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Have you Heard?

Street Smarts

In the last few months, electronic informational kiosks have appeared outside the Korona Casino on Novy Arbat and the Moscow Children’s Library near metro Oktyabrskaya. Pedestrians can walk up and type in their location, destination and preferred mode of transportation, and the screen will display a series of detailed maps showing how to get from point A to B, complete with bright red arrows and estimated travel times. Besides giving directions, users can also use the info poles to search for addresses, businesses or municipal offices; passersby can even write a letter to the district prefecture to complain about the sorry state of their stairwell. These unassuming gray shafts are the start of a large-scale campaign to make Moscow a more modern, user-friendly city. The city plans to install 98 more kiosks around the center over the next two years, costing $20,000 a pop, not including security and installation costs. Unlike the human-operated Mosgorspravka booths, which charge visitors for information, the kiosks will be free. Right now, this wealth of information is available in Russian only, but users should be able to toggle to an English version by the end of 2005.



On the Block

Middle-aged men with attractive younger women, chattering away in Russian and looking impeccably fashionable? No, not Night Flight or Vogue Cafe, but London. The English capital has been awash with Russian money this month as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and newcomer MacDougall’s auction houses presented over 1,000 lots of Russian paintings and works of art over three days in early December.

The record goes to Christie’s for the first time a 19th century Russian painting broke the million pound mark – at £1.12 million, Ivan Aivazovsky’s “St Isaac’s on a Frosty Day” was also a record for the artist, although a relative bargain given its original valuation of £1.5 million.

Can this be an indication that the mad rush to snap up anything Russian at any price is a phenomenon of the past? Rumor has it that the new emphasis is on quality. Alexis de Tiesenhausen, international director of Russian Works of Art at Christie’s, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the sale showed a “changing mentality among people buying. It’s no longer the snowy landscape with a troika and a horse attracting buyers, but quality.”

Fortunately, though, for Russian art floggers, while the
moneyed are becoming more selective about what they buy, they’re still willing to pay huge sums. Christie’s two sales raked in £12.14 million, the biggest in the field for the last 20 years, while Sotheby’s Russian Sale fetched £9.25 million, a healthy sum more than the expected £8m.



Kalashnikov’s Spirit

Although the AK-47 has been every militant’s favorite assault weapon for half a century, Mikhail Kalashnikov hasn’t actually made much money off his invention. But things look set to change. Despite that he now shuns associations with violence, the 83-year-old retired general recently put his name on a product often blamed for aggression: vodka. With the help of British entrepreneur John Florey, a line of premium British vodka bearing the Kalashnikov name will launch in continental Europe and the United States next year. The bottle is in English, other than a small seal that reads Armeiskaya Krepost, or Army Strength. As weaponry spin-offs go, it’s sure to be a bigger success than Smith & Wesson’s short-lived line of cowgirl linens.






Holidays In, Holidays Out

Update your calendars and tell your travel agents: the State Duma has changed Russia’s holiday schedule. We now get five days off for New Year’s (January 1-5), while the first two days of May have been collapsed into a single Spring and Labor Day. On the list of binned holidays are Constitution Day (December 12), and November 7, the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Apparently, the Duma felt a more effective way to stir up national pride would be to celebrate Russians kicking foreign butt, and replaced it with People’s Unity Day three days earlier, commemorating the day in 1612 when the meddlesome Poles were driven out. PASSPORT wishes you happy and safe holidays, whenever the Duma schedules them.

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