Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Moscow snow satisfaction, Berezovsky,Tolstoy's house, Benjamin Franklin's advice, sic transit gloria mundi...

Moscow is marvellous under five feet of snow. It makes me want to throw myself into it and roll around like a ten year old boy, then get up and become a fighter plane, then morph into a cowboy on a rearing horse, gallop across the snow into town, heading for the saloon and a shoot out.

But instead we begin the day with a swim in our fitness club, which is deserted, the wealthy new Russians that usually frequent it have left for Cyprus in a desperate bid to rescue their ill - gotten gains from German bankers. Marx was right, our governments are little more than the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, and the leading bourgeoisie club of our times is the western bankers club, which must always get its money back but never has to pay its own debts.
It’s nice work if you can get it, and, as Billie Holiday sang so beautifully, you can get it if you try, so don’t complain if you don’t get it, it was your choice.

Invigorated by our swimming, we Metro down to Leo Tolstoy’s place.

It is almost a spooky experience, one feels like an intruder into private grief. Lenin ordered that everything in it should remain as it was, and it wasn’t that long ago that the great writer and humanitarian with his wife and many children were scrambling around the modest property that we were now poking our noses around in. The dinner table is set, the family are yet to sit down - but how can they?, we are there, in the way, strangers, wanting to feel what it’s like to be them, just as the peasants of his time came thousands of kilometres just to stare at his house and catch a glimpse of him.

Leo wanted us all to live a simple life and to realise that we don’t need much - but unfortunately he was never going to get far with that line. Gandhi loved him, and although he threw off the British Empire with it, present day Indians are not very keen on the simple life. Martin Luther King was inspired by him, and thank God for that, but black Americans are the same as white Americans, by and large, mostly large, they are materialistic.

But look at Leo, look at what he did : he ran up a fortune in gambling debts; he spent time in the  army getting shot at for his country; he saw the light and then tried to live according to the Sermon on the Mount; he built an ice rink in his garden every winter that the peasants could come and use for free; he built thirteen schools for them too, and got himself excommunicated by the orthodox church for his pains, and on top of all that, wrote some brilliant novels and created a theory of non - violence against the state, which he saw as an endless source of oppression.
Phew, gee, let us bow deeply before him, yet the waters have closed over him and we need others to take up his cause.
Where are they?
Our kids seem to be obsessed with violent computer games - we can’t blame them, they are putty in the hands of abusive adult entrepreneurs with no moral compass on board.
And Where are their role models?
Obama is killing people in Pakistan with his own computer game, it’s called Drone War, playing to rules that his military - they’re the ones that have stolen the state, with their banking and defence industry pals, and ordering his military to arrest anyone who looks a bit terroristic.
Benjamin Franklin, another great dude, said that if you don’t want to be forgotten when you’re dead and rotten, write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.

Here in Moscow, and amongst the Russian diaspora in London, no one seems sad to see him go, however he went.
He was once a humble mathematician, probably doing useful work.
He decided to become very rich, he became very very rich, then he made a colossal strategic blunder :

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other. . . ….Macbeth

The blunder was to move to London and try to depose Putin from there.
A more strategic mind would have seen the futility in this - the podgy and priviliged elite of Britain saw no advantage in backing one thieving oligarch against an ex KGB man with the Russian state at his disposal.
So vaulting ambition, and greed, combined with a narrow intelligence and a total absence of Tolstoyan insight led him to lose more money than he ever made and end up hated by most of his own people, dead in the bath and having ignored Benjamin Franklin.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Talking of which, after Tolstoy’s place, we popped in to what was once the swankiest grocer in Moscow, Eliseevsky shop, the equivalent of Harrod’s food store, which during Soviet times was the pride, joy and pleasure of all of its citizens. They came here for a treat.

We were reminded of those old paintings which depicted the decline and fall of Rome - the Colosseum with weeds growing up through the seats - sure,the elaborate rococo ceiling with its sumptuous gold leaf is still there, but its splendour is fading fast.
The staff look tired and demoralised, the new owners have let the place go, so that the once distinctive exterior is now indistinguishable from the rest of the post perestroika tat on Tverskaya Street. 

Some of the customers were in fur and looked like expensive people looking for an expensive thing to buy - but they looked irritated by the ordinary looking plebeians around them.

Their quest to blow some bread would have been satisfied by the £1,000 tins of black caviar in the deli counter, but apart from that, a conscientious oligarch would be wasting his time in here.

We left, empty handed, and although I wanted to steal something for Elena, there was nothing worth risking time in the Gulag for.

It was time for a pint of beer at Moo Moo, a Soviet style canteen restaurant, where the food is good and cheap and the lager bracing. Here we could relax amongst our own kind, the weary proletariat, and reflect on how right Tolstoy, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and the great Peter Singer of One World fame all were : we have to learn how to live with nature, not rule over it, and to do that, we need to remember Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and find out where we came from.

We suspect it’s from nature, and we ought to learn how to fit in.

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