He caught my eye as he nervously walked toward Red Square. He had some resemblence to actor William Defoe, but was dressed like Lenin. As this was Moscow and not LA, I suspected he was a Lenin impersonator, so I walked up to chat. Igor said he was on the way to meet a Stalin impersonator in the underpass below red square, but was nervous the police would see him and stop him. He said he only recently became a Lenin impersonator after taking a photo - and then chatting - with Stalin. The Stalin impersonator recommended he give Lenin a shot. Igor said the first two attempts at altering his image with a black goatee and mustache didn't work. His friend suggested trying red dye and they were both pleased with the result. Igor said he had recently moved back to Moscow from his native Ukraine to find work. This is not the first time. He said he was a trolley bus driver and construction worker in Moscow during the turbulent 1990s.
He and Vladimir Putin have had the same work address since 2000 - Red Square. This Moscovite plays the father of Peter the Great, the Russian ruler Putin perhaps most admires. I asked him about the most interesting things he has seen over the nearly 15 years he has been working on Red Square - he immediately recalled photographing with various international stars such as Gerard Depardieu and members of Boney M, a group popular in Russia. As for 2014, the more memorable event was his trip to Montenegro. He plans on vacationing in Belarus next year.
Damian was skateboarding with Igor (previous post) at the extreme sport playground on a cold November night. He wasn't a diehard skater like Igor, having taken it up only a year ago. He said he was looking forward to snowboarding, which was of greater interest to him.
I passed a new, outdoor extreme sport park at the edge of Moscow late on a cold, November Sunday night. A few guys and one girl were still skateboarding snd one of them - Igor - had just broken his board. He said he has broken several dozen boards (~50) over the years and destroyed many pairs of sneakers. Igor said he would continue to skate this winter until the snow comes.
Igor was sitting in the metro sporting colorful attire and huge sunglasses, the kind you might see a famous pop singer wearing. I asked him what his story was and he gave an unusual response: "I am a Prince. At least I feel that way." He said his family heritage included Italian descendents that were invited by the imperial family to design St. Petersburg buildings. Ironically, he continues that building heritage as a project design student.
Popped into a cafe/restaurant in Voronezh that serves burgers and unusual coffee drinks. As one local put it, a cafe 'for hipsters' where they show films on Friday nights. There I met Anastasia, a journalism student who works part time on the restaurant's menu and brochure design as well as its social media pages. She said she also gets to choose the films.
I was getting cold while walking around Voronezh, so when I saw a coffee sign, I popped in to warm up. The coffee stand was in the back corner of a florist shop and Mikhail was serving up the java. He said he got into making coffee when the young owner of a local coffee stand took time off to travel around the world and needed someone to stand in. Mikhail said he enjoyed making coffee that he took up the job in the florist shop when the traveling owner returned. Mikhail, who meets regularly with other protestant followers to discuss religion, said he hopes to open his own coffee shop some day not only for fellow believers, "but for everyone." Besides religion and coffee, his other passion is motorcycles. He hopes to assemble is own bike someday and showed me a photo of one that he liked.
Sergei, a bartender in Voronezh, had tattoos all over his body, including a butterfly on his neck, as well as some piercings, so I asked him about his background. He was born in Crimea, but grew up in the distant region of Chukotka, which lies near Alaska. He left in his late teens as saw no future there, moving to Voronezh, where his grandmother lives. He has continued to get tattoos and piercings since arriving in Voronezh many years ago, including splitting his tongue in two. Sergei said it took a while for his girlfriend to get used to his split tongue, while he has kept it a secret from his grandmother, who wouldn't take it well.
Volodya studied engineering at a military academy and took up cutting his comrades hair. After leaving an engineering job and moving to Voronezh, he took up the skill he honed during his cadet years and now works for a classy men's only barber shop.
Nina was sitting on the swing, reading a newspaper one a cold, damp day in Voronezh. As I walked by, she asked for the time, so I stopped for a chat. She said she was turning 80 and tries to get out every day for a walk, despite a bad foot. She said she had a stroke many years ago and refused to take her doctor's advice to just stay in bed. Nina said that determination to keep moving helped her recover. She said she worked as an accountant at some engineering plant for decades till the turmoil of the 1990s, when around age 60 she was forced to became a merchandise trader - traveling to Moscow to buy goods and selling them for a profit in Voronezh. She said she did that to help her children and grandchildren. She said she took up sewing after her husband died in the 80s and that skill came in handy during the tough 1990s, when she often made clothes for her family. That turmoil may have shaped her philosophy of 'live for today' rather than saving money for the future (which can become worthless in times of crisis as she most likely knows from experience.)