MOSCOW: Years ago, it was rare to see a pensioner in Moscow well-dressed. Many senior citizens stood by popular metro stations selling cigarettes or flowers to supplement their pension. Russian pensions have risen several fold over the years, outpacing inflation, while many Moscow families have more money to support their parents. Though many pensioners still sell goods on the road on at train stations in regional towns, the number of pensioners selling goods on Moscow's streets has fallen. This senior citizen reminded me of the changes over the past fifteen years. She stood out even from the fashionable crowd outside one of Moscow's busiest shopping centers.
MOSCOW: Stas, 69, was slowly riding his bike along the Moscow River at sunset. Born in Baku and living 35 years in Moscow, Stas said he exercises along the river twice a day: in the morning and evening. Stas, who has four grandchildren, said it was impossible to bike here 10 years ago. Bottles, cigarettes and condoms were tossed here. Not only has the riverside become nicer, but people are exercising and smiling more, there are more children and men are smoking less, said the retired Muscovite. Girls seem to be smoking more. More people are leading a healthy lifestyle today because 10 years ago, sporting goods "were expensive and you couldn't find them in stores." Plus people realize they need to exercise now to live well in retirement.
MOSCOW: Vladimir, wearing dark sunglasses, was talking to the babushka sitting next to him on a bench in Gorky Park as he took a break from rollerblading. The career machinist said he took up rollerblading three years ago at the age of 75 because he had always been good at ice skating. ‘’I taught myself to rollerblade,’’ he said. Vladimir said he first put on a pair of wooden skates around the age of 7 while growing up in Tver oblast. The wooden skates had a thin piece of metal wire at the bottom. He would hold onto a rope and be pulled. He said he recently taught a woman in her 30s to rollerblade. A master of sports in shooting, Vladimir said he will turn 78 in September. When I took a closer look at the photo, I noticed a metal ring with a skull on it, the type you might see a rock music fan wearing.
MOSCOW: Vazgen, 66, was walking across Red Square at sunset, wearing a red shirt, red shoes and bow tie with matching handkerchief. The graphic artist said he made the bow tie and handkerchief himself by cuting up a straight, long tie into three pieces. ‘’I love tying a knot,’’ he said, when I asked if he often wears a tie. An Armenian with roots from Nagorny Karabakh, Vazgen said he loves poetry and always buys bilingual books to practice his English. He loves the work of Emily Dickinson, am American poet who lived a secluded life, never marrying or having children. I asked the pensioner if his children were also artists. He said he didn’t have children, but still hoped to. ‘’I am not too old,’’ he said.
MOSCOW: I have run after many Russian girls, but never a babushka…not until I saw Nina last year rollerblading in a bright outfit in the center of Moscow. I didn’t catch her as she was too fast. I saw her again a few weeks ago on a bike at Red Square. She said she was born into a big family (1 of 9 children I believe) just weeks after WWII ended. She turned 70 on June 6. She is one of three children still alive. One lives near Moscow, the other in Ukraine. A career factory worker, Nina said her relatives thinks she is crazy for biking and rollerblading, but she doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
Zhanna was taking her dog for a walk along Old Arbat. She said her husband, a lawyer for one of the Russian ministries, died six months ago. She now spends her time with her dog when not selling antiques. ''My husband was very smart and I used to tell him, 'Honey, you know everything!' And he would respond, 'It is impossible to know everything.'''
Valentina, 75, is a regular on the busy Moscow pedestrian street Old Arbat, where she dances for the public. Holding a portable radio in her hand that plays music, she sweeps across the payment from left to right, occasionally spinning in a circle. Sometimes, she dances with a partner. She places a sign nearby that reads: ''If you sit, you will get sick; if you lie down, you will die; if you move, you will live. Lets dance.'' Valentina said she only started dancing when she retired as a school teacher at the age of 58. When asked why she started so late, she said ''I didn't have any time. After classes, there were group events or administrative things to do.''
MOSCOW: Svetlana was walking down Arbat dressed in black and carrying a single red rose. She said she was a poet and had just finished a 3-hour walk with a friend, who had given her the rose ahead of the official celebration of Woman's Day. Svetlana said she now writes poems about Moscow and started to mention various poets she admired, none of whom I recognized. She then asked if she could recite for me a French poem. When I said I didn't know French, she said she would recite the Russian version of it. It may have been 8 or 10 lines long and it was about nature and waterfalls. I asked if she spends a lot of her time reading poetry. "Poetry isn't meant to be read, it is meant to be listened to," she said and then hurried off to meet someone.
He was riding a bicycle along the snowy and icy streets of Poronaisk, a town of about 15,000 on Sakhalin Island, with his fishing gear on his back. He was coming from the river, where hundreds of people were ice fishing. He said it was difficult to bike as the roads were icy. He described himself as a retired electrician that has been fishing his whole life. ''Fishing is in our blood,'' he said.