About half of the Moscow 188 metro stations are located deep underground, with the deepest of them some 84 meters below the surface. The escalator ride alone is about 3 minutes long (thanks, Wiki), and if you add in the bottlenecks that form during rush hour, getting to and from the train might be the longest part of the Moscow metro commute.
More often than not, those escalators rides have their own soundtrack of sorts, and it usually takes one of two diametrically opposed forms.
The first form is ‘social advertisement,’ a serious-minded public service announcement. Some are pretty reasonable, warning passengers not to trust unsanctioned commercial leaflets because they might contain deliberately false information, or asking customers to report passengers who are heavily intoxicated, behaving in an aggressive manner or whose clothing that might ‘dirty-up’ others.
Other PSA incarnations are a lot darker, particularly those that call for passengers to exercise constant vigilance for the sake of safety. It is similar to the “If you see something, say something” Homeland Security campaign in the US, but much more ominous-sounding.
One of the more chilling speeches concludes, in a deep male voice: “Just one missed terrorist could cost you your life.”
This message races past ‘subtle’ straight into ‘paranoia and anxiety-inducing’ territory. Considering that there have been at least 7 terrorist bombings of the Moscow metro since 1996 and the most recent one took place just 3 years ago, it’s also a message that resonates with many Muscovites.
On the other end of the metro’s ambient sound spectrum you’ve got – well, the Russian version of elevator music, but much cheerier. A lot of the tunes, usually just the instrumental arrangements, are from the old Soviet films. The most popular examples are the uber-chirpy “Wake up and sing!” from the movie Gentlemen of Fortune, and entirely unexpectedly, “Jingle Bell Rock” – which plays year-round!
I wonder if other Russians have thought about why they’re listening to American Christmas music in the middle of summer, in the Moscow subway. You don’t need to be a US expat to recognize the tune that plays in nearly every Holiday-themed Hollywood movie – and Russians watch plenty of those!
Whatever I feel like this kind of playlist is great for everyone’s sanity. It never fails to brighten my mood at least a bit. And an occasional Tchaikovsky symphony or a mini-lecture commemorating a birthday of an important cultural or historical figure is just as good an alternative.
To reinforce the positive ending of this post, below are some lovely posters that line escalator shafts and metro vestibules. Many of them are courtesy of Gema, a commercial holding, and are such a lively alternative to endless billboards peddling the latest cars or restaurants or fashions – or even to empty walls. I really believe that they help keep the passengers’ spirits up during a crowded commute, terror warnings and endless winters – just another small detail that makes the Moscow Metro the world’s best underground!