What Muscovites get up to in traffic jams

30 Jan

moskva sekilThe Russian capital is blighted by traffic jams – the total time drivers spend at a standstill each day equals about two and a half centuries. But when their cars grind to a halt, Moscow’s commuters get creative to pass the time.

What do you do when you’re stuck for an age in a traffic jam? I like to write poetry:

“Probka” is the Russian word for jam.

Not the sweet kind.

The street kind.

The kind that clogs, like cholesterol, arteries, the roads,

And makes my commute so slow,

So painful.

 Gridlock: Can Steve Rosenberg get further in an hour than Alastair Leithead in LA?

Like a caterpillar in its chrysalis,

I too feel metamorphosis,

Behind the wheel in Moscow traffic.

From correspondent to Slavic snail

Inching along, with my metal shell, in gridlock hell.

Horns blaring, drivers swearing, all staring

At the jam, the probka, stretching well into the distance.

It’s not exactly Pushkin, but it passes the time.

Thinking about it, I probably have time to compile a whole encyclopaedia on the way home from work, because every day I spend about two hours stuck in Moscow traffic. That’s more than 20 full days a year in the car, going nowhere.

But the good thing about Russian congestion is that it sparks creativity. And Muscovites are far more creative than I am when stuck in a jam.

Elena Piskunova, director of a fitness training centre, works out

Elena Piskunova likes to sing melancholic Russian folk songs in traffic jams – she claims it’s the best way to relax muscles and relieve stress. Sitting in traffic congestion, she demonstrates by blasting out a performance of Steppe, The Endless Steppe!

 Piskunova has also developed some special breathing exercises. One involves breathing in and out twice very fast through the nose to boost concentration. (A word of warning: blow your nose first with a tissue to avoid mess.)

“I love exercises in the car which keep me looking feminine,” she says. Having made sure that the handbrake is firmly on, she takes a tennis ball and places it between her knees. Then she tenses her buttocks. “It gives me the feeling that I’m floating up on a cushion of air,” she tells me. “I’d float right out into the atmosphere if there was a hole in the car roof.”

Piskunova is philosophical about gridlock. “There are very few places left in the world where we can be left alone to think about the important things in life. As you sit there not moving, watching the traffic lights changing back and forth, this is the perfect time to stop and think – is this a journey you really need to make? Why are you going? And what would happen if you didn’t arrive?”


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