Saturday, 24 May 2008

Catching up with Red Exile

[the layout of this post goes oddly here and there: I have laboured unsuccessfuly to correct it; sorry]

The most irritating news is that - somewhat predictably I suppose - the property developer doing our new Moscow office has predicted delays; to 10th June (90%) or 14th (100% certain to be ready he says). But our existing lease expires 31st May. So we had a meeting Friday evening. Fortunately we have a contingency plan in place for a temporary home: all at the developer's expense I hasten to add.

Oh, and our Russian bank - a new one which is not impressing me (so watch it Raiffeisen or I will switch our accounts from you!) has been a real pain in the ass. It is an issue of the 'hard currency passport' (yes, everything foreign needs something like a visa here) concerning a large transfer. Now lawyers and finance people in three, no, actually four, countries are beavering to sort it out.

In Russia your corporate bank is not your Friend or business partner: they are the devil! Actually, Raiffeisen Bank in Russia for a while - when I first moved here - set the benchmark of excellence, but I think their service and approach has really declined since they gobbled up Impex Bank. In Russia, it might be branded Austrian, but the middle management and service culture seems to me to have become distinctly Soviet. We were looking to pool our accounts in all the 19 countries of our region with them - I am pushing to ditch them in mine. Right now, I loathe them.

These two events - property and cunty bank - all occured after 5pm on Friday. Exhausted - a hugely busy week and two overnight train journeys in three days (and, like, 11 hours sleep in 72 hours) mean't I got home about 8pm, sank a large Bombay Saphire & Schweppes and went straight to bed - a glorious 11 hours asleep...

So, to catch up with all my news, here's some more annotated updates from my facebook account:


Red Exile says it's nice to wake up in his own bed, which is rare enough these days, especially then to realise it's Saturday.
7:54am meaning only that this week I've woken up on trains and in the 'apartment suite' in our Kyiv facility and, in recent weeks, have travelled a lot. Nothing, alas, more mischievous...


Red Exile is back in the irresistible, terrible, magnificent, pulsing dark heart that is Moscow: where the weather is ghastly.

May 22

Exile had a great evening in Kyiv; which really has everything in a city one could wish for. The weather is also lovely.
12:00pm I took the overnight train back again. Luckily it was the flag-ship train, so the 1st class sleeper compartments were top-notch...

Red Exile is actually watching 'the' game & really enjoying it; in the way an ingenue 1st watches a Verdi opera; wide-eyed, without partiality and for the sort of poetry of it. But I thought Mr Ronaldo splendid.

May 21

Exile wonders why, if the football match in Moscow doesn't start until 22.45 local time, all the expats going to it are leaving their offices now. It's only Luzhniki!

Red Exile does not feel fresh as a daisy; couldn't sleep as his train rattled and lurched across Russia & into Ukraine.

May 20

Red Exile is on way to Kyiv tonight - overnight train (fast one with buffet). Means a dawn appointment with Russian border guards followed by Ukrainian ones.

Red Exile Red Exile enjoys hot humid nights; but they're better naked in the pool; as in my Guadeloupe days. A lifetime ago I lived that.
9:21pm It was my pool, my privilege to swim naked in it at midnight...

Red Exile says Russia's stonking victory over Canada in the hockey Worlds means, if Chelski win Wednesday, that's 3 great sporting triumphs for Russian sentiment in a row.
12:31am Opinions differ amongst my Moscow staffers as to whether they are pro- or anti- Abramovich and hence whether to be pro- or anti-Chelski in fact

May 18

Red Exile sees that 'tree-sperm' season is upon us again in Moscow and the streets full of the snow-storm of germinating stuff. What's is called? Puchre?

May 17

Red Exile said: " an instant...his weekend evaporated...".
7:10pm I had to work the weekend - a crisis management assignment came up.

Red Exile has just realised he has no opera or ballet tickets booked for anything. A sort of panic has overcome him...
2:58pm Situation now rectified! Tonight I am going (for only the second time) to see the Bolshoi dance ' The Golden Age -music by Shostakovitch and choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich

Red Exile is surprised to discover that his Asus has been buggered and so he has no mobile connectivity. Hopefully it is just the usual shoddy Russian SIM card problem.
12:25am It was a SIM card problem - Russian mobile operators seems prone to them

May 14

Red Exile is still in idyllic rural Hungary and this morning will opine on web 2.0: "content may have been king but now aggregation is God".

