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Spain and Portugal:

not in the “golden billion” club, but in a very gilded one

March 2001

I tried many times to read Don Quixote, but always set the book aside after thirty pages or so, until I finally realized that I will never absorb this masterpiece of world literature. Maybe Servantez didn’t hook me because I wasn’t interested in Spain, or maybe the deep meaning of the text was hidden from me; anyway, I was indifferent to the country of Spain, though I liked the Spanish language, mostly on account of two sounds it has: the “j” and the doubled “Rr”. The former turns Jesus into Hesus, passengers into pasaheros, while the latter revolutionizes the word “revolution”, making it sound attacking: Rrevolucion. It seemed to since childhood that all Spanish-language countries must be ferociously revolutionary.

My son Guerman suggested that we travel to Madrid, to exchange the drabness of Russian days for something colourful, and that Valya may get some new impressions from world-class museums. For that purpose, Madrid is a fine choice. However, I knew almost nothing about Madrid, and fearing that I might get bored in the course of the trip, I suggested visiting one more place. The choice shaped up to be between Barcelona and Lisbon. Some recommended former, some the latter, but eventually we chose Lisbon, for the purpose of seeing two countries on one trip. Besides, that’s where Vasco da Gama’s remains repose, and I always had respect for explorers.

Prior to a trip Valya always makes thorough preparations, so as not to lose time on searches for the best deals and tourist amenities. She does it through the Internet, examining itineraries, transport options, hotels, weather conditions and other things necessary for a tourist to know. I did my own preparations by buying a Russian-Spanish phrase book a week before departure, intending to master Spanish sufficiently to communicate in the streets and in restaurants. At that time I only knew two phrases in Spanish: No pasaran (They shall not pass) and Patria o muerte (fatherland or death). In the time left, I managed to add very little to that vocabulary, mostly not very needful words, such as equipaje, joieria, piseria. It was only in Spain that I learned my most important word: cervesa (beer).

I wasn’t much worried about Portuguese, for it seemed to me that to switch from Spanish to Portuguese you only need to replace “h” with “zh” or “sh”. That idea was largely correct, but reality was not so simple. Cervesa did indeed turn into servezha, Hesus into Zhesus, but the rest was a problem. In short, I was ill-prepared linguistically, and suffered the consequences constantly.

Our route was Moscow-Madrid-Lisbon-Madrid-Moscow. We told our son that the choice of airline didn’t matter, only the convenience of departure and arrival times, so he bought us tickets from good old Aeroflot.

Museums and palaces: the Spanish are first rate

The adaptation process went like this:

We arrived in Madrid, took a taxi, which delivered us for 4,500 pesetas (US$25) to the four-star Hotel NH Nacional, located opposite the Prado museum. The suite greeted us with a standard set of a bottle of port, several sorts of tea, coffee and chocolates. It was cozy, with a good view, but we were taken aback by the transparent glass door of the bathroom. We decided to suppress this manifestation of our feudal backwardness and embrace the new concept of sanitary service. It was 10:00 p.m, and the streets outside were full of lights and people. I went out to buy beer; a liter bottle of "Mahou" cost me just over US$1, and the beer was excellent, better, at any rate, than the popular Russian brands.

The next day was Saturday. Valya knew from the Internet that admission to the Prado would be free in the afternoon, so we went to see the city in the morning. With our habit of getting along everywhere in Europe with English, we immediately realized it would not be so easy in Madrid. The Spaniards insist on their self-worth even in the tourist trade, letting you know that you should bother to learn their language before coming. Correct idea.

Our problems started in the restaurant where we decided to have lunch. The menu was in Spanish. The waiter was hurried and inattentive. We chose entrees by the pictures in the menu, and Valya asked for soup (our son had recommended a certain Spanish soup, but we forgot its name). My dish was brought, and Valya’s soup also – it resembled water from boiled fish. Some time later we inquired about Valya’s dish and were told that is was not offered, or, rather, we gathered it from gestures. The hungry Valya asked for coffee and chocolate cake – items that sound alike in all languages. Instead of glasses, they brought us two shots of espresso – Spaniards don’t drink any other kind of coffee. We realized that Spaniards are not interested in knowing English, which earned them our instant respect. Also we got to enjoy the amusing spectacle of Japanese tourists attempting to use knives as chopsticks.

