Changes in the Neighborhood
I’ve travelled and lived in this city for varying periods over the past three decades, the longest stretch being 12 months on a Fulbright grant back in 1998-1999. That was a hard year for Russia, with the fall of the ruble and ensuing “krizis,” bombings in Moscow, renewal of war in Chechnya, and a rotation of 4 different prime ministers, culminating in the appointment of the previously obscure Putin. Without ever having set foot in Russia, my husband came with me and spent the whole year. Perhaps understandably, he’s never been back. A game of “you won’t believe what now stands where the old Soviet-style XYZ used to stand” has played out ever since. I go to St. Petersburg and report back on changes. A favorite, admittedly consumerist theme, has developed: grocery stores, cafés, and restaurants, all of which were in short supply in the 90s. Where the old bakery with the mean babushka used to be now stands a lovely Austrian cafe with incredible coffee and pastries. Where there used to be an old crumbly building on the corner of Nevsky and Ulitsa Vosstaniia (“Uprising Street”) now stands a beautiful Petersburg-style classical building that conceals an enormous shopping mail (including a Starbucks and various other Western chains) and an enormous Finnish fancy supermarket. Our group is faced with the challenge of too many cute restaurants and bistros to choose from. All of these new amenities cater to wealthy Russians and foreign tourists, leaving me wondering about average Russians and their choices. As Shelley noted, most people clearly are not buying $30 tights from Finnish department stores. I am including here a few photos to offer some juxtaposition of the expensive western stores & cafés versus the fruit & veggie market, and the “thing market” we encountered as we cute through a courtyard. There, the tights were $3. Business was booming.