Today may be my last weekend day in Moscow. I am finally getting "on my feet", so the timing could be worse, I suppose, I just can't think how. Since it may be my last opportunity before returning to the US, I went shopping and bought a bunch of stuff. I bought myself a winter fur hat for one. Fox is what the man said it was. Pretty nice fur, and the hat is HUGE! Should be warm when it's cold. As I was shopping and looking for stuff for Graeme and Suzanne, I saw something that caught my fancy. More than caught, it was something I've loved for years and years - a bloody mechanical clock. Wooden case, you know, very traditional, not really a big deal, but you can't get 'em new unless you spend a bundle. Nobody makes windups anymore. So this wall clock is hanging there, and I like it, and the man says $50. I practically choke and shit at the same time. If it works, this is an extraordinary value - the clock is an antique. It wasn't a great one, just a plain one, but it was probably manufactured before 1940. The vendor tells me 1936. I wouldn't really know. The works appear on quick examination to work, so I close the deal. OMG, what am I going to do with this thing for a year? If I keep it in the dorm in Shchuch'ye, my neighbors may end up killing me (bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, ad nauseum). So I'm carrying this clock - a full 2 feet high plus and inch or so - all through the market. It has beveled crystal with leading for the bottom window, and a wood that looks a lot like oak as the primary case. The actual works frame is a darker hardwood - haven't the foggiest what it could be. But to me it is beautiful. I'll come back to this clock - after I get around to getting back to my apartment, and we see what it actually can - or can't - do.
I shopped amber, I shopped jewelry (stones from Kazakhstan), I shopped tablecloths - Russian linen, and I shopped chess sets. On the way I also saw figurines - little metal dojobbers like you could do panoramas with. I saw exactly one set of these that were antiques, could o' been from the fifties or earlier. Not later than the fifties, I'm sure of that. They were like some I had and loved when I was a kid. I thought of buying them for Graeme, but no, they are fragile. There was a cannon - and the wheels would get broken for sure. It's just amazin' that this set was still in one piece, and if I were an antique buyer with regular shipments, I would have bought the set. They would have surely gone for at least twice what I could bargain 'em for here. But, the shipping, and only one item, and I don't know my arse from a hole in the ground for antiques? Naw, fahgetaboudit. Go have a beer and enuff of the pipe dreams.
I end up pricing linen all over the market, and discovered not much difference in prices. And, not much flexibility. Ok, no problem, that just tells me the merchants are being fair. In the merchant stalls I see at least 3 or 4 nationalities regularly. Some of them are prone to asking twice the "fair" price and bargaining quickly. Some of them go the "Saturn" route - offer a fair price and stick to it. The preface is often "This is my first price". Then you get to offer the "2nd" price. This is the most difficult stage for me - I usually have no desire to spend half of what they are asking, and I also do not wish to insult these merchants. But when the merchant tells you this hockey jersey will be $70! Well, even if it were $30 I wouldn't buy it! I am not in the market for a $70 hockey jersey, unless the hockey god was signing it in person right in front of my very own eyes, by gaw! And even then I would have to know who the "f" the hockey god was! So, you see, it's kinda hard, for me, to break off when the merchant is bustin' his butt to make a sale. I always forget that its not personal. I mean, 30 seconds, and they've established a relationship! Fred would probably have a gas here! (Fred, r u listening?). For all you other folks, Fred was my mentor on sales relationships, and as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to that subject, is one of the most expert people in the whole goldarned world.
Me? I want to shop a whole bunch of stalls until I feel comfortable that I am asking, and being asked, a fair price.
Amber was way too expensive. Military goods were way too expensive. Now, don't get me wrong, they weren't expensive compared to anywhere else, but I just wasn't ready to spend $100 on an amber necklace (that might not be amber), or $50 on a gyenuwine Soviet military belt. Now, as for the military belts, I can guess that the ones I saw were genuine. The leather was the right age, the brass had all the appearance of being genuine, etc. etc. But $50? For a present for a relative whom I didn't have the FAINTEST idea if they would like it or not? Give me a break. It was like the hockey jersey, which was a present for the same relative. WAY too expensive for a gift that I didn't know would go over well.
I spend about 6 or 8 hours shopping, and I'm sure I've gotten the best price on most items when I leave. I take the metro home with all my bags and my clock. Yes, it is kinda in the way. I know the stops I need in Cyrillic now. I'm even starting to have some recognition value with the Cyrillic spelling. Of course, dear reader, to understand what that means, you must realize that Russian spelling is, by and large, phonetic. Not entirely, but mostly. The Cyrillic alphabet is only a few hundred years old, and was invented by Peter the First, I think, or at his behest, to fit the actual Russian language usage of the day.
There are some fine handicrafts in the market (FYI: the Ismylovov Park market, which is now the Partisanskaya Metro stop, they just changed the name from Ismyalovov Park station to Partisanskaya). And some of the finest are shown by people who are at least part of the production process. Which means that you won't find better products at lesser prices by going to the source. Sometimes, these people are the source. This is still a TOURIST market, folks, don't forget that. Which means that MOST of the stuff you see is for TOURISTS, and involves a high level of profit!!!! You can also find beautiful handiwork in textiles, wood (some terribly intricate creations, really quite impressive), painting (think eggs), ivory (my god - elephant, walrus, mammoth, and whale!, and exquisite work!). Furs? I'm sure you can't take some of these home. I saw LYNX for gawd's sake! And gorgeous furs!!!!! I also saw pretty bad furs used for cheap hats. I don't even think I could take a lot of this stuff home! Ivory? Animal furs (which ones are from endangered species?). But the handiwork you can find is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
I found boxes with secret compartments, made completely out of wood, with the only metal being the springs to activate the secret drawers, the screws to hold the springs, and the pin of the hinge being metal. Amazing stuff. Eggs - like the Faberge eggs, painted with duplicates of Klie paintings and decorations. Fantastically georgous. Then there were the chess sets and inlaid wood. As one vendor said in English "extremely professional". Ya, you bet. How about the ivory work? Perhaps some of the most amazing works I saw. Carving a feather, curved, from a single piece of ivory. Or half an apple, from a mammoth tusk. Folks, this was some carving, no shit. Of course, the prices matched my amazement, these folks are not dummies!
But, I finally found the bargains I wanted, or as close to them as I would ever get - so I bagged my purchases, and made my way homewards.
I get home, I put the bags down and take off my shoes. My feet are exhausted and my calves are haunting me with pangs of "shin-splints". Immediately after taking care of urgent necessities, the very first thing I pay attention to is the clock. I wind it - it seems already wound. I try to start it - it doesn't want to start. I run it without the pendulum - it runs fine that way. To make a long story short - it finally works - but not the way it should. At least everything seems to run, the bonger bongs, the ticker ticks. Howsomever, it does NOT run the way it was designed to run. Either the springs are weak, or it needs lubrication, or something. It will not run with the pendulum, it does run without. This means it runs very fast, but I'll run it down and then find a clock man. The bonger bongs, but softly. It is a deep BONG, but not loud at all. If I were in another room and the TV was on loud, I wouldn't hear it. So the neighbor thing is not a worry. At first, when I was trying to get it running, I thought it wouldn't run at all, but I am satisfied that it is just a tune-up thing, or perhaps a new spring at the worst. LOL, I should laff at myself --- IF I need a new spring, then we have a real big IF I can FIND a new spring!!!!!
FYI, I got the clock fixed later. I liked the clock shop - a real mechanical clock shop, filled with nothing but. It costs me more to fix than it cost to buy the clock, but I later discover that the works are from Gustav Becker of Austria, made in 1926. So I got a good deal still.