May 13

Red Exile is in a particularly rural part of Hungary, just an hour's drive out of Budapest. Horses are nesting, or whatever they do, outside my window.

May 12

Red Exile has always been fond of Budapest. In 2003 it was on his 'list' with Beirut, Rome & Istanbul. But now 4 years in Moscow; LOL.

Red Exile is landed in Budapest, where everyone is enjoying a public holiday and, by now, very *relaxed*.
6:49pm No Valium? Red wine will suffice. Nasty 'crabbing' or cross-wind landing though.

Red Exile is depressed and anxious. He is about to fly to Budapest and has forgotten his in-flight Valium. Either reader will recall my absurd, but nonetheless serious, fear of flying. On trips longer than two hours I pop two Valium. Actually, I can see why people get addicted to Valium - fabulous stuff - but don't mix it with alcohol (apparently that's not good - but on flights to Kazakhstan? yeah right...)

May 11
Red Exile has his apartment to himself tonight for the first time in weeks, but only has one night to enjoy it.

May 9 - the Victory Day holiday, commemorating WWII

Red Exile Well the parade was later than it should be, and in the opposite direction from that expected, but the tanks and missiles were great big boys' toys. A tank driving up Tverskaya; and part (I was too close to get the whole thing in view!) of a Topol M ICBM, or RT-2UTTH, nuclear missile launcher (NATO IDENT: SS-27). LOL - to think that in Soviet times my photographing it would have been a serious crime.

That night I also took my mother to see the Bolshoi's superb production of Nabucco (4th viewing). Here an excerpt someone has ripped and put on YouTube (Elena Zelenskaya was singing the part of Abigaile that night too - it is great fun for a soprano - a baddy part for them for once to sing! But I think her Tosca is better and Irina Rubtsova the better Abigaile):

(PS: I see that this recording is from the old Bolshoi production though, not the current one! - which is visually much more stunning)
May 8

Red Exile thinks it funny that all the male expats are really excited that Russia's new long-range nukes are being paraded through the streets tomorrow. Smaller WWII ceremonies were also taking place around the city. This one was close by our office:


May 7

Red Exile is pleased, thoroughly, to recommend Moscow fishmonger at La Marée (top of Petrovka) & thanks his mate Brian for the tip. Langoustine vivant (but not for long)!
Mother was making her annual visitation to Moscow. She cooked the live langoustine and wasn't the least bit screamish at dunking them in boiling water. We ate them with a mozzarella / pesto/tomato salad; quails' eggs and a Gavi-di-Gavi

Red Exile wonders how long it will take to remember to call Putin Prime Minister and not President; and congratulates Dmitri Medvedev, and Russia, on his special day. 10:05am It was inauguration day - no, I wasn't invited to the ceremony. Outrageous! LOL

Red Exile The RUS govt has just announced *visa-free* travel for Brit football fans for this bloody match: what!?!?! Madness. Are they importing fodder 4 Nashi to bully?12:24pm
We all expected there to be huge trouble with all the Brit football fans coming to Moscow - turns out it all went swimmingly. I was less concerned about Brit rioters, though, than they would be targeted by extreme Russian nationalists. But the Russian security forces had weeded them out most effectively and they were getting no-where near the supporters.

Red Exile wonders why my Lenovo x60 refuses to obey me today. Sighs: I want to go mac.. 11:33am

May 5

Red Exile say street closures for Friday's war parade rehearsal, and later metro closures, will make Moscow impossible this week. 10:11am

May 4

Red Exile exhales: "sublimi il diva; notte di passione e di gioia". Anna Netrebko concert; Moscow. Magnificent! 10:27pm

erm..yes, I can get a little over-excited in post-concert high. It was at the Moscow Grand Conservatoire, which is an amazing venue and only ten minutes walk from where I live. And that day I had dined before at Cantinetta Antinori, on their lovely garden terrace.

