Today Rhea and I went to the mecca of commercialization here, Zolotoi Babylon, Golden Babylon (rather aptly named, huh?). It's a huge mall (over 300 stores) in Rostokino, only about a 15 minute train trip away from Mytishi. My goal was to buy a winter coat, but I didn't really find what I was looking for - nothing seemed warm enough, or else it was too expensive. I did, however, buy a winter running jacket! It's lined in fleece and has a hood with a drawstring, a high collar, and extra sleeves inside with thumbholes to provide another layer for your hands. I'm actually almost excited for it to really snow here so I can try it out! (Famous last words, I'm sure...!)
Golden Babylon was a fun place to check out. There were a lot of Western stores - H&M, Zara, Topshop, Mango, LaSenza (woo Canadian brand!) - as well as international sporting ones like Nike, Adidas, and Reebok (with a HUGE poster of Alex Ovechkin holding a shoe in his hand and smiling diabolically). There was also a Stockmann's, a gourmet delicatessan that is basically a Western foodie's idea of heaven. There were tons of fancy imported products from Europe and North America, as well as the typical stuff that expats miss - Oreos, Skippy, marshmallows and Rice Krispies, Betty Crocker icing and Pepperidge Farm cookie mix, mini Breton crackers...and brown sugar!! Rhea bought two packages of it, as well as some cocoa powder, to make brownies and chocolate chip cookies. After a few hours of exploring Babylon, however, Rhea and I started to go a little crazy. Have you ever noticed how malls just suck all the energy out of you? The lack of windows also make it possible for a nuclear holocaust to occur outside without you having any idea until you finally brave the real world once more. Luckily, nothing that drastic had happened, but it was still a relief to get outside again and hop on the train back home!
In other news, I finally got some English-language books!! Following Nate's advice, I went to Biblio-Globus, this gigantic, three-storey bookstore right across from the Lubyanka. The Lubyanka has a very dark, grim history for Muscovites: it was the headquarters of the KGB and the most feared prison during Stalin's Great Purges. It is one of the cruel ironies of life that in times of desperate fear and terror, some people turn to jokes as a way to deal with the unbelievable horrors with which they are faced. There was a popular joke during the height of the Stalinist Terror that referred to the Lubyanka as the tallest building in Moscow, because "you could see Siberia from the basement" (the "lucky" prisoners were the ones who got sentenced to hard labour in Siberia, rather than death...but I would argue that death might have been preferable).
So it was with a solemnity that I exited the metro at Lubyanka and walked past this infamous building. Oddly enough, the Neo-Baroque building itself is beautiful, but on second thought, maybe that isn't too odd. Russia in its entirety is a curious juxtaposition between extremes: the sacred and the earthy; cold winters and warm Russian hospitality; brutal rulers like Ivan Grozny (the Terrible in Western lore) who alternated between fits of incredible violence and moments of sincere repentence and religious fervour; centuries of political and cultural oppression and literary and artistic works of the greatest depth and beauty that managed to flourish regardless; and, perhaps most famously, the differences and tensions between East and West. So it kind of makes sense, in a way, to walk past the Lubyanka and be struck both by its physical beauty and its historical ugliness.
Biblio-Globus was very easy to find, as there were actually signs getting off the metro that pointed the way. It is one of the most famous bookstores in Moscow, and is actually ranked #74 of 622 things to do in Moscow by Lonely Planet travelers (fun fact!). It is also housed in a stunning building, which was absolutely packed with eager bookworms much like myself. The English section is on the second floor, along with other foreign languages, and the selection is pretty good. There was a LOT of chick lit (Cecilia Ahern of P.S. I Love You fame, Sophie Kinsella of the Shopaholic books, and the ubiquitous Danielle Steele), as well as a wide array of Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Agatha Christie. I saw one Clive Cussler book (Inca Gold, in case you were wondering Dad) as well as shelves of English classics - James, Joyce, Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, etc. I was a little disappointed by the selection of Russian novels translated into English. There was the typical Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but I was hoping for more eclectic choices, maybe some Turgenev or Bely? Anyways, I finally narrowed down my wishlist to two books: one non-fiction (Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March by Adam Zamoyski - preparation for my trip to Borodino soon!) and one historical fiction (The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, starring the captivating trio of Lev Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Rhea recommended it to me and I loved Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, so I have high hopes!). Both books were around 450 roubles each (about $15USD, which my mum has told me is EQUAL to Canadian dollars right now!!). I also bought a cute tote bag from Biblio-Globus and some post-it notes for class (the Russian version, because the Post-It brand name ones were ridiculously expensive...500 roubles for a little pack!!)
This teacher may be devoted to her classes, but she is not THAT devoted. 500 roubles for post-its? Do you know how many beets that would buy?
Oh my gosh, I'm turning into a Russian...