On Post-Post-Communist Moscow

In Sign and Sight (a translation of) a piece on the poet Olga Martynova’s first visit to Moscow in 15 years (originally in Neue Zürcher Zeitung).

As a Petersburger, I am often asked about the antagonism between Moscow and Leningrad/Petersburg. “Oh no,” I answer, “even in Moscow, a good poet is born once every fifty years.” That’s small talk. But in the 1960s, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky were made models of Soviet cultural politics while the future Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Brodsky was condemned as a freeloader in Leningrad. In St. Petersburg, some poets still live from the legendary underground jobs: night guards, guards, firemen. In Moscow, people help each other willingly (and expect a return favour). In the 19th century, there was talk of St. Petersburg practicality and Moscow idealism. Since 1918, it’s exactly the opposite. A capital city offers more possibilities to be commercial. But without Soviet power, the Moscow proficiency is much more pleasant.

There’s a Moscow gesture, inviting, somewhat indifferent which (unlike St. Petersburg’s cool selectivity) leads to the creation of a warm, easy-going community. We accept this gesture and join a group of roughly 20, after the opening event. The initiator of the noctural march is the 28 year old author Danila Davydov. We walk to the monument for Venedikt Erofeev, which doesn’t represent him, the legendary author of the Moscow boozing saga “Moskva – Petushki” (“Moscow to the end of the Line”), but rather his hero Venichka and his beloved. Whenever Venichka wants to go to Red Square, he finds himself back at Kursk Train Station and takes the train to Petushki, where his beloved lives.