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article imageNude Hairdressers Are Among Wacky Spinoffs Of Russian Capitalism

Nick Allen.
article:31829:18::0
By Nick Allen     Aug 27, 2000 in Lifestyle
Moscow (dpa) - Staff uniform at the Maksymich hairdressing salon for men in downtown Moscow amounts to just a pair of high-heeled shoes and a broad smile, as trained beauticians snip fringes and trim beards in the buff and maybe lend an ear to a client's family woes.
Along with naked billiards (50 dollars per half hour, and no touching), it's one of any number of offbeat business ventures to emerge in Russia in almost a decade of frantic free-market activity.
After 70 years of Soviet suppression of the nation's entrepreneurial spirit, pretty much anything goes these days, from the avant-garde to the immoral to the plain ridiculous.
And someone, somewhere, seems to be paying up.
According to a recent survey of unusual services by the Izvestiya newspaper, the "Unofficial Moscow Anglers Club" does a brisk trade delivering fresh, impressively sized pike to luckless fishermen determined to return home with proof of their angling prowess.
While some funeral parlours now install a long-playing stereo system inside coffins to brighten the journey to the afterlife, one city undertaker also makes up the deceased to resemble their screen idols. The most popular at the moment are Pierce Brosnan and Marilyn Monroe.
"We understand that people who commission our skills probably have a few psychiatric problems, but if there's a demand, what's the harm in making a bit of money," the parlour's manager said.
Catering to clients' vanities in this life, a small firm called "The Anthem Factory" will for 1,000 dollars set musicians trained at Moscow's Chaikovsky conservatory to work composing your own stirring personalised symphonic hymn and words.
Times may have changed, but the most popular request is still "something which sounds like the Soviet national anthem", says director Natalya Shweizer.
At Moscow's ethnic Ukrainian restaurant "Shinok" (Tavern), earthy authenticity is the motif, served up with a good dollop of kitsch.
Diners here tuck into bowls of borsch around an indoor farmyard setting, separated by only a pane of glass from chickens, goats and a horse - with all their attendant physiological needs - and even a knitting grandma.
So are today's Russians just plain eccentric in their tastes, or do the new affluent classes have more roubles than sense?
"A lot of this is certainly to do with the New Russians and their striving to spend a lot of money on strange and marvellous things after being deprived of consumer goods and services for 70 years," said Peter Ekman, professor of finance at the American Institute of Business and Economics in Moscow.
"But this is also the way capitalism is supposed to work - when these kind of business ventures fail, as will 90 per cent of them, you just try something else. And the Russians have always been very proud of not doing things the way they are done in the West."
Equally inventive solutions also seem to be at hand for those Russians who are bothered by the more risque manifestations of the market economy.
Shocked viewers of M1 commercial television's news programme "The Naked Truth", which features female presenters and weather girls who sombrely remove their jewellery and clothing during the broadcast, need only to follow the advice of station director Sergei Moskvin.
"It's simple, if people don't like watching our girls undress, they can turn off the picture and just listen to the news like on any other channel."
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