Autumn, is a lovely time of year, even in a place like Russia, where seasons change in a week. Red, yellow and brown leaves cover the ground, in a carpet sent from nature. Sunday was a windy day. I jump on a metro train to get some shopping. Three black girls sit next to me, speaking in an unknown language that is almost as strange as Russian. One girl has very blond hair, that makes a sharp contrast against her shinny, ebony skin. One girl has her thong poking out over the top of her jeans, I look down at her bum as I can't avoid it. I see two large, wobbling, chocolate cheeks, looking up at me, tempting me with whipped cream and a bite. Three middle aged Russian's sit opposite these girls. They look across at them as if they have just beamed down from another planet. There are increasing numbers of different ethnicity's here in Moscow but to some, these people are still a novelty here, like the wheel once was to the ancient caveman.
Once my shopping is done, I return to the metro, I walk past a dustbin on fire. Ironically, Russians will spit on the floor but won't usually throw their cigarette's on the floor. Instead, they thrown them into the dustbins outside metro stations. A man casually stands by the dustbin,(trashcan) as red flames and smoke, gently rises up into the air. No one looks worried or at all surprised. I rush home for a walk with my family, it's late afternoon on a grey Sunday afternoon.
We walk to a local Monastery. My big kid, happily goes by us on his plastic scooter, while baby sits in his pram, with just his eyes showing through his blanket. We pick our way through the muddy puddles and go through the gates, into the Monastery. I leave my family outside and bound up the steps to the church, to seek sanctuary from this crazy world. There is a service going on inside. The air smells heavily of candles and a priest is chanting something, in a low throaty tone, while a choir sings. Women bend their heads down and wear head scarves, they mutter words of prayer, everyone attending the service is standing and knows the routine, after years of practice at it. I stand outside the main area, looking in through an open door, as I don't want to invade a private ritual and I am not a true believer as they are. I love Russian churches. They are often beautiful and peaceful places to visit. They are a welcome break from the business and traffic of Moscow life. Russian priests wear ornate capes, with high back collars that rise up behind their heads. I don't know why they have such high backs? Maybe they contain holy water or are there to support their heads in case they fall asleep in a service? One of life's unsolved and rather unimportant questions. I also have a similar question about Russian police hats, that rise up, to look like Olympic ski jumps but enough said, I'm rambling again, on another track.
After a while, we leave the church and head back to the main street. It's beginning to rain lightly and it's getting dark now. Winter is coming soon. My wife suggests a pizza and I happily agree, as it's a chance to have a night off cooking. We know a pizza restaurant near us, that is reasonably priced and the food is fairly good. Eating out in Moscow; dear reader, is often a huge gamble, as prices, service and quality, can often be bad to really awful. Before we enter the restaurant, I bend down to meet my sons eye level and brief him, in a strict army tone of voice, to be a good boy and ask him sit on the seat in the restaurant. He says "yes dad" and we enter, I hope he will be good but I know it's a gamble.
We order our food in Russian. I order an exotic duck salad and spinach soup, my wife orders two pizzas and a basket of garlic bread to share. We ask for the soup to come with the salad, to avoid waiting ages for a second course. A word of warning, when eating out in Moscow. You may not always get everything at the same time. Your dinning partner(s) may get their starter or main course, while you wait for ages for your plate to arrive. You may both order a dessert and one will arrive and the other will not. This drives me crazy, so I try to take preventative steps when eating out in Moscow. As expected and despite our explanatory, preventative steps with the waitress, my wife's meal arrives, my son's meal arrives but no soup for me or knives and forks for any of us. I tell them to start and not to wait for me. My soup eventually comes but no garlic bread. We catch the waitresses attention and she goes to get the garlic bread. Still no drinks. I get up and ask her for the drinks. They eventually come. We ask for a bottle of water, a coke and three glasses. I drink my coke but as soon as my glass is empty, the waitress takes it away from the table. I get up and run after her to get my glass back for water, trying to keep calm. We finish our meal and bravely order two desserts and three plates, so our son can share our desserts with us. The waitress comes with two plates and only two spoons. Again, we wait for her to wake up and ask each other, why we put ourselves through this ordeal of eating out here.
Despite he service, the meal is good. There is a table opposite us, with people celebrating something. An old lady with white hair, suddenly gets up and in a shaky voice, begins to sing a Russian song. At the table, they all sing with her. No one in the restaurant stares or looks at all surprised by this free and spontaneous performance. She sings with a theatrical style, some old Russian song of hardship and struggle. After one song, a man at the table begins to sing another. His song sounds as sad as the last, in fact every song they sing, sounds sad. They all sing along, helping each other with the forgotten words, voices thick with emotion. We sit opposite them, enjoying the free show. Everyone at the table looks sad, the old lady and main singer, wipes a tear from her eye. I don't know what the songs are about and they seem to come from a different Russia, to the one we all know now. I think Russians are very sentimental about the past. I don't know if this sentimentality is based on a real Russia or on a propaganda Russia, but it's an interesting thing to see, as you eat a pizza, on a cold grey Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, the singers all promptly get up, in a choreographed fashion and leave their table, to put their coats on. Our star, the old lady, bends down to look at our baby, while a man helps her with her coat. Although Moscow drives me crazy, at times it offers rare gems of eccentricity that are a joy to see.
We ask for the waitress for the bill. After twenty minutes, it comes in duplicate. We ask the manager why we have two bills and two credit card receipts? She goes back to the till and speaks to our waitress and prints off another a new one. Again, be careful in Moscow, as sometimes you can have your credit card swiped twice.
Despite the awful service, we enjoy our food and our Sunday afternoon. We head out into the street and make our way home to our new flat, with bellies full of good food and memories of sad, Russian songs.
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