Red Exile has enjoyed the longest long lunch; and is going to diva Netrebko's concert. 4:43pm Anna Netrebko is my all-star-world favourite soprano right now. I have all her recordings (thanks to iTunes:

She was four month's pregnant for tonight's concert and was an absolute trooper and stunning to boot. She shared the stage with superb Romanian mezzo-sporano, Rixandra Donose and (s0-so) American tenor, Brad Cooper. Anna and Rixandra dueting in "Si, fuggire!...Ah crudel", from Bellini's Romeo & Juliet (oh yes, it is an opera too, not just a ballet) was excellent. Bellini is hugely tough to sing and sopranos use his music to showcase their voice.

Red Exile today is a 'working day' in Russia. I booked leave. Have now finished essential work and am going to have a la-la long lunch

In contrast to the UK, which pivots all public holidays to a Monday, in Russia the holidays fall where they are on the calendar, which means any day of the week. But, sensibly, the Government bunches them together. The French do this: they call it 'faire le pont" (to make the bridge) - but the French do it by adding in a day. At least they did on Guadeloupe when I lived there. In Russia, in a grasp at efficiency, they deduct a day from a nearby weekend. So: holiday is on a Thursday? Make Friday a holiday too, but work the following Sunday. It is not something I can ever get used to so I book a day's leave; but usually end up spend half of it handling essential emails and calls anyway, so wonder why I don't just give up and work it like everyone else...

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Red Exile isn't dead - he's just been distracted...

So 'real life' has intervened in the last few weeks in the shape of punishing work schedule; quite a lot of travel; a friend (and her 46kg dog) temporarily moving in and - which has been very stressy - the search for new offices in Moscow.

of course there comes a point, blog-wise, where after a longish absence it almost becomes intimidating to do the 'here's what I've been doing' catch-up post. I have got over this, however, by just dumping highlights from my facebook account. So here we go (with more shockingly bad photography from my handheld PDA), the recent past:


Red Exile is spending another public holiday in the office; surprised how humid it is outside, which is early in the season.
May 1
I was in Prague on business
Red Exile says: "If I should die think only this of me"... I like Shiraz with my chocolate course.
April 30

Red Exile is watching the night twinkle on the Danube; a glass of bubbles to hand; a violin being played in the background.

Red Exile says "OK, so there is some football match coming up in Moscow? No, I don't have tickets and I gather the street price is edging towards Euros 1,000" - crazy! Since 'Chelski' has now won a place in this match, I am told the price is now Euros 4,500 for non-VIP tickets.

Red Exile does not have a PhD in applied sciences and therefore is struggling to work the shower in his hotel bedroom. Which was the Four Seasons - which is superb - and it's restaurant, Allegro, quite unbelievably good (and the holder of Prague's first and only Michelin star)
Red Exile I have a table with a view; a pigeon breast; a 1/2 bottle of Côte Rotie: I love life, Prague & everything…

Red Exile is now over a bumpy flight - and normal, smiley service is resumed. We thank you for your patience in this temporary service difficulty.

Red Exile I have *never* thought of the Czechs as other than opportunists and wasters and, 30 minutes in, 4 yrs l8r, I see I was right! I am inclined to be in a very bad mood after landing - partly angry at myself for having been so scared 'up there', which is silly, and partly (justifiably) because Czech immigration, clearing flights in from China and Russia, didn't open the EU Citizens line; until people like me pointed out how crazy it was that we'd have to queue with all the non-EU citizens being admitted with visas. Also, the taxi system sucks.

Red Exile says the plane is what? Late?!? Arrgh!

Red Exile Has now had Aeroflot baked goods and a drink so calmer, checked in and now only to ponder age of plane about to fly...

Red Exile says my life is *so stressful* it is no wonder I have high blood pressure and the heart of an 80 yr old. *Made plane just on time*.

Red Exile hopes everyone enjoys Thursday's neo-cold war parade - cos rehearsals for it have screwed Moscow traffic even more than usual & I am l8 4 plane. The parade is 9th May actually. That didn't make the traffic less sucky.

Red Exile notes that one of his two female house guests is on heat. The 46kg, 4-legged one. Words cannot express... They're moving on Monday. When my mother arrives... I don't get my apartment to myself for another two weeks...
April 28

Red Exile is off to a business lunch in brilliant sunshine.

