06 June 1980

Moscow books, champagne and army belts

Brunch at the "Arbat" hotel, not bad, and only 4 Rb, about 1 USD. There isn't much choice but because this is a hotel frequented by many foreigners there is enough.

Next up is a visit to the "Dom Knigi, (website in Russian) the biggest book store in town. And an official one, with lots of propaganda and political books. I am not so interested in these, but I do buy some posters. The Soviets love political posters, many with uncontroversial historical overtones, like for example those on the victory in WW II. Or those of smiling papa Lenin with children. Lenin is the last, and almost the only, leader to be represented in posters. All subsequent leaders have been discredited by their respective successors, so there is no Stalin, no Khrushchev and no current leader either. Of course no foreign leader either: no Mao, no Castro. Well at least one can say there is no personality cult in the USSR today. Some posters are more general in their subject matter,  like for example those that deal with socialism as a force of peace in the world.
Andrew resting

We meet Igor and go to the "Kosmos" hotel for a drink of Soviet Champagne (8 rubles). It is made in Crimea, a bit on the sweet side. And they have no qualms to call it "Champagne" as the USSR, of course, does not abide by European rules on protected denominations. Over a glass of bubbly we talk about the upcoming Olympics, and Igor says he read on the Pravda (the official newspaper of the Communist Party, it means "Truth") that all western countries are coming with their flags, and the the US boycott is a failure. Sounds strange, the Herald Tribune reported Italy and the UK are going but without flags. France is going with its flag. West Germany who knows. We'll see. Perhaps there is still time for a solution so that all can go and compete and have a proper Olympics. I exchange five packs of American "Salem" cigarettes for a Soviet army belt that Igor conveniently happens to have in his pocket.

Comecon headquarters
Driving around the city, to get a feel of the atmosphere, is not especially rewarding: dull and boring. Several policemen make it more lively by stopping me as I drive around. There are some avenues with twelve lanes (!) and it is impossible to change lane fast enough to take a turn, especially at some huge roundabouts. So I change lane a bit too fast and they  inevitably stop me, ask for all my papers, give me a dirty look and let us go. The building of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA, or Comecon) provides a rare example of modern architecture with an original twist.

In the evening we look for a restaurant to have dinner, but by 21:30 most are closed. We end up in a small and very forgettable eatery before heading back to the camping ground.

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