This page is a part of my Moscow Life project, collection of illustrated stories from Moscow available online since 1995. I keep adding new ones now and then, please check complete list of all 50+ articles accumulated over 9 years of project existence - or the most recent story.

Andrey

  
DACHA REVISITED, July 1997

    One of the most successful and still quite popular stories in this Moscow Life series was posted here in the very beginning of the project. The story was telling about the dacha, a very Russian concept and a very important part of the lifestyle of a Muscovite. The story has generated a whole bunch of responses, and in some of them there were questions about the fate of dacha in rapidly changing life in Russia.

I am really grateful to all the authors of the letters I have received. Many of the messages were telling lots of new things and introducing me to facts and ideas I had never heard of before. Just one example - I have learned about dachas in Alaska. Visit the page and TYSHEE'S DACHA, it's well worth it!

Getting back on track... It looks like the time is just right for visiting the dacha again, two years after that first story, and let you know how dacha is doing in new Russia.


    On a July Friday night, the city abruptly changes its hectic pace. Busy and sweaty week is over, and the streets are empty in the long summer twilight. This desolation looks like a mystery - where could the millions of Muscovites disappear all of a sudden? Of course, some of them relax at home. Of course, some other visit the theaters (by the way, the building in the photo is a once famous MKhAT - please do not forget that all pictures in this story are clickable. You will get a larger image if you click on any photo on the page). And many people visit bars, pubs, and restaurants on a Friday night too.

Still, on a summer weekend Moscow really is deserted. When a hot Saturday comes, you will see quite a few residents and visitors enjoying new fountains on Manezhnaya Square next to the Kremlin walls, but mostly the streets are unusually quiet. Even popular shopping areas get some rest, and the smog almost disappears from the air. The cars have left the city packed with families and their gardening stuff, and many of those who have no car left Moscow too by the local trains. More than a million of Moscow families has moved out of the city to spend the weekend at their dachas.

I will not repeat here the definition of the dacha, nor tell the brief history of the subject, all that is available in the old story. Let's better look for the changes and differences. One of the changes is hardly typical, rather it's my personal choice. Instead of using crowded trains, I prefer now to ride a mountain bike to the dacha. It takes two hours - so what? Those are two very pleasant hours after sitting at the keyboard all week long.

The scenery around is nice once the city border is behind me. The very last miles to the dacha, when a dirt road instead of the highway is under the wheels, do remind me of what a mountain bike is made for.

Even asphalt roads near the dacha are so different from the asphalt of the city streets. At one picturesque spot, the road comes to the bank of Bisserovo lake (photo on the left). In the morning, many fishermen here test their luck and feed the clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. It must be great to have such a lake within a walking distance from a dacha... And yes, there are many dachas around. But ours is a bit farther. Let’s move on.

Here we are at last! The entrance to the dacha looks very much the same - if you compare this picture to the one in the beginning of the dacha’95 story. The season is different, and now cucumbers grow where something else used to. Our climate is a bit unstable for them to enjoy the fresh air all the time, and the wooden frames support the plastic film on cold nights to keep the plants warm and comfortable until the sun comes out in the morning.

And the flowers are also the same. There are as many flower-beds as before and their fragrant beauty decorates the dacha all summer long.

Vegetable garden is very much the same too. In July, it’s a bit early for most of the local berries and fruits to get ripe, but some are ready! The nice berries on the photo on the right are called "white currant" in Russian, these berries with the color of a pale amber are wonderfully sweet, refreshing and delicious. They are the first to become ready for eating among the currant family, in a few weeks black and red currant (far more traditional and popular) berries would follow.

Zucchinis are tiny and the plants are still in bloom. The big things you saw in the old story will be ready by the beginning of a school year, in September. But now starts the season that all devoted dacha owners enjoy most of all. After the winter of preparations and plans, after the spring and early summer of planting and weeding, here comes the time when every week brings new rewards for love and caring. New vegetables, berries, and fruits are greeting dacha people every morning. Salad and raspberries, cucumbers and apples, tomatoes and beets, radish and carrots... You would not believe how long is the list of what Russians grow at their dachas! Do not look at the map and calculate how far north we are located by American standards. We (the country, not my family) would die of starvation in the years of Communist ruling if we had not learn how to grow almost everything anywhere in Russia.

