through a huge doorway which enters a hall that is 3 storeys high with large gold pillars embossed at the top and bottom lining either side of the room. A huge buffet lines one entire side of the room and an orchestra in a classic western big band style plays dinner music. The ceiling is a massive glass dome which is stained and ornate in pattern and colours. I'm sure the Csars and royalty of Europe would be quite comfortable in this setting. We talked business throughout our meal and enjoyed salmon and chicken dishes and white wine at $50 per person. Remember,that is five months salary for your average Russian professional. The paradox grows, but the experience is to be savoured for a life time. We reluctantly end our discussion and Molly escorts us to the door where we say our goodbyes and get our cab. A second last time past the Kremlin at night with snow glistening on its walls and trees as the spotlights play across them. We arrive at the hotel door and check the temperature. Its -15C and I'm glad we're going home in 7 hours. My anticipation will surely keep me from any meaningful sleep.