I met Nastya a few months back at a concert. She stuck out from the crowd as she was wearing camouflage pants and a black leather jacket that had "F@ck the System" written on the back in big letters. She said she was a cook at a European/Russian restaurant and that the jacket belonged to her male cousin. I asked her what her favorite meal was, expecting to hear something exotic. "Simple, fried potaoes." I love them as well, I told her.
Donatas said he dreams of making art house films, but admited it's probably tougher in Russia than in other places. "The government doesn't give money to shoot art house - perhaps because no one wants to see it. Maybe 5% are interested in such films. Or maybe I am the only one who wants to make such films.
You rarely see middle-aged, Russian women dressed like this. Thus, I thought Bozhena may have an interesting story to tell. She said she lived in a small, historic town in Russia's Northwest with her husband and five children. A painful divorce left her with nothing, so she moved to Moscow, got a job, earned a decent salary and brought 4 of her 5 children to the city (the other wanted to stay with dad). The high cost of credit (double figures for mortgages) and nominal rise in Moscow home prices has hampered her ability to buy a flat, so she continues to rent.
Why are you taking photos?" he asked rather suspiciously as I photographed my homeless neighbor Rasul. I thought I was in for some trouble. I explained my story and then said ' I would llovevto take your photo as well." He refused, but continued to ask me questions. We discussed the USA, NYC and Russia. After 15 minutes, he said I could take his photo and he told me his story - one that I have heard a dozen times. He comes to Moscow regularly by car from the economically depressed North Caucasus to work for weeks or months at a time, sending the earnings home to his wife and children. His dream was to earn enough to by a 'decent car.' I asked if the dream was materializing. "It's not really working out - everything here is expensive, especially food that I barely have something to send home.
Rasul, my ‘neighbour,’ was in a bad mood when I spoke with him. He said someone has stolen his pillows earlier in the day. Rasul told me he grew up in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan and had previously worked as a handyman, doing repairs on people’s apartments. Now he is homeless, sleeping during the summer in a patch of grass in front of my building with other homeless people. Rasul's friend later told me someone gave him new pillows. The city recently spruced up that patch of grass, adding flowers, so Rasul and friends can't sleep there anymore. I saw him earlier this month crossing the street. He was holding something inside his coat. I asked him what he had…. 3 large rocks from a nearby construction site. He said it was to protect himself.
One consequence of the growth of cafes and restaurants in Moscow is that it creates first-time jobs for high school and college students, especially those students from other regions. This Moscow State University engineering student comes from Western Russia and works at a 1950s-style American diner. She said most of her co-workers are students from other cities. She said she hoped to continue her studies and find work in Russia's oil and gad industry.
Moscow's food service industry still gets a bad rap, but service quality has improved significantly over the years in my view. Vika, a high school student who works at a coffee chain, is a good example of the better service. On the job only a few months, she says it can be tiring being on your feet all day, something I know from my days at a chain in NYC. The other problem she notes are the occasional drunk customers that give her extra attention.
The first heated bus stop opened in Moscow near my flat, so I went to check it out. Of the 10 people waiting for the bus, only two - Polina and Vita - were inside the enclosed glass bus stop. While it wasn't heated on the inside the day I visited, that may have given the two highschool students the perfect excuse to hug to keep warm, which is what they were doing before I interrupted them. Polina said she wants to study foreign languages, including Engljsh and maybe Spanish. The photo was taken inside the bus stop.