Del Prado and the Maja with the incorrect bosom

This is one of the biggest art museums in the world, ranking together with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The guide book says that it houses 6,000 paintings and 400 classical sculptures. Naturally, all the great ones are represented: the Italians Rafael, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Bassano; the Dutchmen Rubens, Van Dyke, Memling, Veyden; the Frenchmen Poussin, Peret and others; the Germans Cranach, Durer, Holbein, Breugel, Mengs; and, of course, the pride of Spain – El Greco, Ribera, Velasques, Murillo and Goya.

Frankly speaking, I know nothing about painting and only go to art galleries because of Valya, so that she has someone to share her impressions with. She believes, for instance, that Rubens (as well as his apprentices, whose paintings he often signed) was a hack whose painting work was often barely literate. This may well be true, since all important art museums in the worlds have several of his paintings each; even a great artist couldn’t have created that many masterpieces. Still, I approve of his well fleshed-out women. The look of them inspires confidence that humankind will always procreate. (Modern women with their fashionably skinny look inspire opposite thoughts). Murillo, too, painted very cute girls in one of his pictures, but these girls are flying in the sky for some reason – flying despite their considerable amount of flesh. Valya likes Murillo, she even bought a book about him. 

I always liked Goya’s peintura of the nude Maja, but Valya managed to find fault with it: turns out that her right breast is anatomically supposed to droop, instead of sticking upward and even curving toward the neck. The criticism was convincing, but I suggested that maybe something like silicon injections was practiced even back then, or maybe Spanish women simply looked like that in those times. Goya’s other paintings scare Valya, but I distracted her from those horrors by observing that the frames on the great artist’s paintings are too simple, just planks, not even gilded. This irritated her for some reason, and we left the Goya room, as I intended.

The Prado palace itself is grandiose, decorated with sculptures on the outside, including a statue of Goya which I posed with for a photo. The wrong-breasted Maja is also depicted on that monument. On the inside, the Prado is very simple, totally unlike the Hermitage and other palaces of the Russian emperors. Valya suggested that this simplicity is intentional, so that the visitors are not distracted from the paintings. I was determined to concentrate on the paintings and went to read the inscriptions under them, but they were all in Spanish only. Without knowing the subject, it was hard to figure out just what was depicted on each painting. In short, I did not emerge from the gallery enriched in any way, except that a visit to the Prado is now in my resume.

A Walk in the City

In the evening we went for a walk. Madrid is even more beautiful at night than in daytime. The best buildings are lighted on the outside, which creates quite an impression. Most of these buildings are in baroque, classical or neoclassical style, powerful and beautiful. The Palace of Communications is especially fine; it was built in the late 18th century and was home to the Duke of Alba, whom I read about in Feuchtwanger's book on Goya. Next stop was Colon square, with its tall monument to Christopher Columbus. After that, we found ourselves in Plaza de Espagna, facing Miguel Servantez flanked by Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa – an impressive group.

The following morning we went to the main square of Madrid – the Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate), from which the count of miles starts on all the highways radiating from Madrid to different corners of Spain. In this square there is a mounted monument to king Philip II of Spain, and near it there is a statue of a bear sniffing at a madrona tree. This bear statue is a symbol of Madrid, depicted on the city’s coat of arms.

Nearby is the famous Plaza Major, with another mounted monument – this one to Philip III. The buildings surrounding the square wall-to-wall are in early 17th century baroque style. It is all very clean and beautiful. On Sundays this square is occupied by a flea market, where instead of fleas they sell stamps and medals. We saw the Gold Medal of a Hero of the Soviet Union for sale at 85,000 Ps (about US$470). The medal of the Order of the Great Patriotic War, 2nd degree went for 5,000 Ps. Apparently, Russian war veterans are losing their remaining dignity.

We entered a coffee shop and experienced miscommunication once again. Valya asked for one espresso and one regular coffee, pointing at a big cup. The waiter nodded and brought two espressos, one of them in a big cup. Valya asked for a glass of water, the waiter nodded, as if to signify understanding, and started warming something in his machine, then he brought Valya a glass of hot milk. We said grasias.

After USA, Canada, Germany, Britain, France and other “advanced countries” the expressions of faces in the streets attracts attention. The faces in Madrid are normal, vital, lively, with no hint of idiocy or degeneration. Skinheads and painted-hair young punks are nowhere to be seen, there are no piercings in sight apart from earrings. We didn't even see any representatives of “sexual minorities” of the kind who shocked us on our previous trips, especially in Hamburg. Either we walked in the wrong places, or Spain is still untouched by all these developments. Our general impression was that of a healthy nation.

