Sbarro's in Moscow


Elle, one of the astrophysics professors here, spent last week in Moscow giving some talks and taking in the (predominantly gray) sights. Thought I'd pass along some of the anecdotes he shared over lunch. Allow me to emphasize that I have no idea how accurate these stories are, or to what extent it's the usual stuff that tourguides make up on the spot.

Fast Food Ascendant

Facing the Kremlin from across Red Square, there is apparently now a Sbarro's. I assume you all know what that is; think Subway with toast. While we immediately appreciated the cognitive dissonance implied, his impression was that most of the tourists didn't bat an eye.

So he ate there. Specifically, he attempted to get a salad. It would seem that the Muscovites don't quite get salad yet. For one thing, the salad bar was priced by the kilo. For another thing, it primarily contained potatos, beans, pork, and chicken. Like borchst without the soup.

[Ed. note: Just for some context on the final anecdote, Wikipedia states that the Statue of Liberty is 93 meters from ground to torch, or 43 meters from toes to torch. A 300-meter structure would come in around the 30th-tallest building in the world, taller than most corporate and financial headquarters, but still a smidgeon shorter than the iconic Chrysler building, and several floors short of the Hancock building. There are mostly only telecom towers over 500 meters.]

Life in the Big City

Red Square is brightly lit, quite clean, and full of happy smiling locals and tourists alike. Elle claims it feels just like being in Europe. (Last I checked, Moscow actually is in Europe, but let's not quibble.) This extends for about 200 meters. Moscow proper extends for about 25 km in every direction from there, making it one of the world's more geographically expansive cities, as well as merely populous. The rest of the city is apparently quite a bit like the stereotype of uniform grey Soviet housing blocks.

From the city center, (extremely) wide boulivards extend outwards, giving Moscow a wheel-and-spoke layout. These are the streets you sometimes see videos of with tanks parading and Soviet troops marching in formations a regiment across. Nowadays they're the domain of the private automobile. So much so, in fact, that at many larger intersections they've given up on pedestrians altogether and moved the crosswalks into subterranean passageways. At other crossings, you merely have to wait for a gap and then run for your life. Elle had a suspicion that the motorists probably wouldn't stop even if one did hit him, but he opted not to test that theory.


Even now, a good many Russians grudgingly admire Stalin. Sure he killed tens of millions of people; still, he was the kind of leader that could get things done. So some years ago (not sure if this was pre- or post-collapse), it was decided that the time had come to build Stalin a proper monument. Plans were drawn up for a statue.

300 meters tall.

They got as far as building a gigantic concrete slab that would serve as the base of the statue. It was too heavy, and sunk into the ground. Wisely deciding that a 300-meter statue isn't the best thing to have topple over one day, the city planners abandoned the project. The sunken slab became the Moscow city pool.

On another occasion, an attempt was made to erect a 500-meter statue of Lenin, but that project merely ran out of money.


Okay, on further reflection it seems that *I* don't know what Sbarro's is. They serve pizza, not sandwiches. Clearly I don't eat enough fast food. Also, I wrote this shortly after consuming an extremely tasty fish-and-hummous bagette, so I can be forgiven for having sandwich on the brain.

Yes, fried fish, hummous, and salad greens makes a quite nice sandwich. I wouldn't have thought so, either.

Don't worry. I won't consider not knowing about Sbarro's against you. In fact, I think I might even hold it in your favor.

I can almost overlook the impracticality of building a 1000 foot statue, given the unarguable practicality of turning its sunken remnants into a swimming pool of all things.

I guess that's my *own* style of grudging admiration.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on April 18, 2005 1:55 PM.

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