From Russia With Love

In March, I visited Moscow to speak at the Connected TV Forum. The trip was sponsored by NGENIX, the leading regional CDN in Russia and CIS, and their CEO, Konstantin Chumachenko, was the first to reach out. My talk, Producing for Multiple Screen Delivery (and you can download the handouts here), was formulated with the help of Konstantin and conference producer Eugene Solomatin. Logistics were ably handled by Svetlana Zhilina.

Getting to Russia was an adventure; unlike visiting Europe, you need to complete a lengthy visa application and send it off for approval. But visiting Moscow itself was like drinking from a firehose, and deluge of impressions. I grew up during the Cold War era, and pretty much all I know about Russia and Russians was from Tom Clancy novels like the Cardinal in the Kremlin.

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The fabulous St. Basil’s Cathedral, at the far corner of Red Square.

To walk around Red Square and walk inside the Kremlin was a fabulous experience. Another highlight was the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, which had room fulls of paintings from artist like Botticelli, Rembrandt, Degas, van Gogh, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. The Center Museum of the Armed Forces, overseen by a glowering statue of Lenin, and multiple pictures and memorabilia of Stalin, was another highlight. Speaking of museums, each subway station was like a museum, each with a different and unique theme, like the station where each traveller fondled a brass statue for good luck.

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Moscovites rubbed this dog’s nose for good luck in the subway.

I travelled exclusively by subway, which would have been stressful has I not been accompanied by a guide (the fabulous Olga) one day, and had I actually been in a hurry the second day when I was on my own. The Russian subways have as much English as subways in New York City have Russian (which is to say, none), and Cyrillic languages are pretty much indecipherable, at least to me as a pathetic English-only speaker. But I slowly made it through, and it was a wonderful way to get around, see the city and do some serious people watching.

What about the people? In about 5 days I made a bunch of strong impressions, but they lack synthesis. There were some stereotypes that probably exist in all countries; the overweight cashier at the grocery store, grumpy that my Visa card was refused, and the subway civil servant who wasn’t at all amused at my gesture-based request for directions.

But there were many poignant connections in the strangest of places. In the grocery store near the hotel, where I bought bread, beer and chicken and rice from three different shopkeepers, who all seemed delighted to merrily work through the language barrier, and very caring. The police officers that I asked for directions were animated and friendly, not at all like those described by Clancy. Of course, the professionals that I met during my talk were well informed, wonderfully polite and friendly.

Make no mistake, Moscow is a grim place in the winter, gray and icy, cold and forbidding. But the people have spark of vitality, even when rushing through subway stations and walking the frozen streets. It was a lovely visit and I would love to go back.

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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