From Russia With Love ….. Part 2: When you get to 52
Is that the time? I mean, is that REALLY the time? Saturday we get up at 15:00. I can give plenty of reasons for this disgraceful hour but frankly it’s better to move on – I’m not a fan of excuses. Out of the hotel into the bright sunshine and another lesson learned …. I live in Southern France. This is Russia. It is April. The sunshine is accompanied by a sharp chill and my bare legs instantly feel they need to move fast to stay warm. We head up to Pushkin Square – this is one of the busiest junctions, not just in Moscow, but in the world. The traffic whirls from all sides (6 lanes down Traveskaya which is basically an in-town motorway) and the only option for crossing the wide highways is the subway. The very efficient zebras which tell you how many seconds you have left before you are taking your life in your hands work on the narrower 3 laners. But in fact despite the enormous volume of cars (as previously noted, status-large with darkened windows) there are no horns splitting the air and the drivers stop when you stand at a crossing. They are curiously polite. The other thing to note is how clean this place is. I watch the orange road cleaning lorries go up and down spraying water, a tractor does the same on a pavement below Pushkinskaya and we have to dive into a bookshop to escape a dousing of the feet, there are men with long-handled dustpans and brooms sweeping up the butt-ends … this is a smoking city but the debris is cleared instantly. Like the plates at tables.
Hungry we survey the elegant run of buildings housing eateries that look over the green opposite Alexander Pushkin – he has a lovely view beyond the relentless stream of cars. We plump for the place we had noticed last night – an Armenian store and cafe (to note – a cafe in Moscow quite possibly is a cafe but can just as well be a 5 star restaurant so it is best to be sure of its aspiration before you sashay in).
Two hours later out we come having had one of the most delicious meals of my life. Simple – soup (a borscht, naturally – this one light, vaguely sweet, laden not just with beets but tomatoes and lamb, spiced softly with cumin and garlic and an Armenian herb soup – salty, sodden with wild garlic, an earthy mouthful of tangled bitter herbs) salad (roasted veg – aubergine peeled and unctuous, peppers traffic-light bright and full of their own flavour – the green which I always eat first because its not my favourite, exceptional – in short these peppers taste of pepper, tomato tomatoey and with it a pile of pumpkin so delicate yet so full of flavour and lentil which add buttery taste and soft clay texture and not overseasoned but drizzelled with smatana and sprinkled with coriander that explodes in the mouth and leaves me wanting more and more and more), water (two different types which we tasted like the most fastidious sommeliers and plumped for my new obsession, Dilijan).
To finish excellent coffee and baklava – drier, less tooth-achingly sweet, more nutty and dense than I have tasted before. The serveuse was so sweet and kind, the barman gentle and warm to telling us of the fruits and nuts that make his country famous. Sergey has since told us that Armenians are famously lovely people. I’m glad of that – I might have been a little distressed if these were a niceness oasis in an otherwise ArMEANia.
Afterwards we browsed the shop and I made a mental list the length of Tverskaya Street of things I want to bring home. I also made a mental note to buy an Armenian cookery book that I can read … my brain is hurting from reading Russian after so long let alone attempting to work out Armenian script (they have their own unique alphabet which dates from the 6th Century). It should be noted that according to Tom Lehrer, when you get to 52 food becomes more important than sex. I’m 53 and I couldn’t possibly comment ….
PS: When we venture out much later for supper we decide to go the other way – nothing looks appealing so we go a little off piste and discover three restaurants in the drag behind Tverskaya an Italian, a very very upmarket uber designer shod (more about shoes later in the week) place dripping with fur and genuine designer labels and another place. Having forgotten my glasses and remembering that I don’t make excuses I will just have to own to blurring my B’s and V’s. When we entered, the steins and leiderhosen gave it away. Welcome to Bavaria, downtown Moscow. Hey ho – the schnitzel was unexpected but really quite nice and Two Brains considered how fortunate he is that he has never had to wear an outfit like that ….as indeed am I (that he hasn’t).