Published: August 2008

Moscow at Night

woman outside a shop at night in Moscow

Moscow Never Sleeps

Novelist Martin Cruz Smith and photographer Gerd Ludwig discover the sinister magic of a city that reveals its true colors at night.

By Martin Cruz Smith
Photograph by Gerd Ludwig

At midnight the city is a brilliant grid of light that includes the gilded dome of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Stalinist horror of the Ukraine Hotel, and a dark loop of the Moscow River. Downstream the lights of round-the-clock construction hang in the air while steel and concrete disappear. The clutter of the day is gone. The night brings clarity, and lights trace the future.

On Sparrow Hills, however, all eyes were on an unsanctioned rally of motorcycles: Japanese bikes as bright as toys, dour Russian Vostoks, "monster" Ducatis, Harleys with exhaust pipes of polished chrome. Hundreds of bikers and admirers filled the vista terrace to see machines that posed on their stands in the negligent fashion of movie stars. A Harley merely had to clear its throat to thrill the crowd.

Some bikes were so customized it was difficult to determine what they started as. A Ural that usually hauled sacks of potatoes in its sidecar had been transformed into a stealth-black predator bristling with rockets and machine guns. As the machine-gun barrels were chair legs and the handlebars were crutches, the effect was more theatrical than threatening. Despite the display of leather and studs, the same could be said of the bikers. I asked an ogre with a shaved head and bandanna what his day job was.

In a growl, "I sleep."

To which his girlfriend added, "Fievel's a computer programmer."

Geek by day, bandit by night.

My friend Sasha was along. Sasha is so soft-spoken he seems shy, when in fact he is a homicide detective who weighs his words. In the army he competed in biathlons, the sport of racing on skis with a rifle and then stopping to shoot at a target as his heart pounded against his ribs. He still has that calm.

Continue »
email a friend iconprinter friendly icon   |