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Information Moscow--Western Edition, 1987-'88;Anya Kucharev, editor-in-chief (U.S. Information Moscow: $14.95, paperback; 489 pp.)

July 19, 1987|Michael Heim | Heim, who has made three extended trips to Moscow in the last five years, teaches Russian literature at UCLA.

If you are thinking of seeing glasnost in action, here is a guidebook that will put you a step ahead of your busmates. (Glasnost or no glasnost, package tours are still the rule in the Soviet Union: Individual tourists pay prohibitive rates.) In fact, "Information Moscow" will help you to leave the bus behind.

What makes it so different from other travel books is the audience the authors have in mind. Their primary market is not sightseers at all; it is "professionals in government, industry, and service organizations," and much of what comes after Page 161 (where "Doing Business in Moscow" begins) will be of little concern to non-professionals. The first 160 pages, however, pack a wealth of material that may be tak1701716070West European countries but is invariably sparse in their Soviet counterparts: long, detailed lists of hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, shops, theaters, cinemas, museums, parks, and services (postal, medical, recreational, automotive, emergency and general travel). Only someone who has spent time in a country like the Soviet Union, where phone books are virtually non-existent and people get what they need more u1852073330how invaluable this carefully annotated inventory will prove. You may not need to know the telephone number of the Indonesian Embassy doctor (231 62 61, by the way), but you may well thank your stars for a lead that an ailing Djakarta businessman would find equally arcane (where to go for posters or, say, rare stamps).

Don't look for a biography of every statue or a historical introduction to each building. The short "Places of Interest" section opens breezily with: "Since most guidebooks cover this ground, we can be brief." It even recommends guidebooks that cover the ground better. Instead, you learn that you may save quite a bit by booking through a European office of Intourist (the official Soviet tourist agency); you learn when, where, and how to make reservations for concerts, meals, and day trips; you learn the etiquette of making and keeping Soviet friends and--what can amount to the same thing--the etiquette of drinking. (You also learn some ingenious pre- and post-ingestion methods of dealing with vodka.) And all this is an upbeat narrative that is unabashedly pro-Russian yet apolitical: The Soviet Union shown here is neither panacea nor evil empire.

Of course, anyone who has "his own Moscow" will find an occasional lapse. Sometimes I had the impression the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing (which may be true in more ways than one--several Soviets cooperated with an otherwise American staff). On Page 26, Kodak film is unavailable (which is correct so far as I know); on Page 34, it is "not always available" (which is therefore misleading); on Page 98, the traveler is admonished not to buy Soviet film--"it cannot be developed in the U.S." (which may hold for color film, but should not keep you from taking fine black-and-white shots). In "Culture and Recreation," you read, for instance, that "Speak!" by Alexander Buravsky was one of the sensations of the 1986-'87 season. What could be more up-to-date?

Organization can also be a problem. An account of the unofficial taxi network, for example, turns up on Page 35 in "Getting Ready for Departure," the account of the official taxi network on Pages 118-19 in the appropriate "Communications, Transportation, and Travel Services." Fortunately, the book has an excellent index (where both are listed under "Taxis"). Unfortunately, it has no map of the city, though the publishers will supply one of the central area for an extra $3.50. (Maps are often in short supply in Moscow, so if your more conventional guidebook lacks one, you would do well to order it.)

Reading through "Information Moscow" has made me want to visit the city again, and I certainly plan to take the book along when I go. But "Information Moscow" will also be of use to first-time travelers, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went down well with the largest group of tourists: armchair travelers.

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