I promised sushi to the birthday girl, and I needed to run out to the ultra-fancy Yeliseevsky Market, on Tverskaya Boulevard near Red Square, in order to keep my promise.
I was in a hurry. Lots to do today! But I didn't check the metro route - I assumed I would remember how to get there - and I got on the wrong train. No big deal. I figured it would only put me back 10 minutes.
I exited at the Tverskaya Station, directly into a mob of people pushing forward. I aimed for the exit I wanted, but it was blocked by soldiers. The next closest exit - also blocked. I pushed along with the crowd and found another exit, still open but ringed by police. As I walked/was pushed up the steps I heard an unholy rumbling and shaking from above.
Once I exited into the sunlight, I realized what was happening. I'd walked right into a rehearsal for Saturday's Victory Day Parade, marking the 70th anniversary of the Nazi surrender during WWII. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people gathered to watch as tanks and trucks and missiles rumbled past. The streets were all blocked, so there was no way I was getting to the store. It was literally 300 feet away, but the sidewalk was completely blocked by policemen.
I gave up all hope of getting my errands done in time, instead settling in to watch, trying to snap a few decent photos with my phone.
After about 40 minutes, the last tank passed me by, followed by a herd of street cleaners who quickly washed away all signs that the heavy machinery had ever been there. The barriers came down, the crowds dispersed and I found my way to the store, where - wait for it! - they were all out of cucumber sushi. Sigh.
The lady behind the counter was kind of rude about it, too.
"Will you get any later?" I asked.
"I don't know," she replied without looking up.
"Well, do you make it here? Or does it come from somewhere else?"
"Here," she snapped.
"Okay, but, so" (stumbling over my Russian) "do you know when it's usually made?"
"NO," she practically yelled, turning partly away.
"Sorry," I replied, "it's my daughter's birthday, and she wanted sushi, so I just thought I'd ask, but thanks."
No answer from her.
I wandered around the store trying to come up with plan B. Maybe I could make the sushi myself? But I'd need to find all of the ingredients, and did I have time?
Devushka, I heard from behind me.
I turned to see the sushi lady standing next to a man in a black chef coat.
"This is our sushi chef. He says he can make the sushi for your daughter if you want."
I tell you, my jaw hit the floor as I looked at the two of them standing there staring at me.
20 minutes later, I was in the checkout line with a whole pile of fresh sushi. Amazing. I made small talk about the parade with the checkout lady - the nicest checker in all of Moscow, I'm pretty sure. And I made my way back home, happy in the spring sunshine.
But I still had one more stop to make. I wanted strawberries from the fruit lady by the metro station. She asked me, have your parents left yet? Did they enjoy Moscow? And, as I left, tell your daughter I said congratulations! It hit me then: I live here now. When the neighborhood vegetable vendor knows your family, it's a sure bet you've been here awhile.
The cake is baked and heavily sprinkled, thanks to several neighbors who loaned me sprinkles from their supplies. I guess we're almost ready to start our birthday party.
It's been an interesting, happy, oh-so-strange day here in Moscow.