Don's Diary

October 27, 1994

Thursday. A disastrous start: because of the rail dispute I missed the Heathrow British Airways morning flight to Moscow.

Failure to negotiate a transfer to Aeroflot was a relief: instead made an unexpected visit to my Japanese daughter-in-law in Hounslow.

My son reminds me to remove my shoes, the house is run along Japanese lines. I marvel at his handicraft improvements, I could never get him to clean his room! Reflect on the 15-minute rehearsal, with no prior notice, of my joint role with his father-in-law in the Shinto-Buddhist wedding ceremony in Japan. I managed at least to clap appropriately and retreat from the shrine without turning my rump. In rehearsal the priest castigated me for not doing so.

Friday. A perfect day. Russian friends on whom I intend to inflict my untidiness met me, despite the ambiguous translation of Thursday's fax saying "I cannot come by air''.

Had slight moral qualms about bringing duty-free cigarettes, but not whisky.

Saturday. Tried out unsteady legs on Moscow streets in heat of 30 degrees celsius. Soon found a shady spot and exchanged news since my visit two years ago.

Central Moscow seems awash with street sellers of bananas and Italian bottled water. Ukrainians have been recruited for bus driving, locals will not do the job the pay is too poor.

Sunday. Visit the exhibition park, formerly dedicated to communist achievements. New halls are sub-let for commerce.

All that is left of the space exhibition is a picture of Gagarin and a few rocket bits; most is taken up with foreign car franchises.

Tuesday. Spend the morning in the "palace of dreams'', the Stock Exchange. First impression is the layout: looks like jumble of old further education desks with no functioning VDUs. Despite the MMM financial scandal, there are four separate sellers. My Russian friend thinks I am mad for buying some, together with shares in Doka Bread.

They solve the problem of present giving and replacing lost Monopoly money. The share transaction does not require personal details, dollars accepted despite the illegality of this. I am firmly persuaded not to take photos.

Wednesday. Tape numerous interviews in an expanding, private company dealing in construction materials. Only the marketing head has had prior experience. The commerce director worked in ballistics. My interpreter, head of development, has a doctorate in physics. It is easy to criticise the overcrowding, lack of ventilation in offices. Companies labour under the absence of adequate legal and financial infrastructure and local officials on the make; no one will discuss the Mafia. All transactions require money "up front". Moscow office space is among the world's dearest.

My tapes have tremendous ethnomethodological import; many employees speak English and do translations on the "official" translation.

Thursday. Meet Galina Perfiljeva, dean of faculty of higher nursing education, Sechenov Medical Academy.

She is no stranger to the Western circuit and is intent on transforming nurse education with her new degree. Moscow television and radio frequently invite her for phone-ins. Galina optimistically expects her new cadre of nurses to challenge the medical hegemony.

Friday. Among my growing collection of street photographs is one of a seller of headstones for graves, complete with samples with carved tributes. I never cease to marvel at Russian "survival" entrepreneurship in which the masses engage, from home and street. Moscow seems like a gigantic web of Exchange & Mart.

I met two sociology students touting time-shares for an "international company". Their questionnaire, requiring completion before the presentation, stipulated that purchasers had to be over 25 years and married. Later we phone their company office; it turns out to be a hotel room.

Saturday. Prior to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's meeting I am to talk to his (half) brother. Security is a big worry, can only snatch interviews. Galina Kulykova, an energetic 76-year-old, retired professor of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics denied she had ghosted Zhirinovsky's books, but did promote his image.

He made a two-hour speech, dressed all in white. Crowd was small; competing against pop group and dinosaur attraction in adjoining park.

Zhirinovsky has large support from the military, especially "returning" officers from former Soviet bloc. I wanted to ask how he proposed to fulfil his promise of promoting each officer to a rank above; with each also given a personal "batman".

Sunday. Quiet walk. Reflect: why are expensive Dutch flowers bought when there is an abundance of beautiful wild flowers? Take photos of trains for a colleague.

Joel Richman is Emeritus professor in sociology at the department of healthcare studies, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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