News & Sport Editor of TNT Magazine Tom Sturrock returns to write for us, this time with a fascinating account of Moscow’s changing identity.
On the eastern side of Red Square, the GUM – pronounced goom – stands out, even from several blocks away, its fusion of medieval and contemporary architecture making it one of Moscow’s most identifiable buildings.
In the most austere days of the Soviet Union, the GUM was one of the few stores not desperately short of consumer goods, and queues were known to snake out across Red Square. There are still queues, but for different reasons – the GUM is fancy as hell. With its elegantly curved glass ceiling and criss-crossing miniature bridges, the GUM is where Moscow’s new upper-class does its shopping.
Here, bejewelled with the trappings of consumption – the fancy shoes, the top-shelf vodka, the Beluga caviar – stands Moscow’s epic monument to a new way of life.
Equally, Moscow’s underground is like no other – forget Earl’s Court Tube – its stations garishly opulent, like a Bolshevik Harrods, all bathed in ethereal, soft-yellow light. Stalin, of course, wanted to demonstrate the power and wealth of the Soviet empire, so he built cavernous train stations decked out in mosaic archways, stained-glass windows and majestic bronze tableaus.
A whoosh of hot air heralds the arrival of a train bound for the city centre. Commuters jostle for position, hard elbows splayed and well-aimed.
Night has fallen. It’s peak-hour. A twenty-something couple lean against the cracked green interior of the train. They’re moddish, serious and self-conscious – if they were Londoners, they’d live in a garish quarter of Shoreditch; he with his cheeky back-combed mullet, wispy moustache and crumpled suit jacket, she with her super-tight skinny jeans and enormous hoop earrings.
They alight at Dostoevskaya station, in one of Moscow’s satellite suburbs – it’s a long way from the glittering neon and dramatic architecture of Moscow’s cosmopolitan heart. Here, the buildings are towering slabs of grim functionality, the shops bare as empty boxes, the whole milieu pockmarked with mesh fencing that seems more designed to reinforce than protect. This thoroughly modern young couple turn and head out into the night, enfolded by the remnants of a bygone era that is yet to concede its day is done.
– Tom Sturrock