One more peculiarity: no jaywalking, just like in Germany. That was something we didn’t expect to see in Spain. But one must keep in mind that Madrid is just a part of Spain. We heard that the people of Barcelona are very different from the capital folks, and that southerners are still farther removed from either of those. This well might be true.

The Thiessen Museum: beauty and ugliness

The next day I followed Valya to the Thiessen Museum of Art. It is smaller that the Prado, but full of classical paintings just the same. We were even in luck: we caught the touring exhibition of early Renaissance paintings with plenty of names I never heard before.

The main collection boasts the familiar names of Durer, Titian, Cranach, Rafael. A painting in a corridor caught my attention, titled Young Jesus with red flowers. This Jesus looks like a girl in a red dress – very pretty. To tell the truth, I’m pretty tired of pictures depicting Christ, His Mother and the Apostles; the pictures without them I like better, and these only started to appear with the start of Renaissance, i.e. with the start of liberation from obscurantism.

French Impressionists are well represented at the Thiessen. So are, surprisingly, many Russian artists of the degenerative persuasion: Larionov, Burlyuk, Kandinsky, Filonov, Shagall, even someone named L.S.Popova.  I’m not convinced that their works should be counted as art, or else I need to explain what vandalism means. Shagall’s painting “The Village Madonna” depicts a cow flying in the sky, a fiddle ahead of it, a “madonna” clutching some guy, and some candles on the side. I suspect that Shagall simply depicted his hangover nightmares. Madam Popova’s paintings contain nothing but multi-colored triangles of the kind that earned me F marks in grade school.

Apparently, it wasn’t just Russian artists who suffered from intoxication of vision. Take Mark Rothko. One of his paintings is a square 2,5 by 2,5 m colored dirty violet, with a green square in the middle. Or take another “titan”: Louis Morris from Baltimore. His painting, also 2,5 by 2,5, is titled Pillars of Hercules. It has rust-colored streaks of paint on one side, mud-colored streaks on the other side, and some green streaks which are probably supposed to depict the Pillars. If only Hercules could see this! And there is also an "Untitled" work by one Stil Clifford, which has nothing but dirty-brown paint mixed with dirty-gray paint, and a yellow spot resembling a child’s feces. The author never even managed to think up a name for this. One more genius: Kuning William from Rotterdam, who smeared a bunch of paints over a canvas and called it Redman with Moustache. There’s nothing even remotely resembling a man there, to say nothing of the moustache.

A painting by Picasso caught my eye, titled Corrida de Torro. It shows a deformed bull-man dashing somewhere. But the absolute peak appears to be the work by Sornberg called Composition #104 “White on White”. On a white canvas it has two barely visible triangles. Another joker, one Kurt Spitters from Hanover, just took a frame and fastened to it some nails, twigs and a bit of a towel. A work of art is ready!

I’m amazed that someone actually does look at this stuff. The amazement is decreased somewhat by the knowledge about the numbers of mentally ill people in the world. I must note that all the people I saw in these halls passed them without even slowing down, since the majority are still mentally normal.

It seemed to me that Spaniards should be a very pious nation due to historical reasons. We visited many churches and cathedrals and found surprisingly few people there. Those people did not manifest religious exaltation of the kind I observed in Russian churches. I was also surprised by the modest interior decorations of all these churches except possibly the Convent of the Incarnation, with its murals by Ventura Rodriguez. It is the same in Lisbon, by the way.

East + West = Lisboa

We decided to go to Lisbon by train. Fortunately, the ticket vendor could speak some English, at least he could answer “yes” or “no” with conviction, and he sold us 1st class tickets. 1st class means two bunks per compartment that can be used by persons of opposite sex. Other compartments have four bunks and must contain only same-sex passengers. The two-way fare was US$248 for two.

Apart from the two bunks, the compartment had a sink, a set of toiletry (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, comb), mineral water, a phone set for contacting the coach attendant, a magnetic lock operated from the outside. We also received tickets for a continental breakfast to be served at the restaurant car.

