This is one of the first things I saw, the morning after I arrived; in case it's not clear what that is, it's the bottom portion of a rat that had been cut in half by a tram.
It seemed filthy. Dank, muddy, crumbling. It was raining and cold. The apartment I rented had a glorious view of a garbage dumpster across the street, and tracksuited thugs sat outside smoking and sneering. In addition, it was expensive; the only temporary apartment I'd been able to find charged almost 50 bucks a night, and a small sushi dinner with the girlfriend ended up costing more than $60.
Then the sun came out, on day three, and I went down to the embankment, and I sort of fell in love all over again.
I'd been away long enough, it seemed, that finally Russian girls had started to impress me again with their poise and beauty. (If not their morality.) It seemed like a good twenty percent of the women I saw were fucking stunning; like Megan-Fox style stunning, not just bleach-blonde-Buttaface-in -tight-clothes stunning.
I walked down to the embankment, the scene of so much hanging out back in the day. The enormous, beautiful embankment on the Volga River is now an alcohol-free zone:
Why did they do this? Is the government really concerned about the public well-being, health, and safety? I don't know, but I doubt it. Or is it just a general public-relations blitz for the 2014 Olympics and such? Or perhaps more pragmatically, to drive people into the large indoor entertainment-complex on the embankment, which is supposedly owned by representatives of local politicians? Nobody seemed able to give me a clear answer.
This had been brewing for several years; they'd attempted to build a few permanent bars there, to replace the now-illegal temporary tent-cafes that we'd usually drunk at, and symbolically enough, there's nothing remaining of the area where I did most of my drinking and hanging out other than some burnt-out ruins:
We used to drink at that area so much that we referred to it as the "Summer Office."
So that felt a little heart-rending, but the atmosphere on the embankment was still nice, with a lot of good looking young babes roller-blading and biking, and happy- and healthy-looking families knocking around, kids playing, etc. Of course people still drink beer down there; just rather more discreetly than before. The weather was beautiful; warmest May in 100 years, the internet said.
There was still plenty of street-drinking going on -- there's a public fountain on a main street where young people did, and still do, a lot of drinking. But I didn't see quite such a huge majority of people carrying beer bottles around on nice summer days as I did in days gone by.
There are a few outdoor cafes left that sell beer, on the far edges of the embankment, and indeed I sat and drank beer at them.
"Funny to see you here again," said one of my few remaining former colleagues there.
"But when I'm actually sitting here, it just seems like a dream I never quite woke up from," I smiled.