World Cup diaries: Mkhitaryan fans, Lenin statues, never-ending escalators
Let's start with a cliché: the conversational cabbie. Mine wasn't very conversational to begin with; we rode in silence towards the Luzhniki Stadium when, halfway there, he asked me where I was from. The ice broke when Haik told me he was Armenian - I told him my hometown had an old connection with Armenians and mentioned familiar surnames, which lit up his face. The clincher, of course, was when I mentioned the Most Famous Armenian since...err...Kim Kardashian: Henrik Mkhitaryan. We oohed and aahed over his qualities (onomatopoeia helps navigate language barriers). And we bonded over the potential disaster that is the Russian team. He was still laughing as he drove off.
The man is everywhere. As he should be, given that he was responsible for 60-plus years of Communist rule. In the West, in India too, the jury is out on Lenin's role in history but in Russia there's no argument. Not in the open, at least. There's a truly grand statue (but no hat) of him at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, the country's main football arena; it's right in front of the VIP entrance and is used as a directional aid ("Turn right at Lenin"). But it presented a surreal sight today. There was Lenin, truly master of all he surveyed; except that what he surveyed, spread out in front of and all around him, were the World Cup sponsor booths. The epitome of private enterprise - the type he did away with through the establishment of the socialist state.
The Moscow Metro is apparently a thing of architectural wonder (all of central Moscow is, but that's another story). So I've decided to use one new station each day. Today was Sportivnaya, one of the stations near Luzhniki Stadium. It's probably just another station, not one of the grander buildings in the centre of town, but it has its own charm; the distinctive Soviet edifice, and then the long, long escalator ride to the third level for my train. I timed it way past a minute when we were just halfway down. Negotiating the Metro isn't too tough but the smaller stations - including this one - don't have English translations so you need to ask for help. Which, in a small station like this, basically takes you back to square one.
The world has truly come to Moscow (and possibly other venues too). It's a toss-up whether the Olympics or the World Cup involves more languages; the former has many more countries participating (though FIFA are ensuring that distance will be made up) but the World Cup draws in fans from everywhere. Walking around Red Square and the touristy part of town, one heard so many accents. Two boys wearing an Argentina shirt were stopped by a man also wearing the albiceleste; he said something in rapid Spanish, to which they said they were from Hungary. "But Argentina fans, so we are brothers." Spanish so far heads the count but I suspect Arabic will give it stiff competition. Led, of course, by the thousands of Egyptian fans reported to be on their way.