No one was waiting for us at the train station when we arrived in the morning. We were not subjected to any immigration or customs procedures, no kind of passenger registration whatsoever, and found ourselves in a very provincial-looking station. Valya was prepared for the meeting with Lisbon – she’s always prepared – but still we were somewhat at a loss. Our initial impression was that something was lacking: either there was not enough people around for a capital city, or not enough beauty in its appearance. The lacking ingredient turned out to be infrastructure, the things that make a visitor’s stay comfortable and affordable. 

First of all we had to obtain some cash from a bank machine or an exchange bureau. The time was 8:30 a.m. To start with, we were unable to extract any cash from the bank machine. The machine refused to communicate with us, or maybe it had no cash. Anyway, it rejected all cards offered, ours as well as those of the American who was ahead of us and uttered periodically "shit" or "bullshit". We had to find another bank machine and the way to our hotel, and Valya addressed the nearest policeman – in English, naturally – showing him the printed address and pointing at the name Hotel Madrid. The policeman produced something like a street atlas, perused it for a long while with his finger, then addressed the nearby shoe polisher. The guy announced an address and indicated a direction for us – around the corner. We followed his directions and found the building number some 60 paces away. It turned out to be the same train station. Valya spotted the sign “Information” and started communications with the girl behind the counter. She marked the location of our hotel on the map. Valya knew from her Internet research that this hotel was some 1.5 km away from the train station, she even knew how it looked like. “How do we get there?” she asked, and the “agent” drew the route on the map.

‘What about metro, bus, taxi?” The girl cheered up: “Yes, yes, taxi. Taxis are very cheap in Lisbon”. I saw the sign Cambio (currency exchange) and traded some US$30 for Portuguese escudos. At the taxi stop, there was a lineup of about thirty people, and no cabs. Valya returned to the information bureau and asked if there was a metro station by the hotel. “Yes, but there is no metro at the train station”. “What about buses?” “You can get there by bus #12, but it doesn’t stop here”. Since our luggage consisted of only two light bags, we decided to walk to our hotel on that warm morning, and to heck with that kind of service, the information girl, the policeman, the shoeshine guy, not to mention their bank machine. I am an ace at reading maps.

A walk to Madrid along the Teju

Our route started on the embankment of the river Teju (a very wide river, up to 3 km at one point). On first sight the city resembled the port city of Sukhumi on the Black Sea: somewhat dirty, with broken sidewalks (which no one seems to mind), but the air is pleasant, mild, and there are plenty of palm trees. The buildings remind one of kitchens or bathrooms, for all the facades are covered with many-colored ceramic tiles. We knew, of course, that the people of Lisbon are proud of their tiles and keep safe the secret of their manufacture. Still it looks like kitchen walls.

Some 40 minutes later we turned right, as indicated in the map. Thirty minutes later we emerged into some square. Valya made another attempt to get a policeman’s assistance. This officer, too, immersed himself thoughtfully in our map and offered no directions. A grocer who was there waved us forward with his hand. We had walked 1.5 km several times over by then. It should be noted that the city is located on hills, and while one street may be even, the one intersecting it would be very steep. Valya appeared to be somewhat disheartened, though she still looked around her with interest. We were tired and slowing down. The indicated direction took us across the poorest quarters of Lisbon, resembling the Arab part of Jerusalem. The streets were full of off-leash dogs and their droppings. It was beginning to look like the “Third world”. After two hours of walking we arrived at the Hotel Madrid, located in a posh street, surrounded by upscale shops. The next day we learned by accident about our mistake: turns out that the train station 1.5 km removed from the hotel is the local station located in the downtown area. The lesson is: take more care when ordering through the Internet.

The four-star hotel was more modest than the one in Madrid. No refreshments here, no minibar, a bare minimum of toiletries, but at least the suite was pretty big. There was no remote control in it, and we had to ask for it – twice; the reply both times was “right away”. The smiling black girl also forgot to supply bath towels.

On our way to the hotel we noted several things. Firstly, many sidewalks are decorated with mosaics, and they are very narrow, sometimes no wider than my foot. Secondly, many buildings are decorated with blue-toned ceramic tiles – a tradition inherited from the Moors. Thirdly, the Portuguese are prone to jaywalking, unlike the residents of Madrid. Fourthly, there are plenty of lemon trees and other subtropical plants. Fifthly, there are plenty of clothes hung out to “dry” on balconies and windows – in the rain. Sixthly, there are even fewer English-speakers here than in Madrid, and the Portuguese language appeared to be rather different from Spanish (to which we had gotten used to somewhat).

