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The New Face of Moscow

There's never been a shortage of culture in Moscow—great opera and ballet at the Bolshoi, great music, great theater. Now there are plenty of movies, including first-run American films. And there's the Novaya Opera Theater (New Opera) in its own elegant, purpose-built theater.

I wouldn't go to Moscow without a stop at the Pushkin Museum, founded in 1912. I love its variety and its vastness: the legendary Treasure of Troy artifacts from the Mycenaean era, seized from the Nazis in 1945 as part of the unofficial spoils of war; Coptic textiles; paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt and some French Impressionists. In the city's Zamoskvarech neighborhood is the Tretyakov Gallery, which has a huge collection of Russian art, including Chagall, Kandinsky, and Malevich.

One of the most interesting galleries is the Moscow House of Photography, opened in 1996, which exhibits Russian and foreign work (Russia has had many eminent photographers, some of whom were repressed in Soviet days). On its walls you might see Rodchenko's early pictures of the U.S.S.R., of its men and machines. Or Boris Savelev's photojournalism covering decades of Moscow life. There are photographs of Khrushchev in the sixties and disco kids in the nineties.

The one area in which Moscow doesn't compete with other world-class capitals is the shopping. There's Armani and Lacroix and Versace, but unless you want the same stuff you can get anywhere else, these places are only for cruising the new form of native life: the rich and the very rich.

A little ingenuity will get you some treasures, though. Along the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the Arbat, the old artisan center of Moscow, there are a few decent bookshops where you can buy Soviet posters, and a few antiques stores. On a freezing afternoon, I find a knowledgeable shopkeeper selling plates he's had copied from old Soviet designs, a new twist in the souvenir market. Reluctantly, he pulls examples of the real thing from under the counter, plates produced in the 1920's, when the Constructivists were at work. They're stunning; the guy won't budge from four grand each.

I used to collect Soviet kitsch and antiques. In the late eighties and early nineties, you could still get it in the Arbat and at Izmailovo Park, Moscow's flea market. I once found an entire 1930's Soviet toy train, complete with village station, farmers, cows. I should have bought it. Many of the great pieces are long gone, but you can still find some jewels in Petrovsky Passage or Stoleshnikov Pereulok. Izmailovo, open only on weekends, is now mostly a place to pick up old cameras, fur hats, great books, scarves, tablecloths, trinkets, and matryoshki (the wooden stacking dolls).

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