This pink-stilettoed beauty strutted her stuff in the middle of a downpour like nobody's business. She stopped the traffic, literally. The whole city of Moscow yawned. There are different kinds of hunger.
The staff at our overpriced hotel in Moscow were definitely not required to smile at their customers. We ordered two cappuccinos at breakfast time but the waitress seemed offended. She scoffed, did a dramatic eye roll and tsked as she walked away. I would see the same behavior at the infinite number of metro stations, restaurants, museums, and parks.
Although I'm not a chatty social butterfly, Russians stroked me as a tad distant, a tad un-engageable, a tad impenetrable. I'm still wondering if decades of a communist regime altered not only the collective but also the individual characters of Russians. Or maybe, it's just Moscow. Maybe Moscovites are to Russians like New Yorkers are said to be to the rest of America.
Junk food was out of the question. I haven't eaten a hamburger in over ten years and the sight of a hotdog makes my insides recoil. Taking five trains and making it across Moscow to go back to Izmailovsky market was not an option either. Eating at fancy restaurants was unthinkable. They are too overpriced, too un-affordable. A couple of small cappuccinos and one slice of black forest cake= 60 Us dollars. No way Jose. We started to look for options and neither starving nor breaking our fast with cheap vodka made our list. We found a nearby bakery that sold fresh-out-of-the-oven cheese pastries to die for and moderately priced bottles of wine. And so we survived on bread and wine for a few days. Needless to say this biblical diet made us feel holier and holier with each passing day. So much more aligned with my principles and MO than Catholic confession.
They’re easy to spot.
Foreigners wear miniskirts, short loose-fitting dresses and tight jeans, all complemented with a pair of stilettos. Turkmen women are unchangeable: they wear the same long velvety dresses and the heavy headgear that they do in winter even when the temperature touches 120F.
They are seen everywhere and if there is a stiletto-strutting world championship, the Turkmen women would win it hands down, with their Russian counterparts as their biggest contenders. Stuck your stiletto in the wrong place and need a quick fix? No problem. There is no shortage of stiletto-repair shops in Ashgabat.
It’s too cold in the winter for peddling. But summer is a different story. I took this picture of these two beggars asking for money simultaneously; one is wheelchair-bound and the other is carrying a toddler in her arms. In a country where the government subsidizes the basics: gas,
electricity, staple food, health care, housing, and where salaries are kept more or less even across the population (a street cleaner earns almost as much as a bank clerk, a whopping average of US$250/month) who would beg? Why? My guess is: foreigners. They are the only ones not covered under Turkmenistan’s paternalistic umbrella of benefits. The other question, of course is: why women? Why did I not find a single man begging? I can only speculate that we tend to be softer and more generous when the receiving hand is that of a woman, especially if the woman is handicapped or the mother of a blue-eye, angelical looking baby.
Weddings. During the day the temperature is scorchingly high, but mornings and evenings are lovely, so lovely that walking back and forth between the two enormous flames illuminating the statue of the ex-president’s father and
that of his mother’s—a whole mile—you can spot couples sitting in the dark, hugging, kissing and almost invariably an old man sitting by himself on the next bench—most likely their chaperone. This park is also a picture point for brides and grooms like this newlywed we ran into. She looks her best in a complicated wedding gown of frills and beads and corset bones, a tiara of made-believe diamonds, white stilettos of course, lacey vest and flashy wheels. A Toyota Corolla all decked up waiting for her down on the street. The car is dressed with all the desert amulets and talismans the culture has to offer; ancient traditions rooted in the belief that a set of camels reins and Akhalteke stud
whips would protect the couple and bless the bride with a bountiful family.