Russian Christmas Parties
I sometimes think the traffic is bad in London and when I am in places like Beijing and Dubai I know it is best to avoid rush hour, as your journey may take double the time. Moscow, though, tops the congestion league by a mile. Even though it would often be quicker to walk, Muscovites just sit tight, grin and bear it. Wrapped up in the womb-like cavity, away from the crowds, they can sit for hours. No wonder there are so many expensive cars here, as so much time is spent in them!
So I struggle to the offices of Innova, who are about to start their Christmas party. The staff are heading towards a rather unpromising table loaded with plastic cups and cheap champagne, when suddenly in come three balaclava-hooded security guards. Through megaphones, they order everybody off the premises to awaiting buses.
We take 40 minutes to travel the 2km to what is known as Stalin’s Bunker, the secret location for the party. We are led down 18 floors, painted in Soviet green, to a long passage where we do the coat check and are bundled into a room, which we assume was the old HQ of the bunker. We are shown footage from the cold war and offered phials of whiskey while some “mad scientists” brew up fluorescent waters with the aid of liquid nitrogen.
So far, so good, but then we wait and wait, for the delayed general manager who eventually leads the guests to the more conventional party room for more food and drink.
Next stop is the huge Xmas do for the successful electronics company M Video. This is being held at the Exhibition Centre.
As I enter, the meal is finishing and on the stage, employees of the year are being announced. The whole event feels more like a religious rally than a Christmas party. There are dancing girls, glitter falling from the ceiling. With 1200 people in attendance this is the biggest party I have seen anywhere, and the whole event is very well organised. I guess if they can do this, selling electronic gadgets is a walkover.
The following day I am off to Gorky Park, where the whole winter festival is in full swing. There are skateboarding competitions and a huge queue for the skating rink, but I head over to the corporate party for kids which is sponsored by Svyaznoy the phone company.
At the rink, helpers are dressed in 19th century costumes, and all manner of competitions and games are organised. All the kids are given the impression that they are winners. Any bumps or falls are smoothed over by a sugar lolly. Inside the foyer, various people wearing animal costumes leap about and interact with the children. I do not recognise the animals – perhaps they are known only to the Russians. Every child gets a box of chocolates before leaving.
Next stop is The British Design School, which resides on the 5th floor of an old industrial building that seems to house assorted arts and design projects. This do is lot more like the kind of party you might see in London. There is a disco, the wine flows and there are side shows of casino tables. Of course some English is spoken here so my normal “I don’t speak Russian” does not work as well here, as at other venues.
The following day I am off to the “The Garage”, an art gallery, where they are having a weekend of children’s activities before they move into a new location. The building is inundated with delighted kids as they realise that the line between an art installation and a play area is very thin. The biggest queue is for Martin Creed’s room full of big yellow balloons which you wade through, suddenly finding your hair alive with static.
I then go to Photo Play where the Gallery Art Yar are having a party to celebrate their 10 years of business. The art is – let’s say traditional – as indeed is the crowd. Portraits of their illustrious painters line the walls and the same painters give speeches in turn.
The following day I visit the Moscow residence of Father Snow (the Russian version of father Christmas) which is way out in the suburbs, surrounded by pylons and high rise flats. It is a mini theme park and the theme is all things Christmassy. Very excited children are being given escorted tours, and visits are made to Father Snow and his daughter. They finish by posting their letters to him and then receive a lolly.