Steak, fruit, direct-dialing: Can it really be Moscow?
Direct-dialing to the outside world by telephone . . . eating in clean, comfortable restaurants featuring such exotic (for Moscow) items as steak, green vegetables, and yogurt . . . watching waiters rush to bring you your order. . . .Skip to next paragraph
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Attending a press conference every day, given by a senior Soviet official, and being able to ask any question at all without putting it in writing first. . . .
These are just some of the things a Westerner in Moscow can do during the Olympic Games that he could not do before -- and will almost certainly not be able to do once the games end.
Sometimes I have to rub my eyes and look again to be sure that this is the same city in which I have lived for the last four years.
Visiting correspondents and tourists take these services for granted. "What's so unusual about direct-dialing, for heaven's sake?" they ask. But with all due respect, they don't understand.
Those of us who live here know very well that the approved method for calling London or New York is to place the call and wait up to two hours for the connection. On Fridays I have been told, "We have no lines until Monday.Call back then."
During the games (July 19 to Aug. 3) newsmen can go down to the press center on Zubovski Boulevard and book a call to anywhere. It comes through in minutes.
That's a real revolution.
(It doesn't always happen. Some delays have prompted Vladimir Popov, deputy chief of the Soviet organizing committee, to complain that "somebody" in Western Europe and New York wants to block news of the games.He denies the KGB is tampering with the lines. But in general, the situation is transformed.)
West European correspondents say they can direct-dial home -- an unheard-of luxury here. Closed borders are closed borders, and no Soviet citizen can direct-dial out. One suspects that not even Westerners will be able to do so for long.
There's even a code allowing direct-dial to the United States, a fact I now acknowledge, though I was guilty of open disbelief when a colleague tried to break the news to me the other day.
Eating out is almost unrecognizable. Usually, Westerners here don't do it. Service is ultra-slow, restaurants drab and often unclean, food indifferent, music too loud. Only a few are inviting.
But now in the press center itself a grillbar is open around the clock (or is said to be. I haven't tried it at 4 a.m.). There's a full- dress restaurant where waiters hurry and most of what is listed on the menu is actually available. The customary Russian rule is to list 50 items and provide three.
At the Cosmos Hotel, where 2,877 radio and telivision people are staying, the Kalinka restaurant has magically become fast-service smorgasbord.
A friend and I paid five rubles ($8) each to the cashier on the way in and heard her say: "Now you can eat all you want." In disbelief, we took a tray and asked a chef in a tall white hat behind an array of food for soup, fish, steak, french-fried potatoes, and green peas. Within 30 seconds we were looking for one of the pleasantly decorated tables, thoroughly nonplused.
What happened to the Moscow we used to know?