Letter No. 1
Believing that our RCA friends will be interested in a few of our observations and experiences in Moscow, Wally Poch and I herewith submit some comments:
The food is more plentiful and of definitely better quality than when I was here in 1931, but it still leaves much to be desired. For one thing, all dishes are prepared in about the same greasy way and it is quite difficult to get a meal representing a properly balanced diet. This will be even more annoying in the winter when fresh fruits are absent and all canned fruits are sickeningly sweet. We are trying to get a “quota” so that we can import canned foods from Germany.
Meals with the exception of breakfast are hard to get. Not that there is a scarcity of food, the trouble is that the service is remarkably slow and there are only about five restaurants in which Americans are willing to eat. By the time you get from the place of business to one of these restaurants and consume a meal, generally two or three hours will have elapsed. Wally and I have been here two weeks but haven’t on any day had more than breakfast and dinner. We start dinner anytime from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM; on the train the dining car didn’t even open until 10:14 PM.
(p. 3) As for food prices, converted, from rubles: most soups cost 50 cents, borscht soup $1.50, a cup of chocolate 90 cents, meats $1.50-$2.50, 25 cents per helping of butter, 50 cents each for fair oranges, most any vegetable $1.00 or more per helping, chocolate bars slightly larger than a Hershey 10-cent one for 60 cents or $1.60, depending upon the quality, etc. The prices are practically the same in every first-class restaurant. The Embassy doctor strongly advises against drinking tap water and practically no American does. In restaurants we use mineral water at 40 cents per bottle and in the hotel use boiled water, or rather water which the hotel claims it boiled.
A typical engineer if unmarried and thus without a wife’s income will spend 60% of his salary on food. But in 1930 he would have spent 50% and nearly starved, so the situation is improving.
There is only one train a day from Europe (Negereleye) to Moscow. Our car, the only first-class one on the train, was 25 years old but reasonably comfortable. At one end of the car an enormous samovar supplied tea and in winter a coal stove furnishes heat. We reached Moscow less than an hour late. In general the train service has considerably improved in the last several years.
Transportation in Moscow is still a real problem. The subway, unquestionably the finest in the world, does its best. But the city’s population has increased phenomenally and is now ~4,000,000. To stem the increase the government requires a “living permit” of anyone staying here over a month. We haven’t received ours yet although they have had our passports (p. 4) with extra photos for two weeks and the Radio Trust people have spent several days in the matter. The street cars in Moscow aren’t as crowded as previously but still do pretty well. The other day Walt was unable to get off of one until ten stops beyond the hoped-for one, and he counted 35 persons hanging on the outside.
Automobiles are much more common than previously, especially the Russian four cylinder Ford, but compared to those in other cities they are relatively scarce. There are no parking and traffic problems. The car and chauffeur supplied to us have other duties so it frequently takes an hour or more to get them. Taxis are never available in less than 20 minutes and quite often not at all. Obviously we’ll be darned glad when my Chrysler is in operation.
It reached Moscow a mere 20 days later than promised by Amtorg. Then we went to customs for it, armed with papers and a Radio Trust man, nothing happened but a lot of talk. Next morning we returned with more papers, letters about passports, passes, a Trust man, a truck and six workmen. By 2:00 PM we were actually shown the car, or rather a large wood box dumped into the mud beside the railroad. In due time the car was assembled for towing and within several days it will be in operation. A garage has been built for it and the Trust will supply a chauffeur. To care for it and operate it myself would be impractical in Moscow and quite beyond the capabilities of a mere engineer. Red Tape.
As I want to drive the car some myself, the Trust managed to simplify the process of securing a driver’s license. They say that all I must do is to submit my American license with two photos, take a physical and written exam and then drive with the police inspector for two days! (p. 5)
The telephones are great fun. Long distance calls are extraordinarily cheap. A three-minute call to Leningrad (1400 miles) costs 45 cents, or half an orange. We tried to call several of the RCA fellows in Leningrad three times. The first time we had to specify the number of minutes and pay in advance. The call was completed in four hours. The second attempt was a complete failure. On the third attempt, just a day or so ago, we got them in less than an hour. Things are improving.
