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    Larry Paradine is offline Incompetent wizard, frantically calculating how many of his seven plus one lives are left
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    Aug 2007
    Cheboksary (Chuvashia)
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    Togliatti (Тольятти)

    In the summer of 2005 I told my students in Samara that I was being temporarily transferred to the school's branch in Togliatti (Тольятти; pronounced Tol'yatti), which is a lot closer to Samara as the crow flies than as the bus moves. Their response was unanimously disapproving: Togliatti, they said, is an ugly, dirty city populated by mafiosis and drug addicts, and my fate would be limited to the choice of being murdered by mobs of demented crack and heroin addicts running amok in the city centre in broad daylight or getting caught in crossfire between warring gangsters blasting away indiscriminately with tommy guns from the windows of their reinforced limousines.

    Well, I survived to tell the story, such as it is. Togliatti is unusual in lying on the opposite bank of the river to most other Volga cities, the other side having been the site of a much older town named Stavropol on the Volga (not to be confused with Stavropol in southern Russia), which was demolished in the middle of the last century to make room for yet another of the hydro electric power stations that disfigure and upset the ecological balance of Europe's greatest river in return for the doubtful benefits of a chronically unreliable electricity supply. A decade or so ago, the city's electorate voted not to change its name in favour of something less reminiscent of Soviet times (well, to be precise, voter indifference was so general that less than the stipulated minimum 20% bothered to vote), so not following the example of Samara (which was named Kuibyshev by Stalin in honour of a local thug and drunkard). To this day, the memory of the eponymous Palmiro Togliatti, long term leader of the Italian Communist Party who wangled a deal between the Soviet Politburo and the Fiat company to set up an automobile company in what was then a very small town, is held in more respect by the citizens of the Russian city named after him than are the names of those indigenous communists (Kuibyshev, Sverdlov, Voroshilov et al) which were expunged from the roll of city names after the fall of communism). Perhaps this respect is merited: one of my prize possessions (before, unfortunately, I lost it) was a snapshot of Togliatti at Stalin's funeral, grinning broadly while surrounded by less honest communist luminaries shedding crocodile tears over the demise of the man they all hated and feared. Let PalmiroTogliatti's epitaph record the fact that he brought economic benefits to the mid Volga region and caused harm to no man (well, he never had the chance, spending all his life in opposition)!

    The city is trisected by forests, and this fact is acknowledged in the map, which shows it as a political union of three separate geographical units: Komsomolskaya, Old Town and New Town (and a couple of incorporated hamlets).

    Komsomolskaya is the only part situated right next to the Volga, and is the area I would chose to live in (if I had no choice but to live in Togliattti) but it's far removed from the economic life of the city and sinks into apathy in winter.

    Old Town (Старый Город) is a bit of a misnomer for a town that's been in existence for only half a century or more. It's actually quite a pleasant area; not much pollution, more medium size blocks of flats (the best of the "хрущевки") than skyscrapers, lots of trees (a "зелёный город"). Unfortunately the signs of decay and dilapidation are everywhere, and one gets the feeling the infrastructure has been neglected since the construction of the

    New Town (Новый Город). Built specifically for Signor, sorry Comrade, Togliatti's Fiat concession Автоваз, New Town is the only place I've been to in Russia where not being a car owner gives me a sense of deprivation. Municipal transport, supplemented by fleets of marshrutni taxis, is more or less adequate by day but scarce in the evenings and pedestrians are second rate citizens who often have to walk long distances to find a safe crossing. Car drivers have the advantage of wide dual carriageways designed for fast and gridlock free travel (though the enormous increase in privately owned vehicles over the last fifteen or so years has considerably reduced these advantages). The city is laid out on the same sort of geometrical pattern as many US cities, long avenues from east to west and streets running on a north-south axis, the interlocked squares being mainly residential кварталы: high rise apartment blocks (with temperamental elevators) facing each other across courtyards with plenty of benches that were originally intended for the use of children and nursing mothers while the family breadwinners were at work but are now more often utilised by the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed (Avtovaz, like its Italian parent, has found that one robot works more efficiently and cheaply than four unskilled or two semi-skilled humans). From the top floor balconies there's a splendid vista of more tower blocks and, in the distance, the smoking chimneys and concrete sheds of Avtovaz (though perhaps the experience of having just climbed 18 flights of garbage strewn stairs sours one's appreciation of the view).

    Togliatti (and especially New Town) has its upmarket side too. There are some areas that have gone through the process known in Britain as "gentrification" and these are easily recognisable by the ranks of gleaming imported cars (nobody who is anybody in Togliatti would be seen dead driving an Avtovaz product) parked in enclosed and guarded courtyards. The denizens of these exclusive areas (still often referred to as "New Russians", новые русскии, though the term no longer embraces the wealthiest class , the loathed and envied "олигархи") don't have to travel far to while away their leisure hours, the New Town has no shortage of night clubs and casinos (despite recent legislation that's supposed to confine gambling joints to specified tourist areas), and gentrification has converted such landmarks of Soviet shopping as the rundown торговый центр Русь into fashionable shopping malls where only the souvenir shops sell Russian made goods.

    At the very furthest extremity of New Town is the beach, and a very nice beach it is too, not particularly inferior to Samara's and with the considerable plus of being much less crowded, probably because most locals can't be bothered with the long marshrutni journey and those holiday makers who actually choose Togliatti for their summer vacations have the use of private beaches run by the proprietors of the зона отдыха a little further down the river. Visitors wanting to explore a little further afield could take a two hour ferry journey to Усолье on the far side of the river and, standing on the landing stage, watch the comings and goings of limousines with tinted windows and police escorts at a heavily guarded sanatorium just the other side of a narrow river inlet, and speculate as to the identities of the latest eminent arrivals, then trudge into Усолье for an hour or so, just long enough to rid themselves of any romantic Tolstoyan notions they may have had about Russian village life, before the return ferry arrives to take them back to the comparative fleshpots of Togliatti.

    When the time came to take leave of my Togliatti students, they did their best to dissuade me from returning to Samara, which, they said, is a преступный город, a criminal town, where drug addicts and muggers menace pedestrians while Mafia hitmen are as likely to mow down innocent bystanders as their intended targets.....
    Last edited by Larry Paradine; 02-09-2008 at 12:39.

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