Moscow is a city of contrasts... More so than the rest of Russia. Modern buildings next to historic churches. Luxury shops next to kiosks peddling cheap wares. Bentleys and Hummers next to twenty-year-old (and much older) Ladas and Volgas. (Check out the spliced-together homemade Russian "double car" limousine vs. the Hummer limousine above! Since we're on the "just got married, gonna drive around the city" route, we see white Hummer limos all the time). Rich "New Russians" living next to poor people who inherited their communal apartments. Pensioners who pine for the glory days of the USSR living with their grandchildren who can't get by without the latest tricked-out mobile phone.
You're bound to find such an abundance of contrasts here, given how many people of all walks of life are crammed within the city's boundaries. Moscow is the country's (and former USSR's) economic, financial, educational, and transportation center. Anyone who wants a job with a major national or international business is here. That's why the city is so darn overcrowded... Moscow is the most populous city in Europe, with 7.3% of Russia's population living here. This week preliminary results from the most recent census were released, and the city's inhabitants have swelled to 10.4 million--up from 8.9 million in 1989 (a 17% increase).
Anyone seeking fortune moved here after the Soviet Union dissolved, and many have struck it very, very rich. (OH, how times have changed! I remember living RICHLY on $25 per week in 1991...Granted, there wasn't really anything to buy, but that money covered all kinds of entertainment, incidentals and transportation). The ultra-rich make up a small percentage of the nation's total inhabitants, but pretty much anyone who has money is making it--and spending it--in Moscow. The American ethos of investing and saving hasn't really sunk in here; people don't have enough faith in the future and tend to spend their money in lavish amounts on lavish goods. This is equally true for the business man who buys a luxury car and for the college student living on a stipend of $120 per month who blows an extra $100 on a pair of designer jeans.
It amazes me how many Russians think that buying a luxury car is not only a way to show off their wealth, but also a good investment. Investment?? In a city with WAY more cars than it can handle, your car is only safe if kept locked in a guarded garage. Within days of purchasing our pristine Camry, it had scratches on both sides from where others nicked it while driving by. Our front left corner is dented and cracked, and the back bumper is scratched, from others' determination to parallel park in spots where there just wasn't enough space. All of this damage occurred when when we weren't even in the car!
When you're actually driving your car, your chances aren't much better: there are more traffic accidents daily in Moscow than anywhere else in the world. Not all involve fatalities; the vast majority are collisions due to heavy and frustrating traffic and occur at relatively low speeds. To give you an idea of how dense and maddening the traffic can be, here's a view of a road we frequently drive on--and SIT on.
In any case, I'm writing today about these contrasts, and the contrast in types of cars, because of an article someone sent me this week: "7 Bentleys Stolen in Moscow this Year." In it, I learned that there are over 1,300 Bentleys in Moscow; and the Bentley dealership only opened in 2003! (Look below to see a picture of the building in the center of Moscow that houses the Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati dealerships. Note how it is attached to a centuries-old traditional Russian archway--through which horses used to pass... How's that for contrast??) There are so many Bentleys, in fact, that the mega-rich have had to find even more exclusive cars to distinguish themselves from all their Bentely-owning peers: viola all the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maseratis that have recently appeared on the city's streets. (Mercedes and BMW's are so ubiquitious that they don't even merit inclusion in the "status car" category).
This article was particularly interesting to me because it mentions "a woman in her mid-20s, who said her sky-blue Bentley Continental was taken overnight from a parking space near her apartment building in central Moscow." Hmm. There's a young woman in our building who got a sky-blue Bentley Continental earlier this spring... and I haven't seen her car in front of the building since we returned from America. The article also says that her car was valued at $340,000. WOW. (Cars cost much, much more here than in other countries because of the steep import taxes; our two-year-old used Camry cost more than a new one would have in the USA).
Here's hoping that all of the Range Rovers, Hummers and Bentleys in our neighborhood continue to satisfy thieves' sweet tooths; our Camry would be so bland in comparison...