8 songs, 31 min, 11 min reading time.
Spending the summer in Moscow, letting everyone know how I’m doing.
1) “Back in the USSR” – The Beatles
No guesses as to why I chose this song. Everyone was a bit surprised (understatement) and even a little concerned when I announced I was heading back to Russia so soon after spending a year in Siberia, myself included. When I last came back from Russia, I felt haggard, browbeaten and slightly scarred, and told myself I needed at least 5 years of recovery time in the West before I could even think about returning. Living in Russia is no easy feat and definitely does not fit into the usual ‘year abroad, travelling and finding yourself’ stereotypes. If you’re fond of orderly queues, a lover of good food, enjoy a temperate climate and not a Russian, you’ll probably find it tough. Yet here I am, living on ‘Lenin Street’ just off of ‘Gagarin Square,’ and I have had trouble finding cheese and have been rudely elbowed whilst queuing for the metro, but I’m glad to be back.
Album: “The Beatles (Remastered)” (1968)
Label: Apple Corps
2) “Pour un flirt” – Michel Delpech
What summer’s complete without a bit of summer romance? Within an hour of landing in Russia, I’d already been instructed by my Russian taxi driver to spend this summer finding myself a Russian husband, preferably one called Ivan. After a rather memorable date to see Lenin’s dead body and some rather interesting Tinder profile spotting (see my Twitter for more on that), I put those ideas on hold in favour of doing other things like running. Of course, running carries with it its own problems as a park ranger (Aleksei, lots of missing teeth, we have shared a hug) who works in the park I run in, has decided he loves me, meaning my runs always get off to a speedy start when he spots me warming up, starts running towards me, and I start sprinting away in the opposite direction as fast as I can.
Album: “Pour Un Flirt – Vol.1” (1993)
Label: Capitol Music
3) “True Romance” – Citizens!
Here’s a song I listen to when I run here. There’s a very accurate rule that applies to Russians – if they don’t know you, they’re not likely to be that friendly – I mean why would they be, you’re a total stranger to them – hence the daily rudeness on the street. As soon as they recognise you or can place you in some kind of social context, their attitude completely changes and they become almost overwhelmingly friendly. I’ve seen this on my runs – just a couple of weeks into getting onto the Moscow running scene, I’d already started getting smiles and waves from fellow joggers who recognised the sight of me panting and sweating away on the running track – something I never experienced in London. I’m also a regular at the Gorky parkrun – it’s not as big a deal in Russia as in the UK, but in a way that’s a good thing – 50 or so people show up each week, we all have a bit of a chat (including me in my broken Russian), and at the end everyone gets cake and tea. Lovely.
Album: “Here We Are” (2012)
Label: Kitsuné Musique
4) “Piano Concerto No.2” – Dmitri Shostakovich
This one’s off my work playlist and is by Shostakovich – my favourite of the big Russian composers. I came to Moscow to do a marketing internship and happily work has become a kind of oasis of peace in the madness of the city around me. I know that in my office I will always arrive and leave at the same time, sit on the same chair, see the same people, eat the same cookies from the cookie cupboard, and generally have quite a nice time sitting at my desk doing pretty interesting work. I’ll admit that marketing is perhaps not the love of my life, but it’s refreshing to finally learn about something that isn’t strictly academic. Also, my colleagues are long term muscovites, with their recommendations of things to do and see in Moscow giving me some of my best days out here.
Compilation: “Soft Piano” (2016)
5) “Food, Glorious Food” – Oliver!
There is a reason why Russia is not famed for its cuisine – although I can wholeheartedly recommend the joys of Georgian food, Russian dumplings and Russian honey cake, I’ve also had some serious problems sourcing good bread, chocolate and hummus, resulting in a series of worried messages from my mum asking why I’d lost so much weight in my pictures. Additionally, there are still strict sanctions on cheese imports, meaning I won’t be able to get my cheddar fix until September. The prevalence of what I fondly term ‘mystery meat’ is a further problem (‘what’s in this burger?’ ‘Meat.’ ‘But what type of meat?’ ‘Meat.’) so I have gone vegetarian. I spend a lot of my time planning the shopping list that I will give to my parents when I arrive back home to a country that actually stocks M&S hummus.
Album: “Oliver! (1994 London Palladium Cast Recording)” (1995)
6) “Otcze Nasz” – St. Peter St. Paul Cathedral Choir of Minsk
The one area in which Moscow absolutely excels is its vast collection of museums. I am fortunately a fan of museums, so go to a couple every weekend (although I’m steering clear of the ‘museum of living dolls’ for now). Museums are a place where the absolute chaos of daily life in Moscow no longer matters (though you still have to brave the massive queues) and I can finally concentrate on the parts of Russia that I love – the culture, the art, the literature, the music. Being able to focus on this and not anything else means I always leave a museum or gallery here feeling much happier than when I stepped in. The same applies to Russian churches. However problematic I find Russian orthodoxy, their choral music has an almost otherworldly beauty. Coming into a church straight off the streets of Moscow (these are generally covered in roadworks and filled with angry pedestrians and the noise of drilling and sirens) is a very calming experience indeed.
Album: “Golden Russian Orthodox Church Music” (2010)
7) “Eternal” – Holly Herndon
This song conveys quite a lot of the chaos I feel on a daily basis in Moscow. Everything is just a little bit harder here. Playing ‘dodge the pedestrian’ in the street, jumping out of the way of shopping trolleys in the supermarket, trying to work out what animal the meat you’re eating came from, the extra effort it takes to carry out social interactions in a completely different language from your own in a country that has a totally different history and culture to your own… There’s a lot to take in and a lot of it’s very hard to find pleasure in. Fortunately I’ve got my books, got my museums, got running, music and friends so I’m (just about) on top of it all.
Album: “PROTO” (2019)
8) “Linden Lea” – Vaughan Williams
I listen to this when I’m homesick. There’s a part of me that’s annoyed about my choice of coming to Moscow. I could definitely have happily finished up uni and spent this summer merrily getting pissed in pub gardens, going camping in the Great British Outdoors and overdosing on hummus and nice chocolate. There’s no regret though – this summer feels like a rather drawn out goodbye to both the good and the bad parts of Russia and after having spent four years of my life studying it, this isn’t a bad way to finish at all.
Compilation: “Vaughan Williams Essentials” (2008)
Label: Warner Classics & Jazz