"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Russian Journals, Part Seven, Busted at the GUM

Here’s another lesson in Russian for you. The name of that big department store in Moscow is not pronounced “gum.” It’s “goom,” rhymes with “boom.”


I had no idea what to expect when told we would be going to GUM. I never would have guessed, either, because what I found was beyond anything I could imagine. For years I’d heard about the poor working people of Russia, how their grocery shelves were bare, how they lined up for hours to get one loaf of bread or one potato.


I know glasnost (openness) and perestroika(relaxation of regulations) changed a lot of things, and even more changed when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. I’d heard that times were really tough, that lawlessness and the Russian mafia made life even worse than before the fall. I’d heard that things were getting better for the average Russian working person in the past few years


Nevertheless, I did not expect the reality of the GUM. I’m going to show you a picture you’ve seen before, as it’s the best way to orient you, and I have no idea why I think it’s important to orient you. Perhaps it’s because I finally figured out the orientation myself.


Behind the tourist is St. Basil’s cathedral. To the left is one of the red brick towers of the Kremlin wall. Behind the cathedral is Red Square. On the right is a façade masking a construction site, and behind the site, facing Red Square, is the Gum Store.


I have another picture, but to get there we have to walk around the construction site.





Watch your step. That middle board is broken.



Watch your head.


C’mon, c’mon. Don’t have time to stop at the sidewalk vendor, even if the brands are familiar.




Follow Natasha. She’s walked us around the construction site and is approaching Red Square from behind St. Basil’s cathedral. That’s the GUM department store on the right, but it isn’t open yet, so we’ll go look at a piece of Red Square for a few minutes.




Okay. I mentioned before that Red Square was off limits to tourists today because it’s set up with reviewing stands for a big celebration, all for Moscow’s 850th anniversary. This is all of it we were able to see. There’s St. Basil’s on the left (we’re on the opposite side of it now) and the red tower of the Kremlin in the middle. Beside us, and out of the picture, is the GUM.




Doors are opening. Let’s go in. Follow Natasha.



Uh oh. High fashion. Not my kind of store.



Official Olympic team apparel.

One of our group dropped around $300 on a jacket and a couple hats.


Central fountain. This is our meeting place. Now scatter and try not to get lost.



This is a huge store. Seven hundred and ninety feet long with an arched glass roof, this mall contains around 200 stores on three levels. It was one of the very few stores that did not have shortages during even the worst years of Soviet rule. It did, however, have Stalins’ second wife’s body on display after her “suicide” in 1932.


While many stores feature high fashion brands familiar in the West, the joke is that these are “exhibitions of prices,” because no one could afford to actually buy those items on display.



Oh, dear.


Oh, my.


This could get ugly.




Groan....



Ah, a sidewalk cafe.



Then a cage full of melons led me to a supermarket. A supermarket like I’ve never seen before.



I walked along window after window of elaborate food displays, talking pictures through the glass. The store was endless. In the spaces that could have been a number of stores, each area was dedicated to a certain type of product—meat, fish, fancy baked goods, liquor, preserved vegetables, chocolates and candies, and one and on.






Olives and another huge sausage of some kind.



Cured meats




I walked along window after window of elaborate food displays, talking pictures through the glass. The store was endless. In the spaces that could have been a number of stores, each area was dedicated to a certain type of product—meat, fish, fancy baked goods, liquor, preserved vegetables, chocolates and candies, and one and on.




Through the windows I could see produce, fresh meats, liquor, aisle after aisle of cans and jars and containers of specialty gourmet items. Finally I found an entrance door, and the fish counter was before me. This is the only picture I got inside the store.


Why? Because right then a security guard came over, pointed at my camera, and waggled his finger in the universal no-no gesture. Busted. I put the camera in my pocket, and ambled off through the store.


Clear at the other end, I tried it again. Another guard with the finger waggle, only this one added in English, “No pictures.” Busted again.


I strolled through a huge confectionary section, Those guys in business suits with the earpieces were everywhere! Just to spite them, I went back outside the store and took more photos of window displays.


Then I began to wonder what they would do if they saw me doing that? Take my camera? Ship me to Siberia? Heck, I could walk home from Siberia.


Well, it was time to meet back at the central fountain, so I hung onto my little camera and made my way back. Every store, every outlet had a security guy in a business suit. There are lots of security jobs in Russia.




These guys are everywhere.


3 comments:

  1. How surreal. Were people (besides tourists) shopping?

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  2. Being exiled to Siberia sure wouldn't be a problem! You can nearly see it from your front porch, right?

    That's one out-of-this-world store, only it truly exists in our world.

    I wonder, as Beth does, if you saw any non-tourists shopping.

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  3. I got pictures of some adorable hedgehog-shaped cakes in that grocery store. Isn't that grocery mind-blowing?

    ReplyDelete