Still, we liked the city’s unusual look. Its way of life seemed like an imitation of European ways. It has the same store every big city in Europe has, but in essence it looks like a Middle-Eastern city.

Bacalau is not a fountain, and the city is very much a Samson

First of all we decided to have lunch. We picked a restaurant randomly. The menu was in Portuguese. Valya requested a menu in English. The waiter gestured for us to wait and soon returned with an English menu, but then he proceeded to retell it to us in Portuguese; we gathered only that some entrees were available and some were not. Valya slowly pronounced the word “fish”. The waiter nodded, but first he brought us a plate with ham and cheese. This became our main entrée, since the fish, when it arrived, proved to be inedible. It smelled funny, resembling pickled fish smoked slightly on a grill in order to kill the smell. This was one of the 365 varieties of the famous bacalau. Valya and I realized that we were not likely to ever become fans of the Portuguese cuisine. We paid about US$30 and left the restaurant, determined to stick to Chinese food from then on. But that proved to be difficult, since the Chinese restaurants in Lisbon are only open for two hours in the morning and two-three hours in the evening. We then switched to self-procurement, buying familiar foodstuffs in grocery stores; it was cheaper that way. Lisbon turned out to be a very affordable city.

Being professional tourists, we divided the city into squares and starting going through them, beginning with the downtown area. We marked three key spots: the Market Square below, the Rossiu Square in the middle, the Marquis Pombal Square above. Rossiu and Pombal Squares are connected by the central street Avenida de Liberdada. We found there plenty of monuments to writers and politicians. I confess that none of the names were familiar to me. Marquis Pombal turned out to be an important political reformer of the early 18th century. None of my intellectual friends have heard of the poet Luis Camoens (1524-1580), playwright Antonio Ribeira (1520-1591) or poet Fernandu Pessoa (1888-1935). With the latter monument I posed for a photograph.

Well, since we don’t know the classics of foreign literatures, we shouldn’t wonder that some people abroad don’t know Pushkin, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. We Russians have this strange feature: we imagine that everyone knows our culture. I have disappointing news for you, reader: during our stay in Spain and Portugal, Russia wasn’t mentioned even once on television. Information about Russia is absent in the mass media of all countries I have visited to date, except USA, Japan and China, and in the first two of these three, the information is mostly negative. Even in Canada I had to explain to some young people more than on one occasion that there exists a country called Russia. By the way, the four-star hotel in Lisbon has only seven TV channels, two of them Spanish, and the rest sharing a lot of programming. The only channel in English is a sports channel, endlessly repeating the same program.

Anyhow, we found Rossiu Square to be in a state of repairs. Its name derives from the word meaning red. The Market Square is considered the most beautiful one in Lisbon. Many streets converge on it, including the main street Rua Augusta; it enters the square trough the Arc of Triumph that had been 118 years in construction. In the middle there’s a mounted monument to King Jose I, under whom Marquis Pombal carried out his reforms.

Having taken a look at the downtown core, we started exploring the district adjacent to the San Jorgi fortress and the Casteleju Castle. We made our way up steep narrow streets and enjoyed the unique panoramic view of the city from the castle. We also spotted from there the National Pantheon Santa Engrasis and the church San Vicente de Fora. Those two landmarks appeared to be close by, but it took us much time and effort to reach them on foot. That part of the city is far from rich, populated with all kinds of folks; the condition of the streets and the look of the tenements are quite telling. We figured out that the only way to ask for directions is to say just one word – the name of your destination. The locals immediately start answering in Portuguese, ignoring your English or whatever other language you direct at them. Walking up one of the steep, twisted streets, we regarded the tram rails laid on it in disbelief, but our doubts were laid to rest when a tram suddenly appeared, screeching, and negotiated the turn, passing just 10 cm from a house wall. A man standing there would have been squished.

The Pantheon, unique in its architectural design, was started back in the 16th century, but the construction was completed only in 1966. It houses the crypts of great leaders of the Church and the State. The San Vicente Church is considered the most important religious monument in Lisbon; it has many treasures, including the collection of glazed ceramic tableau (azulesus). We were all alone inside the church, it being off-season for tourists. But I didn’t like the smell of decay emanating from the crypts.

