Culture Within Culture: Moscow

Moscow is not a city one can take a glance at and pass by. Russians’ city of literary culture provides an answer to the question “Why cannot one be alone here?”

There is no doubt that Turkey and Russia are two countries which have both confronted with Europe many times since the 16th century. Although Ottoman Turkey waged war to Russia for various reasons during this period, both countries did not fail to develop economic and cultural relations. Two neighbors were the two Eastern states modernized throughout the first half and mid-18th century. Russians made a much bigger investment and their modernization costed more compared to the Ottoman. Russia owed its wealth to a system of exploitation targeting lower classes of society. Cultural development immediately followed this economic welfare in Russia. In short, 19th century was a splendid period for Russia in the international sense.

Back to the Ottoman… 19th century was a major development period for the Turks as well. Breakthroughs were significant enough to set an example to all the Eastern world and could certainly not be underestimated. Now that we mention this, a comparison of these two civilizations is in order. Both countries had capital cities. The regime changed as late as 20th century in the Ottoman. Ankara, a former canton capital and an important strategic and trade center since the Roman era, became the capital of Turkish Republic established after the Ottoman Empire. Therefore it still represents Turkish modernization. Neighbor’s capital, Moscow is a city rising over the foundations of former Russia. It can be said that Moscow has been of significance to world history in all periods, from Middle Ages to 19th century. Particularly in 17th and 18th centuries due to Renaissance… Same does not apply for another popular Russian city, St. Petersburg or Leningrad because it is completely an outcome of 18th century Russia. After serving as the capital of Tzarist Russia for nearly two centuries, a great transformation occurred in the country. Moscow once more received the title of Capital of Russia as the city from which Soviet Union is governed. This is why all historic layers can be observed side by side in Moscow today.

Subway stations in Moscow were built by the Soviet government however the atmosphere of former Russia is present as well. The traces of 19th and 20th century Russian modernization is apparent in theater halls. Meticulous organization of museums attract attention. Above all, Moscow hailed the 20th century as a world metropolis. All these elements we mentioned, brought genuine colors to the city. This liveliness still exists today. Moscow is a densely populated city. Metropolis has major issues but as a matter of fact from now on Moscow will be representing literary Russia as a cultural center. It starts whispering it in your ear the moment you start touring the city. Yes, Istanbul and St. Petersburg are cosmopolitan cities but Moscow is cosmopolitan in the historical sense. When you visit an art establishment in Moscow such as a museum, a concert or opera hall, you feel like you are visiting an important place. However when you go to a restaurant there is a whole different atmosphere. You might find yourself questioning “Where is the socialist past of this country?” in the face of gaudiness and luxury you come across. In this sense, modernization occurred in Russia was related to luxury consumption. Essentially, there are two lines of modernization in Moscow which progressed in two main axes. As one took place after 1990, the other is the wealth and modernization throughout the history of Russia. There are traces at almost all corners of Moscow. As you tour the city, you can witness that Russia has changed, and capital has changed in parallel. Various ethnic groups break off from Russia however they make their presence felt more in Moscow. There is a paradox here, and this is the origin of Moscow’s interesting social structure.

You come across florists at almost all corners in Moscow. People order bouquets of flowers, go to theaters and present these bouquets to their favorite actors or actresses. Even when the country was in serious economic distress, people afforded to pay half of their salaries to continue this ritual. Going to theater plays, applauding the primadonna or the lead actor and meeting them is as much important in Russian culture as wedding and engagement ceremonies are in Turkish culture. Muscovites do not only like actors but also theater and poetry. For a famous actress’ poetry session or a grand council, they are ready to pay a fancy price just like an elected member, and they watch the event feeling like a privileged person. They dress up smartly and immaculately, and watch the event up to the end. Booksellers are also a part of everyday life in Moscow. Although books are not as cheap as they were in Soviet era, they are still in demand. The lines, shelves, displays seem endless in bookstores. Moscow is a city of contrasts. In a sense, it opens to the West, however it is self-proclaimed. For instance, it is known that they are well behind England and USA with regard to translated books. This is very difficult to comprehend. There is another city like this: Tehran. Here people are avid readers, a good many books are published and liked. Russians are the same. They read against all odds.

Museums are always well-kept in Moscow. Each of these venues has a unique exhibition tradition and present a meticulous selection of works. It is clear that behind the curtains are some competent experts who properly do their jobs in these museums. Most importantly, there is a government which allocatesa serious budget for these activities. And there is the sensitive people who voluntarily protect both museums and cultural venues which constantly attract public attention. People used to say “Houses are small, this is why people go out and visit cultural centers”. Now houses are bigger but the tradition has remained the same. Russians like to be outside, on the streets. It is not easy to comprehend their capacity to walk and look around. There are some other theater halls across and around famous Bolshoi Theater. Repertoire is amazingly rich. Nevertheless people watch a play by Nikolai Gogol for the umpteenth time for each play is produced with a new enthusiasm and interpretation, and audiences get to find new things in these spectacles. There are also avant-garde plays, some of which I got to watch, all spectacularly staged and performed. Listening to a good music performance or a high-quality theater play truly cheers one up.

Russia instructs its own language to those who are curious to learn about it through its theater, literature or other assets. They have some of the best libraries. Maybe not as systematic or fast as American libraries however a significantly better content is offered than its likes in Europe. Russians visit the libraries and read plenty. Moreover, they collect books. Russians like chatting and being friendly in a house or a restaurant, at a bus stop or a train station. They particularly like to keep company in exhibitions, museums or cultural events, whenever possible. One does not feel lonely in Moscow. Because the cultural atmosphere in the city is always lively and ready to teach if the visitor is curious. It demonstrates that there are other things in life as well. For instance, you come across student groups from various schools in Moscow museums. It is common to see a museum guide informing students on works, who is descended from a great writer. An ordinary-looking museum guide can very well be a former aristocrat or an intellectual.

Moscow is sworn to surprise you. You might visit a gallery and find yourself inside a magnificent art gallery. Besides, paintings here may mainly be original works of art rather than commercial pieces. Artistic elements in these exhibitions were more dominant in the past. Moscow’s immediate vicinity is also worth visiting. Buying a single ticket from city center, you can discover the area by water. When you go all the way up to Yaroslavl on the right bank of Volga River, you see a whole different face of Russia. Here, it is as if you took a step into the Middle Ages from a giant metropolis. Yaroslavl is the town where first Russian theater is established and first newspaper was published. A bit further, Uglic welcomes you with a distinct Russian texture. In short, you can sail into the deep-rooted history of Russia in a few days taking Moscow as the center. Russia appears as a monotonous country from the outside however it is not. It presents you with its layers as you enter. Despite all, it is a very colorful country. Moscow offers its visitors the opportunity to relax in that huge crowd. There were not this many cafes, restaurants or such here. Capital is changing. Original cafes are being opened everyday. Those who visited Moscow tells it is a very clean city. This is not something new. There is always a resolved will to keep the capital clean. Moscow indeed offers innumerable opportunities

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