Moscow Underground

There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth. – Friedrich Nietzsche

If Moscow has done anything right it’s their metro system. It’s clean, spectacular, and a universe of live music—it seems to be everywhere. I come from Austin, Texas—the purported “Live Music Capital of the World”—but I can say without a twinge of conscience that I have heard more live performances in Moscow without even trying than any other city I have visited, including New York where musicians also play above and below ground at will. But New York’s subterranean acoustics are incomparable to Moscow’s—the latter is something of an aural paradise and that’s not opinion, that’s fact. In the first week alone of my summer in this city I heard two incredible, vibrant female classical violists; several flamenco, rock, and even country guitarists; a few traditional accordion players; and a couple of Parisian-flavored trios. Although many sung in English, few could speak it well. My favorite group is a quintet of young men who play instrumental covers of pop songs—and dance while they’re at it. Their musicianship was good, but their energy and overall performance is what made them great. People always stop to watch—families, couples, single men and women, old and young. Mind you this isn’t leisurely St. Petersburg. This is Moscow. Time is money. And you’re never walking fast enough. But yet, everyone seems willing to miss a train or two or three to hear a funky rendition of a tune they know and maybe even love—or even if they don’t love per se, they still feel extra warmth and a sense of accomplishment just for recognizing the song. There is so much comfort in what is understood. But it’s not what these musicians are saying (for if they’re playing covers, they’re saying nothing new), rather, it’s about how they’re saying it. The metro can wait. Moscow can wait. Throw some rubles into the open tuba case.

Thus, it seems that both light and music exist at the end of these tunnels.

Though I was certainly inspired to write some sort of scene in this underground universe dripping with beauty, logistically speaking, I realized after countless trips on countless trains, both old and new, that anything dramatic or otherwise deemed exciting and potentially criminal wouldn’t work. Security is very tight (as it is generally throughout Moscow – and I don’t mean that negatively), and unlike the New York or Boston subway system, both of which featured prominently in a few past projects of mine, I couldn’t see making anything too dramatic happen with security cameras on and off the trains and highly trained Rosgvardiya everywhere. Yes, it’s true, anything is possible in fiction. But I’m not a fan of turning real-world geopolitical spy thriller suddenly into magical realism – unlike the show Alias (does anybody remember how that J.J. Abrams series went so horribly wrong? CIA spy drama turned Tomb Raider: Hunt for the Sorcerer’s Stone – no nostalgia, please, it simply doesn’t work).

So, while I clearly have a thing for the underground, unless I’m willing to bring Voldemort into the mix to take on the Russian National Guard, no major high speed train scene will be forthcoming – not in Moscow, anyway.


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