cold and imposing enough, there is no outward sense of life or energy on many streets. At
first it was easy to conclude that this gigantic capital somehow lacked nightlife. But as you
spend more time here, you realize there is an underground world—many bars and restaur-
ants are, on the outside, just a metal door, often unmarked. When you know the right door
and come inside, you often enter a welcoming (and usually smoke-filled) place, a warm,
cozy respite. Now, when a pack of Western journalists and diplomats gather in any café for
a boisterous night of conversation—especially speaking English—there are the occasional
glances and stares from other tables. There's always the chance it's a security agent eaves-
dropping—a fear that becomes more acute when you travel, by train or otherwise, to the
more remote parts of the country. But the odds are that any glances or stares are coming
our way because, well, we're a boisterous bunch of revelers speaking a foreign language
and interrupting another table's peaceful dinner.
Some of my fondest memories of Moscow were from places such as Delicatessen. The
café epitomizes both what's right and wrong in the new Russia. On the one hand it's en-
couraging that this bustling capital has shed its Soviet armor and joined other international
cities in being welcoming to outsiders. The café is a gathering spot for expatriates and has
an English menu and a pleasant staff. At the same time the café is also a nighttime play-
ground for Russia's young elite—an unavoidable reminder that central Moscow has grown
wealthier and more posh in the post-Soviet years, as many villages and communities else-
where have struggled.
Once you find a cozy spot in a place such as Delicatessen, it's tempting to spend the en-
tire night there, because who wants to go outside in the cold more often than you need to?
Rose and I would sit with expat friends—other journalists, diplomats, or English-speaking
lawyers or bankers—and talk over wine or vodka for hours, chatting about politics or rela-
tionships or the frenetic way of life in Moscow.
Boris, Sergei, and I decided to order a bowl of pasta each and share a bottle of Chilean
merlot. “You know, that was one of the first secrets I learned, moving here,” I told my two
colleagues. “In Russia, French and Italian wines are so overpriced. There's a feeling they
must be the best, because they are French. And Italian. But South American wines? South
African wines? You can get them here so cheaply because Russian wine drinkers haven't
figured out that those are good wines, too.”
Rose and I saw wine preferences as a meaningful measure of how far Russia has come
since Soviet times (they drink and appreciate good French wines!) and how far it hasn't
(they still undervalue more obscure wines highly respected in the West).
My observations about Russian life often resonated with Boris and Sergei, who would
add their own thoughts. Occasionally they just politely nodded, which I took as a sign that
I was trying too hard to see deeper meaning in every experience in Russia. I seemed to be