From those heights of human spirit and wonderful monuments we descended to Alfama – the district that can be called Lisbon’s ghetto, except that it is safer and merrier than, say, Harlem. The streets are so narrow that one wonders how do trams manage to squeeze through. The population’s skin color is not white, and the streets are drenched in sewage and feces. We won’t forget one black woman who told us how tourists are supported through this district. She approached me and said something like this: your equipajo is on your back, while it should be on your belly, otherwise you will be sorry to tears – and she rolled her eyes and made a sorrowful face.

Then somehow we found ourselves in an underground realm. We were trying to enter a metro station, but found ourselves in a four-level shopping mall, full of noise and smoke, both produced by folks clearly originating from the Black Continent. The place is called The Commercial. All around us people were smoking, eating, singing, trading, sleeping. We two were the only whites there. A short while ago we were admiring baroque palaces and churches, and suddenly we were in a pit. Valya was reminded of a horror movie, and she dragged me out of there, tearing me away from an interesting spectacle. Outside, on the surface, we beheld a curious sight: a whole row of shoe-shiners, all of them white, were diligently polishing shoes for black folks. The ultimate in equality has been achieved!

We dedicated the final day of our stay to the aristocratic districts of Baisha and Carmo. The day before we took an evening tour (rather expensive at US$52) that took us to the Belem district. It is a miracle out there. We were stunned by the Jeronimus Monastery where the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Camoens are. The interiors are impressive, but the exterior defies description in its beauty. Just look at the photo.

On the bank of the Teju stands Lisbon’s main landmark – the Belen Tower (Torre de Belen), built in the early 16th century. In 1983 UNESCO proclaimed it to be one of “the cultural treasures of humankind”. There are many interesting things inside. Beside the tower stands the impressive Monument to Discoverers. It is in the shape of a caravella, and lined on the deck are the men who are the glory of Portugal: Henry the Seafarer, Vasco da Gama, Bartolomeo Dias, and others. We were also taken to the National museum of carriages, which made no impression on me. My perception of carriages since childhood was antagonistic, or maybe I was just unreceptive. The resting place of Vasco da Gama was so much more interesting to me!

Just before our departure from Lisbon we decided to buy some souvenir and went shopping. We found a shop with the funny name Bulbul and a café called Abracadabra (a clone of McDonald’s). But since we had no concrete goal, we never bought anything; we didn’t even see any souvenir specific to Portugal.

Lisbon shook us with its contrasts: from majestic palaces and cathedrals to foul slums and undergrounds. Well, I guess that is what makes the city interesting. I now say Lishboa instead of Lisbon, because that’s how the Portuguese call it. The city’s populace contains all the same contrasts; the crust of society and its bottom are always side by side.

The final minutes of our stay in Lisboa are also memorable and possibly instructive to some readers. I was standing on the platform by the door of our car, smoking the last cigarette. A young man approached me and inquired in passable English whether I spoke English. “Sure”, replied I joyfully. "О, that's great", he exclaimed and started telling me that someone was supposed to pick him up, but the car never came. He desperately needed to get to Madrid, but he had not a single escudo with him. Could I lend him some money, please? “I have no escudos left either, sorry”. “No escudos needed. Just give me a couple hundred bucks and your address, and I will send you the money”. “Do I look like an imbecile?” “No, you don’t. Well, sorry then. I will try another guy”, he said, departing with a smile. “It will never hurt to try. Good luck”, I told him. The train started moving minutes later, and I saw the guy walking back to the station with a satisfied grin. His next attempt must have worked…

*   *   *

We were returning full of impressions, but the feast was over the moment we arrived in Sheremetevo Airport. We were greeted by a flock of baggage carriers offering to carry our bags; Russia is the only country in the world where baggage cart are not for passengers’ use – only for the professionals. The flock of cabbies offering their services for mind-boggling sums is also a phenomenon unique to Moscow. Deceit and unreliability are obvious everywhere from the very first moments. The international airport appeared dark after the bright one in Madrid. Outside, there was dirty snow and slush everywhere. In the metro, the lights were also dim – must be power-saving measures. The passengers’ faces were tired, flaccid, unsmiling. There is resignation in the eyes of the residents of this country whose leaders call it a Great Power.

But then we remembered Madrid and Lisboa and lightened up.

From  Oleg Arin and Valentina Arina. Between Titi and Kaka. The Impressions of a Tourist…but not only (Moscow: Alliance, 2001).