Street Life: Samotechny Lane, Moscow: At ease with Rachmaninov

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The Independent Online
VITALY WENT looking for a new apartment last week for himself and his "big, demanding girl". Since the latest economic crisis, housing prices have fallen in Moscow. Vitaly reckoned he could find a flat that would be better value than the Khrushchev-era box for which he has been paying $350 (pounds 221) rent per month.

The neighbours in his suburb of Khimki were growing increasingly intolerant of Vitaly, who is a concert pianist. "I understand that listening to the same passage of Rachmaninov 100 times a day might drive you crazy," he said. "On the other hand, I listen to them getting drunk and fighting and throwing furniture at each other."

He was preparing to movewith his "girl", a temperamental grand piano.

He decided against using the real estate agencies, whose sharks have been known to murder elderly Muscovites for their flats and who, at the very least, were likely to take an exorbitant fixing fee. He turned to his network of friends and acquaintances.

Polina, an opera singer, came up with what seemed an interesting option. There was a one-room flat going for $200 a month, right next door to her in the green and desirable Yugozapadnaya district of the city. The owners had rented it out previously through an agency, only to find two call girls had set up a brothel there. They would be delighted to have a respectable friend of a friend. In addition, the building had a goods lift, so it would be no problem to carry up Vitaly's piano to the 14th floor.

I went with him to look at the flat. It felt quite spacious because it was well laid out. It may have had the sterile atmosphere of an Intourist hotel bedroom but it would soon look different with the piano by the window.

On closer inspection, however, the "stenka" (suite of wall cupboards) turned out to be tightly packed with old clothes, Christmas tree decorations and empty jam jars. The landlord said he had nowhere else to put the stuff.

"I can't live with all that junk," Vitaly said under his breath. "Anyway, I hate stenkas." Perhaps this was not the right flat, after all.

Resorting to the property press, he found there were other options. We went to look at another one-room flat, also for $200, behind the railway lines in the suburb of Nagornaya. It was identical in design to the one in Yugozapadnaya but what a difference the pleasant couple offering it had made. They had created a homely atmosphere, yet were quite willing to move their things out if Vitaly did not want clutter. The problem here was that there was no goods lift, so the grand piano would have to be hauled up 12 flights of stairs.

The third flat we looked at, in the working-class district of Kuzminki, was nearly perfect. The entrance hall smelt like a stable but the two rooms were clean, light and airy and it would not be too Herculean a task for workmen to carry up the piano to the fourth floor.

Best of all, the new place cost only $150, all of $200 less than he was paying.

Vitaly enjoyed telling his old landlady to seek a new tenant for her overpriced box. Now he is having his piano tuned after the move and hoping that the residents of Kuzminki will appreciate Rachmaninov.