From Russia With Love


Magun's Compass
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Romantic Moments in

Red Square.

From Russia With Love
St. Basil's Cathedral � Michel Guntern

Russia, and its former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
is still coming out of the cold

The thawing of attitude has seen the people of St. Petersburg and Moscow take to the streets; Lenin statues have fallen and individual traders have sprouted.

While some are a little unsure where the collapse of Communism leaves them, others have put their skates on to join the rush towards a market economy. Unfortunately, their naive intepretation of it could result in a slide towards an African system of corruption in high places, streets full of people hawking anything and everything, and very little in the ordinary shops.

St. Petersburg's famous Nevsky Prospekt is a buzz of curious activity at the moment. True, the shelves in the shops that cater to the average Russian are still bland, if not bare, but much of what is for sale is along the main street.

There's bottled beer and vodka of dubious origin (bootleg liquor is literally a killer, claiming thousands of lives a year), and Russian champagne for the slightly more extravagant (little more than a dollar or two a bottle); ice-cream, even when it's snowing; and occasional bite-sized slices of bread, with a piece of cheese or salami placed on it like a gem from the Hermitage Museum.

A parked car attracts a crowd eager to purchase lottery-tickets and put a chance on Capitalism's Lady Luck.

Outside a foreign cosmetic shop, free-marketeers tout beauty products to women who want to have the French or Italian look, without paying for it in hard currency.

Some of the traders are not entrepeneurs, but desperate. Every day, they try to sell books, badges, jeans, shoes, shirts, soap and even puppies the size of kittens (who will need feeding too). These people stand shoulder to shoulder in long lines at every underpass -- holding out whatever it is that they want a little bread money for -- without so much as a sales pitch or a glance into the potential customer's eye.

In Moscow, selling stuff on the streets is more exaggerated. The block near the KGB headquarters throbs constantly with people looking at what's on offer. A large bag is opened to reveal a variety of clothing: pullovers are spread out on cardboard boxes; shirts are clutched in someone's arms like newly-born puppies in need of a home.

In the famous GUM store, opposite the Kremlin, there are shops for hard-currency only, and even a sort of showroom with the latest Volga car on display. For many Muscovites, these products are out of their reach, and are for viewing only. Of course, the new rich are dancing in nightclubs until the early hours and being driven around in imported cars with armed bodyguards beside them.

Some comrades still gather near St. Basil's Cathedral with their hammer and sickle when the Congress of People's Deputies is in session.

The smart young Russian heads for Arbatskaya.

Here the Red Flag is a tourist commodity worthy of currency, along with other Lenin memorabilia and former soviet uniforms, Russian dolls, tin-badges and revolution-era cameras.

These people are resigned to sell at present, but if vodka is in short supply in the near future, discontent and riots could still arise. Many of them have seen the pictures from Los Angeles and Britain on a summer's evening, and are questioning the merits of the American Dream.

Boris Yeltsin is not as popular as many suppose, but name a leader who ever is?

Boris and Gorby

Outside the Metropole Hotel, an enterprising photographer offered passers-by a polaroid of them shaking hands with an authentic-looking cardboard cut-out of the politician of their choice: Gorby or Yeltsin? The majority who paid for the privilege chose the former.


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Nomadic Gatherings - Travels in Asia and Australia

Travel on trains and buses in Asia, then jump into cars with complete strangers in Australia and New Zealand as Michel introduces you to a collection of characters that bring Nomadic Gatherings to life.

If you can't afford to buy a copy of Nomadic Gatherings, the chapters are slowly being made available online - for free.

You may even decide that it really is worth having a hard copy in your hands; a useful read for those long bus journeys being written about, and for endless waits at ferry ports.

Nomadic Gatherings - Online Chapters.

Find out more about Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, The Middle East, and The Americas.
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