Red Exile added a new photo to New offices - bought 'off-plan': what can go wrong? OK, so the building is still a 'work in progress' in a completely gutted, exterior cladding yet to be junked and re-done and completely needs rewiring and plumbing kind-of-way. But the developer *promises* me it will be ready for entry June 1st. This is good: our current lease expires 31st May.

Red Exile Madama Butterfly / Stanislavski etc: tonight Irina Arkad'eva was *a goddess*. Act 2 finale a weepy *triumph*!

Red Exile is @ v. gd performance of Madama Butterfly, fuelling up before original 2hr version of Act2.

Red Exile is at the opera, Madama Butterfly, eyeing chandeliers warily... see April 18th for the last comment to make sense.

Red Exile has discovered of himself that the pathology of his fear of flying is fear of heights. He discovered this in the glass lift of Moscow's uber-elitny Lotte Plaza.

Red Exile Apropos his new office space, a mantra: elitny. Designerny. Loftny. *Not Pafosny*. Pafosny? Think Paris Hilton, Donatella Versace, Las Vegas and anything by Dolce & Gabbana. yes, that's right 'gay' (in the sense US highschoolers use the term) and achingly vulgar.

Red Exile has signed an office lease!! Designer space; central & official. Yay!


Red Exile is so-near-and-yet-so-far. Do we have a lease deal or not?!?!

Red Exile was feeling wildly exuberant; but is now back under control to face the day's trials.
April 24

Red Exile is an idiot! Left ballet ticket @home! So sulking shopped at Tsum & now @Cafe Bar-boy... which is what one of the girls I know Christened café des artistes - the name just stuck somehow

Red Exile is off to the ballet tonight. German State Rhine company. Stravinsky. Rites of Spring. A dose of sanity and love in my fraught life.

Red Exile "To the FSB senior officer whose convoy cut me up today but then whose car was pranged by his own follow vehicle not breaking fast enough: hah! Tosser LOL". This was really too funny to watch. Made my morning actually...
April 23

Red Exile actually dares hope there *might* be a glimmer of hope. On the property side of things...

Red Exile has had, in truth, a $*#@ing shite day; and sometimes feels all the burden is on him as (some) just swish about... no doubt his default inner cheeriness will be back o/night. I was stressed, just leaving the office, over-worked and miserable. It happens...

Red Exile just came up with a strategy "find a 30-something woman, make her pretty and let's get her to cry on television" and is concerned that he doesn't feel cheap. It was a good strategy. And I am not cheap... 400 Euros an hour baby!
April 22

I was in Warsaw -I am not hugely fond of Warsaw...
Red Exile has too much work to do and no time to do it.

Red Exile has turned down the chance to eat escalope of crocodile. No kidding - it's available at the Intercontinental Hotel Tower's Mexican restaurant (don't ask!). The public space is crappy in this hotel, but the rooms are great and the view always good (well as good as a view over Warsaw can ever be).

Red Exile says: "well *hello!* Aeroflot you sexy thang!". They're flying brand-new A320-200s into CEE. Eat me, BA!

Red Exile knows he has lived in Russia too long: he finds the baked goods in the Aeroflot business lounge quite irresistibly alluring.

Red Exile setting of for the traditional traffic jam to Sheremetyevo airport, to fly Aeroflot to Warsaw. Ah the glamour of it all...

Red Exile has narrowly missed *death* at the ballet. An 8-cm diameter crystal fell from the great central chandelier and missed my head by inches before smashing on ground in 100s pieces. Felt cold draft of death did we. This really happened and the lump of crystal missed my head by less than 30 cms

Red Exile is off to the Stanislaski-Nemirovich-Danchenko tonight 2 them dance Romeo & Juliet.
April 18

Red Exile wonders if the 'rock song' whose chorus is "are you off your meds?: is Placebo. He laughs & luvs it. It is and I downloaded it from iTunes.

Red Exile is off to dinner with a mate from 'the small island' I now refer to the Britain

Red Exile has just used his best BBC voice to voice-over a TNK-BP corporate video. This is the second time I have done this (just to help them out for a favour - because it is crazy expensive for them to have it done in London and any old Brit RP voice will do - and because, in more weighty and feesome matters, they are also a client)
April 15

I was travelling in Ukraine
Red Exile sees this new overnight train comes with anti-terrorism advice. In the event security forces are going to storm your Chechen terrorists "run-like-f*ck in other direction" seems to be the ambivalent advice. On the new trains there is a poster by the loos with safety advice. This include in cute little pictures what to do if security forces are storming your high-jacked train. And, yes, run in the opposite direction is the helpful guidance they proffer...

