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© VERA MUHINA “THE WORKER AND THE COLLECTIVE FARM GIRL”

CITIES OF THE WORLD


In the Bowels of Moscow by CHRISTOS CHRYSSOPOULOS

Moscow spreads out in successive concentric circles like a giant low-growing mushroom that has sprouted from the flat Russian earth. It is a colony-city, a burgeoning, collapsing, contradictory metropolis that reminds one of Yevgeny Zamiatin’s futuristic dystopia. Moscow is not one city but dozens of cities, each concealed within the entrails of the other, like Chinese boxes or the Russian Matriouska dolls. Anyone landing in the centre of Moscow will not find oneself in a city but in the midst of a chaotic urban archipelago. People say that time has great power in Moscow. Perhaps it is so, for here all epochs coexist in the space of a few city blocks. I once lived in an apartment in the area of Chisty Prhudy. The dark, four-storey house in Kazarmennij Pereulok Lane had been built at the end of the 19th century. It had been the mansion of a noble or maybe some wealthy bourgeois, situated in the middle of the boulevard that encircles the centre of the city like a Cossack belt. It was a house strangled in a noose of evergreen trees, a labyrinthine house on the verge of collapse. During the revolution it was divided up into high-ceilinged, one-room flats for the populace. A communalka, like those one comes across in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Like the very communalka described in the novel, which is in Bolshaya Sadovaya Avenue, on the opposite side of the boulevard. The staircase leading to the second floor resembled the stairs in a mediaeval castle. It was dark and damp. The stone steps were worn down by

time and here and there a few were missing. In the corners piles of rubbish accumulated, and empty Baltica beer bottles like those you see strewn all over Moscow and always bring to mind the smell of piss. Next door to me lived a mysterious old woman whose dog slept on the top step, his lead attached to the corridor rail. I’d been told to avoid this neighbour and not to make difficulties for the building. I never understood why I should be afraid of that

Moscow toilet

silent old woman. Her dog loved me and whined in complaint whenever he sensed my presence. In Moscow you encounter a strange fear that takes the form of excessive suspicion. Nothing is obvious in Moscow. In Moscow nothing can be taken for granted, there is always someone from whom you need to safeguard yourself, whether it’s the corrupt Militsia that patrols the central streets, or the Mafiosi in their limousines on Tverskaya Ulitsa, or the surveillance cameras that surround the Lubyanka – even though the statue of Dzherzinsky now lies discarded in the graveyard for unwanted statues n-

ear Gorky Park. Every night, returning to the apartment in Kazarmennij Lane in the antiquated trolley bus, I’d stand for a little while outside the house opposite. It was an old house, long shut up and as dark as a cenotaph. Strangely enough, through its windows you could make out a mass of multicoloured little lights flashing on and off like a Christmas decoration. People told me it was a secret control station for the nuclear warheads buried deep beneath the city, ready to be fired from the bowels of the Muscovite earth. Moscow is a difficult city. It resists the visitor and harasses the people who belong to it. The real Moscow lies below ground, in the maze of underground crossings that pass beneath the inhuman avenues and in the tiny eating-places selling pirogi and shashlik in the underground arcades. The dim, rusty lights never go off in these sad little cafés, whose windows remain misted over from the cold, throughout the length of the Russian winter. These minute, ill-lit nests smelling of fried meat and bleach, remain open twenty-four hours a day, and round them gather dark-skinned men from Georgia and Armenia, unemployed young Muscovites, travellers from Kirghizia and Mongolia. These small shops with their laconic signs reading “M R CO” (meat) bring you as close as you can get to the heart of Moscow. For the heart of this city does not beat in Red Square or in Cazan Cathedral or in the restored GUM, but deep beneath the ground, in the stations of the Stalinist metro, which were designed to serve as nu-

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© J. BIALLAS

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE Christos Chryssopoulos was born in Athens in 1968. His first book, The Parthenon Bomber , was published in 1996 by Anatolikos Editions. He has subsequently published The Recipes of Napoleon Delastos (Odysseas, 1997). Shunyata (Odysseas, 1999), The Manicurist (Odysseas, 2000), The Black Dress (bilingual English-Greek edition, RCIPP Editions, New Jersey, 2000) Encounters (Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik 2003). His forthcoming novel Theatre of voices will be published by Editions Kastaniotis in the Fall 2003. He translates from English. He has been invited to writers' centres in Sweden, the Czech Republic, the U.S.A. and Iceland.

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clear shelters, decorated with chandeliers and hammers and sickles. Moscow’s heart beats deep inside the entrance tunnels, which go down vertically, like wells. Moscow lies hidden behind the heavy gates of massive steel which, when hermetically closed, transform the metro platforms into airtight capsules of the Cold War. I once lived on the tenth floor of a huge building complex dating from the Brezhnev era. It was as complicated as a spaceship. My address was: Prospect Mira, House N171, Corpus N2, Apt.N174, 10th floor, Entrance 2. When I opened my kitchen window, I could see opposite me the monumental statue by Vera Muhina, The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl. I loved this statue and would gaze at it every night, bathed in the orange light of the street lamps. I understood very well why Stalin asked to be taken there at night, out-

side the VDNKh, so that from his car he could admire the most beautiful statue to be produced by mankind in the year 1937. It is not easy to make out the small hatch hidden in the folds of the girl’s skirt. The homeless, however, know it well and in winter huddle into it, finding refuge in the entrails of the colossal steel couple. ñ WORKS

THE PARTHENON BOMBER, ATHENS, ANATOLIKOS, 1996. 64 PP. ISBN: 960-8429-05-6 ñ THE RECIPES OF NAPOLEON DELASTOS, ATHENS, ODYSSEAS, 1997. 155 PP. ISBN: 960-210-294-2 ñ SHUNYATA, ATHENS, ODYSSEAS, 1999. 157 PP. ISBN: 960-210-315-9 ñ THE MANICURIST, ATHENS, ODYSSEAS, 2000. 128 PP. ISBN: 960-210-388-4 ñ ENCOUNTERS (REYKJAVIC ART MUSEUM, REYKJAVIK 2003) TRANSLATIONS

THE BLACK DRESS, DIARY, RCIPP EDITIONS, NEW JERSEY, USA, 2000

In the Moscow sculpture graveyard

Profile for Christos Chrissopoulos

IN THE BOWELS OF MOSCOW  

Short story in English from ITHACA magazine.

IN THE BOWELS OF MOSCOW  

Short story in English from ITHACA magazine.