A time of day I do not wish to see.
But jet lag and traveling across time zones tricks the body into all sort of curious reactions. Mine right now is sleeplessness. I’ll regret this later today.
The sky is still dark night, of course. The streets of Moscow, in this area on the first ring road, northeast of Red Square, are nearly devoid of cars. Unlike New York City, with the clatter of trucks all night through, and a steady stream of something, Moscow does seem to rest at night.
And lunch is often between 2 and 4 p.m., with dinner after 8 p.m.
And the giant Atrium shopping mall is open, as a matter of course, until 11 p.m. daily.
So the body clock is wired differently here.
I shall now tell a story on myself.
Our work done for Thursday at the Conservatory, my Greek colleagues and I piled into the school car with the taciturn security driver, Dmitri (or Dmitry, as I’m uncertain of the local spelling). A long drive in later-afternoon traffic brought me back to my hotel. The plan was to rest for a bit, then meet Susie and Alex, both from Athens, at Tchaikovsky Hall for a performance by the Moscow Philharmonic of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Alex texted to say that I needed to be there at 1940 hours, and I should allow 40 minutes for traffic. I looked on-line to verify the location and found the concert was at 1900 hours — one hour earlier than I’d been told.
So. Yikes. I brush my teeth, pull on my suit jacket and overcoat, and descend 17 floors to ask the concierge for a taxi. (Foreigners do not hail taxis here, but instead prearrange a pick-up at a pre-agreed fare.). The concierge suggested I take the Metro. “Very simple.” And in theory, the concierge was correct.
Here begins the woe-filled portion of the tale, told in bullet points:
- Leaving the hotel, I turn left.
- And then left again, instead of right.
- Several blocks later, I realize my mistake, and turn around.
- To the northwest of my hotel is the eight-lane (but de facto ten-lane) Mashi Poryvayevoy ulitsa, a major boulevard that feeds into the ring road. One crosses this road only at the designated crosswalks, and the lights are timed to two minutes or more.
- So I wait, and cross . . .
- And then cannot find the entrance to the Metro station. I was caught in the train station complex, surrounded by hard-faced Muscovites who just wanted to get on their suburban light rail and go home.
- It’s now 6.20, and my Metro journey is posted for 30 minutes, with a concert start time of 7 p.m.
- I find the entrance to the Metro, and walked a city block underground, then figure out how to use the ticket machine that actually dispenses a new fare card. (I had started with a machine that only tops off the fare, and assumes you have a card already.)
- And then I go through the gate (55 rubles, by the way) only to find that the entrance to the #5 line is closed, and I must take the #1 line. So I try to work out the connecting station, and the direction of travel, on a map written in Cyrillic with teensy, you-must-have-good-eyes-to-read-this English words underneath, and I make my way to the #1 line in this terrifically crowded subway station. Did I mention that everyone just wants to go home?
- And I get on the #1 line in the wrong direction, going outbound rather than inbound.
- Two stops later (and these stops seem far apart), I again realize my mistake. And change directions, but not before waiting for a delayed southbound subway train.
- And then, recalibrating my route, I realize that I’m going to be 7.20 or after arriving for the 7 p.m. start to the concert, in a city I don’t know, where everything is written in Cyrillic and few people on the street speak English (it seems), and I’m perfectly fine and safe while sweating profusely from the too-fast walking to reach the too-elusive destination, and I’m having a good self-deprecating laugh while cursing the maladies of travel . . . and I return to the hotel.
- A stiff vodka tonic was my reward.
- But I missed Don Giovanni with a stellar international cast!
Chatting up the bartender last evening, after ordering a vodka tonic:
“Do Russians think it sacrilege that I order a vodka with tonic water?”
“Well, we don’t drink it that way, but most Americans do.”
I ask “And you don’t think we’re just filthy foreigners?”
“I tried it last year, and vodka with tonic is pretty good.” Quick answer. Puts me at ease. “But you know what I like better? Vodka with Sprite. I can chug that and get drunk faster.”
Sidebar: When the bill came later, I realized that my double vodka tonic had cost more — far more! — than my most excellent tagliatelle with Bolognese for dinner. Vodka is allegedly tasteless, but this was somehow one of the best vodka tonics I’ve ever tasted.
Perhaps I will try to sleep again.