Red Exile is witnessing drama @ border; 2 men arrested & dragged off train by Ukrainian troops. Unpaid parking tickets? Very exciting and the full-on paramilitary performance...
April 14

Red Exile and his friend, Johnny Walker, are at the Russian border - for processing. LOL

Red Exile has had his day ruined - 'new' landlord informs him he has been gazumped on new space. So back to Square one and now 5 weeks to Moscow office is homeless... This was a low moment

Red Exile is having a very good day commercially and meteorologically: it is a gorgeous sunny day in Kyiv; the sky is almost ridiculously blue.

Red Exile now has a very deep and abiding love of Ukraine; its tragic and compelling history - the more you get to know it the less like Russia it is.
You learn a lot about Ukraine in the long drive between Kyiv and Lviv and back - abandoned villages and the wrecks of old collective farms testifying to the waste of Collectivised farming, it's failure and - actually - the enormous post-Soviet decline in Ukrainian agricultural output. Land reform is desperately needed to modernise and rejuvenate Ukrainian agriculture.

At the same time, as you drive past vast, pompous - but now sadly forlorn - Soviet-era memorials to WWII (more to bludgeon home a message of loyalty to the Ukrainians than a message of celebration) you realise how awful it must have been to be Ukrainian and part of the USSR. Wondering around Lviv today it is almost impossible to imagine that this bright, smiley, European city was once Soviet. It is totally unlike anything in Russia.
April 13

Red Exile is about to have a hearty lunch of Turkey liver; veal, sour cream & dumplings & all trimmings. It is not cuisine minceur, but do eat at café Amadeus.
April 12

Red Exile is enjoying his birthday in Lviv, in which the whole history of Middle Europe can be seen. The ebb and flow of empires; the heterogeneous sweep of its European architecture; but still defiantly European (Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-classical, Art Nouveau...)
April 11

Red Exile is enjoying cafe society in Lviv; which is charming. Drinking champagne, sitting outside at the Vienna Café where people-watching is great fun

Red Exile is leaving lunchtime for the 5hr roadtrip to Lviv. The guy driving asks "do you want 'fast' or 'safe'?" - what the heck: fast! LOL.
April 10

Red Exile is having a fascinating day in Kyiv.

Red Exile s at the UKR border post, on the train, watching a beautiful sunrise. He is now though hungry & *very* thirsty!
April 9

Red Exile Has just realized that as he is on tne slow-overnight 'express' - 13hrs - inexplicably it has neither restaurant nor bar. Nightmare!! This is the second time I have done this! memo-to-self: only Train #1 (Moscow-Kyiv) and Train #2 (Kyiv Moscow) have buffet cars. The others *don't*

Red Exile en route to Kyiv & then Lviv.

Red Exile is somewhere between despair (back to office property square 1) and elation (deal done). Only in Moscow do we live by these 2 emotional gears and no others. That last sentence, BTW, is probably the truest thing I have ever written about life in Moscow.
April 8

Red Exile did have to smile as he was cut up this morning by a rickety old Lada with *diplomatic plates*.
April 7

Red Exile has had just the most sublime & wonderful night at the ballet; even if his body won't fly dream a soul can. Sometimes good performances make my purple-prose-restraint short-circuit.

Red Exile wonders what you say to a week that is pretty-much ruined before it has begun... hello? Property-related - a great development I was hoping to take was snaffled up - even though I had agreed terms with the developer - by a Russian bank.
April 6

Red Exile woke up this morning dreaming about the future of capitalism. Last night he tried to dream about Tuscany. Oh well...
April 4

Red Exile is back to the drawing board: 8 weeks and counting to find new offices - or else it is hot desking in my front room! Another potential site fell-through (because this one was pretty far from a metro station and, in any case, I just learned that this particular station is about to close for a year's remont; which ruled the property out completely.
April 3

So there you have it. Normal service will now hopefully be resumed...