Metromania: City slicker - Moscow

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The Independent Culture
The Queen will visit Moscow today. Here is an insider's guide to what she might find beyond the pomp and spectacle of Red Square and the Bolshoi . . .

The hottest restaurant: The city is full of expensive restaurants. In Ryleyeva Street, where I live, there is a restaurant where the Mercedes cars draw up every night and bodyguards wait outside while the city's 'mafia' men dine inside at dollars 100 a head before going on to one of the casinos that have sprung up on every street corner. The majority of people here can't afford to go out to eat; a visit to one of the three branches of McDonald's is the kind of special treat that can wipe out a month's salary.

Shopping: Tourists go to Izmailovo flea market to buy souvenirs. Before the collapse of Communism, the police used to break it up, but now it is like Brick Lane market in London. Well-heeled Russians go to the Irish House, a supermarket-cum-department store on New Arbat Highway, where they can buy good-quality products for high prices. The rest have access to Irish House stuff only when it is past its sell-by date. Street traders smuggle it out and flog it cheap from kiosks at the back of the shop. One of the unhappier sights is of elderly people queuing at these kiosks for bread, toilet paper and the like, which they then resell for a few extra roubles to people who have been out at work all day.

Most ubiquitous item of clothing: At this time of year the poor don the wool coats they have had for 20 years, topped with a new scarf if they can afford one. For the young, it's bright-coloured anoraks. Teens dream of owning a fluorescent rucksack, while the mafia men go for Armani raincoats or red or mustard yellow jackets with black trousers.

Hottest ticket in town: Forget the Bolshoi. Really hip people queue to see anything by the gay theatre director Roman Viktyuk, who does overtly gay productions using male ballet dancers and wild costumes. Since the ban on homosexuality was lifted last year, gay culture has become chic - ironic, since many gays are still in jail. The press love Viktyuk, but professional theatre people dismiss him as trendy.

Publication of note: People are bored by news and politics so they buy Iz Ruk v Ruki (''From Hand to Hand'). Like London's Loot, this consists of classified ads for everything from flats to fridges to women wanting American sugar daddies. You see quite small children standing in the rain at traffic lights selling Iz Ruk v Ruki to motorists when they should be at home doing homework. Then there are chic glossies such as Cosmopolitan, which carries articles on the problems of having sex in a communal flat or how to keep slim on a diet of potatoes and spaghetti.

The meeting place: Gays cruise the gardens of the Bolshoi and on Sundays people stroll the old Arbat to watch the portrait painters at work or listen to the buskers. The Queen will make her first walkabout in Red Square, but real Russians wouldn't be seen dead there.

Bestselling book: During perestroika, people read banned books; now they devour Tom Clancy's Patriot Games or anything by Stephen King. Russian cowboys sell pirated translations of Western thrillers and science fiction and flog Barbara Cartland novels with sexually explicit covers.

The hottest night-club: Regular shoot-outs don't deter the trendies from mobbing the Bely Tarakan (White Cockroach), or the old Hermitage Theatre, which has now become a club.

Song on everyone's lips: Anything by Guns n' Roses gets the young going. The French pop singer Patricia Kass has just been out here and everyone is singing her songs. Moscow is becoming a place for those pop singers who have, let's say, passed their peak in the West - Tom Jones and Depeche Mode, to name two.

Latest fads: Young kids hang out on the streets with an Italian toy called Onde (or Wave), a sloppy, coloured spring that you flip from hand to hand.

For adults the fad never changes; it's vodka, the rule being that once you take the top off, you can't put it on again until the bottle is empty. And the next morning you have a pokhmelitsa, or hair of the dog.

Catchphrase: Most of the new slang is connected with drug-taking. 'I'm caif,' (which literally means high on drugs) they say when they're feeling great. 'Ya tashus,' (I'm in ecstasy) 'but I'd like a detsel (the smallest unit of a drug in a syringe, used to mean a bit more) of that vodka.'

(Photograph omitted)

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