This day was all about Gor and Viktor Tsoi.
Gor is a younger brother of a UCLA friend I met in freshman year. The UCLA buddy, David, is from Moscow. David would speak about Moscow every now and then, and I always enjoyed listening to him speak about it. At that time, however, Moscow was an abstract place to me. 5 years ago, I thought of Moscow as a place that I would go to one day. And I say one day, I mean sometime in the far future. Perhaps during my vacation days when I’d turn 40 during a quarter/mid-life crisis or something. Thankfully, my thoughts were wrong.
5 years later, and I was in the smack-dab middle of Moscow. Its fresh air, its well-situated greens, its good food, and its people put me in a happy trance. In the middle of the trance, I received text messages from friends recommending one neighborhood after another. The message that actually got me out of the trance was David’s.
David swiftly wrote to me insisting that I meet his brother, Gor. Actually, he imposed more than that. He gave me Gor’s number and told me to expect him near my location soon. Within a few minutes, Gor wrote to me over Whatsapp. “I am really happy to meet you!” he wrote. We arranged to meet at Hotel Ukrayina (a.k.a. Radisson Royal Moscow Hotel), another Stalin Tower.
One of the best ways to break the ice is to insist on paying for tea and cake. Gor, with all his might, tried to dissuade my mom and me from footing the bill. Thankfully, he found it to be a losing battle; it was 2 vs. 1 and my mom is a force to be reckoned with.
So, tea and cake come around. Gor proceeded to put some jam into his tea. My mom raised her eyebrows.
“You put jam in your tea?” she asked.
“Yes, many times,” Gor replied. “It is common around Moscow at least.”
Nowadays I try not to be too surprised by the creativity and quirks of tea-loving cultures. Turkey has the tulip glasses. Syria has the sugar syrup. Russia has the jam.
The day took off right after we finished tea and cake. The first stop was the Kremlin; my mother was nearly desperate to see it. She might be able to meet Putin and get 15 minutes of fame!
From the Kremlin, we headed to the Tverskoy District, followed by Pokrovka Street. To make a long story short, every artery of Moscow has its own personality. Tverskoy was artsy, affluent, and dotted with long, thin parks. Pokrovka had a crazy Brazilian restaurant, some hookah spots, and a young crowd prepping for the night out.
A huge highlight with Gor was the Arbat district. It is Moscow’s version of Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade (or vice versa; it is much older than Santa Monica). At this district was a Viktor Tsoi Memorial Wall.
From Wikipedia: “He [Viktor Tsoi] is regarded as one of the pioneers of Russian rock and is credited with popularizing the genre throughout the Soviet Union. He retains a devoted following in many ex-Soviet countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, where he is known as one of the most influential and popular people in the history of Russian music.”
Unfortunately, Tsoi died young, and his legacy still lives on today. From Wikipedia: “On 15 August 1990 in Latvia, Tsoi was driving on the Sloka – Talsi highway, near Tukums and Riga. At 12:28 p.m., Tsoi died in a car collision. According to the official investigation, Tsoi fell asleep behind the wheel while driving at a speed of at least 130km/h, causing his dark blue Moskvitch-2141 to turn into the oncoming lane and collide with an Ikarus 250 bus. Tsoi died almost instantly.”
I recently began to listen to Tsoi weekly. His music is melodic, thoughtful, and energetic. No wonder people love him.
Gor spent ~7 hours of his day with my Mom and I. Without Gor, I would have not gotten closer to Mom. Without Gor, I would not have learned about Viktor Tsoi. Without Gor, I would not have met Gor, who I deem as a brother in the world family. Gor, shout out to you and your family for welcoming me to your city and into your life’s stories.
This photo will never get old.