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Putin’s Ark

Recently I visited Moscow after five years away. The city, which looked different and strange, impressed me by its ability to change. My days back in Russia were divided between official meetings, hours wasted in traffic jams, and nights spent with old friends who tried to show me the best of Moscow nightlife.

On my first free evening, I was invited to a place called “Shinok.” The restaurant had many of the traits found in ethnic restaurants everywhere. Different bits of kitsch, this time Ukrainian, were richly represented. But the interior decoration had one unique element – an artificial wall with windows separating a part of the restaurant hall. Behind the wall was a stage set of a village yard.

A real cow, as well as chickens and geese populated that ersatz farmyard. At times an old woman in traditional dress appeared to feed the animals. Visitors enjoying borscht and pirogi observed her efforts with satisfaction. “She works for the restaurant,” my acquaintance explained. “She feeds animals and sits in the yard to create the rustic ambiance.”

Shinok was just an introduction to today’s new wave of Moscow restaurant culture. A few days later, I visited “The White Sun of the Desert,” another ethnic hangout. The White Sun existed in Soviet times. Back then, it was called “Uzbekistan” and was nothing more than an obligatory culinary demonstration of the supposedly unbreakable union of the USSR’s fifteen fraternal republics.