The head of state TV here in Moscow knows what will make the greatest live television coup Russia has ever seen. He believes I can pull it off. And he believes his studios owe it to the nation.
If your sub-conscious image of Moscow is a hangover from the Cold War, in shades of black and white, you should have been on the streets for the capital’s 861st birthday party. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov presided over 5,000 events — theatre, dance, music and parades, culminating in a concert in front of the Kremlin and a firework display which packed more explosive power into 11 minutes than I have ever seen in my life. The sky was brighter than midday.
My interpreter told me there were 12,500 police patrolling the street festivities — I hope they had as much fun as the rest of us, because there was never any sign of trouble. Drink was flowing: Russians are famous for their love of vodka, but they also have a taste for whisky, as we discovered in one cafe which displayed a rack of priceless malts, all labelled by year. The distillers had bottled the entire Soviet era, going right back to the Twenties.
We stick to capuccino, and our favourite is at the Cafe Pushkin, Moscow’s equivalent of The Ivy in London. It’s just off Tverskaya Stret, the main shopping boulevard, so we often find ourselves there. We ride the 19th century elevator from the ground floor, which is more like a medical museum display — its shelves and tables are laden with apothecary’s utensils, jars and books from the Tsarist era.
On the next floor, where we dine, is the library, with its high bookcases, telescopes, globes and high windows. On the level above, a balony runs round the library, and on the roof of the building there’s a terrace. I’m addicted to the desserts at the Pushkin, which are created by Monsieur Emmanuel Ryon.
If that sounds an expensive place to eat… it is! We were prepared for the bill, though, because it doesn’t take Westerners very long to discover that capitalist Moscow is one of the most expensive cities on Earth. An ordinary cup of coffee is over £5, and an indignant American friend says he’d have to pay £40 for a burger!
I’m told that the only place where money vanishes faster is Luanda in Angola. There, most people don’t bother with credit cards: they just pay in diamonds.
I need a sack ful of diamonds to keep up here. An elegant apartment in downtown Moscow would set me back more than 20 grand a month — and that’s sterling, not roubles. Even a ticket for the Bolshoi ballet is over £200.
That hasn’t stopped us from visiting the ballet, or the state circus, which both have their own purpose-built homes. Russians take circus very seriously: I was expecting a Big Top tent, but we watched the show from velvet seats in a theatre that was more like an opera house.
The trapeze artistes thrilled me, high above the stage with no wires or safety net — the spectacle of the performing lions left me sad, though. They are magnificent animals and I’m sure they would not perform if they were unhappy, but the king of beasts should not be made to do tricks. Leave that to the clowns.
In search of Communist history, we toured the Vserossiyskiy Vystavochniy Tsentr, which means All-Russia Exhibition Centre. All the images of Soviet propaganda were on display, much larger than life — colossal peasants hewn from granite towered over the arched entrance, brandishing bundles of wheat.
Behind them, a rocket sculpture trailed a 100ft cloud of smoke, also carved in stone. That impressed me, but what really captured my imagination was the Vostok spacecraft, identical to the one which blasted Yuri Gagarin into orbit. He was the first man in space, back in 1961… I was 14 years old, and how I wished another Uri could make that trip.
There’s an incredible energy pulsing through Moscow, and it’s not just the party fever. My dowsing instincts confirm to me that the city is built on a criss-crossing network of ley lines, the invisible channels that many believe are conduits for the planet’s natural energies.
We travelled about 25 miles out of the capital to visit one of the powerpoints for this flow, a slender pyramid built from wood and natural fibre. It’s a Russian landmark, the equivalent of the Angel of the North, and Muscovites believe it helps to direct a torrent of energy into their town.
Athletes visit daily to charge their psychic batteries, and because this is the country which invented aura photography it is even possible to get a snapshot of your energy levels.
I had my aura photographed back in the Seventies, while I was bending a spoon, and I was fascinated to see the apparatus picked up a tendril of lightning, arcing from my finger to the metal.
This time, my aura showed up completely white, surrounding me like a protective egg. That’s the colour of maximum energy — photographic proof that I’m still ready to party!
Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovitch spends hundreds of millions on his players, but I was fascinated to learn he also has lavished money on the most prominent synagogue in Moscow. The city’s Chief Rabbi, Berel Lazar, is rabbi of this synagogue, in the Maryina Roshcha district, and he told me their charity turnover would shame many multinational companies — he has helped to distribute something like £130 million to the needy.
We chatted in English, and Rabbi Lazar’s accent sounded more Manhattan than Moscow. He was born in Milan, Italy, but I wasn’t surprised to hear he studied in New Jersey and was ordained in New York.
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