Each of the room phones in the hotel is a separate outside city connection. If someone wants to call us he hopefully calls the hotel. He is informed that we aren’t registered but that he should call the Intourist office on the 3rd floor (the main desk refuses to list anyone registered through Intourist). With diminished hope he calls Intourist and is told that the number is 60-89. He is supposed to know by intuition that telephones in this vicinity have a prefix of “KO”. So with no hope at all he dials K0-60-89 and actually gets us, if the telephone works.
To call a hotel we must first carefully survey the book to find whether we want the porter, manager, second floor maid, etc., because each has a separate city phone. However such surveys are usually futile because the newest book was compiled in 1935 and most of the numbers have been changed. Eventually you end up by calling the information bureau where no one speaks English. (p. 6)
Mail is a bit of a problem. Inside of Russia it isn’t so bad, a letter from Van Keuren having reached here in 3 days. But from outside we have received absolutely no first-class correspondence although we have been here two weeks and know that some letters were mailed a month ago. The delay is apparently in censorship and perhaps in photographing the letters. The Trust isn’t able to be of any help in this matter. We hope that outgoing mail is not similarly delayed but have no way of telling.
We shall not comment on the first hotel we were put in, the “New Moscow” (45 years old) except to say that it was unsatisfactory. The present hotel, the “Moscow” (2 years old) is the largest and best in Russia and is very satisfactory. We have a suite and in addition Wally has a separate room. The suite contains a large bedroom, a large living room which we shall convert into an office if and when our two business trunks arrive, and a conservatory containing the radio and a good piano, The conservatory is completely lined with marble. The hotel has no restaurant as yet but does serve breakfasts in the rooms. The floor polishing process is unique. A man with wax on his feet comes into the suite and slides around a bit.
Of bed bugs we have none. This is a fortunate contrast with the RCA fellows in Voronezh who had to wire our London office for bed-bug powder. Of other bugs we have very few except for moths. However one day our interpreter spied a peculiar looking insect peacefully proceeding across the floor. He called the floor maid for an explanation. That being unsatisfactory, he called the manager. Meanwhile the bug evidenced an urgent desire to proceed on its (p. 7) course or on any course leading out of the limelight. For 10 minutes the interpreter carefully prevented this. Finally the bug apparently remembered that it was in Russia and thus realized the hopelessness of trying to accomplish anything. Then the manager arrived he announced that since there weren’t any bugs in the hotel, this one obviously had flown in through the window. That the bug had no wings made no difference at all.
Through introductions arranged prior to leaving America, we have met a number of embassy people including Ambassador [Joseph E.] Davies. He assured me of his desire to help in any way possible. The embassy has already proved very useful in several specific matters, and its social activities certainly fortify our morale.
The embassy finds much less cordiality shown toward foreigners now than previously. The political reasons are well known. Papers say that every foreigner is to be considered a spy and in some factories classes are held twice weekly on “How to Detect Spies.” The result is that American engineers are treated quite cordially during working hours, and thereafter are usually carefully avoided. Of the many Russian television engineers whom we knew well in Camden, none who speak English have appeared and we have seen only three altogether. There is no question but that they like us and would like to associate with us, but they dare not. We hope that this general situation will gradually ease. (p. 8)
Matters pertaining to the television work will be covered in a separate letter. Suffice it to say here that at the Television Center the studio building is quite far from completion; the transmitter building is sufficiently complete to move part of the equipment in. On the antenna, which has been here at least two months, nothing had been done when we arrived. Female labor is used considerably in the constriction work and some of the methods are a bit elementary. For instance, when some welding is to be done, acetylene is produced by dumping some carbide in water.
Transferring ideas back and forth through our engineer-interpreter-secretary is so unsatisfactory that the language problem is acute. It is now apparent that even more time and money spent on Russian lessons in Philadelphia would have been worthwhile. We’ll resume lessons here.
Moscow exhibits many signs of remarkable progress. We hope to learn much during the next few months in the world’s most baffling, different, exasperating and interesting country.
Wishing you all a very enjoyable summer.
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