But I promised to tell about the differences, not similarities... Is everything really unchanged? Well, in fact it is surprising how well dacha in general survived all the changes. But some differences are evident. In the fields where state farmers used to grow poor crops, expensive-looking brick houses have been built. Some foreign journalists call them "new Russians’ dachas", which is not correct.

Yes, many of these new houses are owned by those who became rich in the last few years, by "new Russians". But they are not dachas. New Russians decided to follow a western pattern and move from apartments to single family houses in the suburbs. Unlike dachas, these serious houses are designed and built in most cases as permanent residences, not summer houses. The land around is not used for growing a family food supply - there are lawns, and flowers, and sometimes even pools. Yes, some vegetables too, but for fun rather than for serious production.

By the way, many of these new houses stay unfinished. Many of those who started to build them went bankrupt, or got killed in gangster wars, or are now enjoying a prison cell instead of a suburb home... Life changes fast, and instant wealth frequently is gone overnight. Now fewer of these houses are constructed, and what seemed a fast development couple of years ago, now barely shows signs of growth. They are not new dachas... But dacha people are still quite unhappy with them because all this large scale construction work destroys favorite meadows, fields and forests where dacha folks used to relax or mushroom hunt.

On the other hand, when rich people move out of the city, some infrastructure follows them and becomes available to locals and to dacha folks. Small shops, gas stations, food markets became a natural part of small roads around Moscow, the roads that before simply led to the dachas. But before almost all supplies had to be brought from Moscow. Now you can buy a lot around. The small fish-processing factory outlet shown in the picture became popular among dacha people over the last years and brings serious money to the factory. It’s great to be able to get some freshly smoked eel or just a mackerel for an unexpected dacha party when too many guests arrive all of a sudden.

But let’s get back to our dacha. What’s new there? Well, Masha’s dad keeps upgrading the living quarters. From all sorts of available materials he builds a new room - look at the right wing of the house that looks obviously new and not yet completed. Looks a bit less fashionable than a new brick house in the field? Not surprising, Masha’s father still does physics research and teaching, neither of the jobs bringing much money in Russia. Oh, here is another change for you. In the family photo in the old story there were three research scientists. Now, only Masha’s father still is works in the same area. Masha is in the States, working for a manufacturing company that needs her understanding of laser effects on the materials. That company, Resonetics, is located in Nashua NH, a beautiful New England city. I work for GlasNet, one of leading Russian Internet service providers... Yes, life changes! Much faster than any dacha.
Perhaps Marina our daughter now enjoys the most full life of all the family. During the school year, she studies in Nashua. For the summer vacations, she comes to the dacha near Moscow and would not trade that place for any resort. Guess, what was she writing about in her poetry project in the US? Here is the answer:
      Dacha

  My own decisions,
  Birds’ summer songs,
  Heat of the bright sun,
  Our favorite easy-climbing, old, dying tree.

  Smooth wood of polished tree branch,
  Young kids frolicking around,
  Calling friends to come out,
  Humorous jokes by me and them
  On the way to our favorite dump -
  Walking together, looking for dryuchkas*,
  Bottlecaps, unique glass bottles that we collect.

  Coming back in the heat of the sun
  Through the fields..
  Across the fence....
  Then wait for the others
  And cool off with the freezing water
  From the leaking water tower...
  And again - jokes with my friends!

Marina Stepanova, Charlotte Ave. School, Nashua, NH

--------------------------------- *druchka - a local slang of dacha teens, stands for a drink can ring. We, dull adults, throw them away, the kids collect and enjoy. Marina has an awesome collection.
Okay, I hope that piece tells you a bit about how a 12 years old girl feels about the dacha. She’s happy here, being with friends ("my own decisions", remember? That’s what dacha means to them. Less regulated life, a unique community) - or cutting the logs for shashlyk with her grandfather and uncle. But do you think that Marina just brought a piece of Russian culture to the US, told her classmates about dacha and brought nothing back to that her favorite place from the States? Of course not. She brought to the dacha what she loves most in the American school. Basketball. Now, at the dacha backyard she and her friends enjoy the sport.

The world is getting smaller for them, the kids of new Russia. Not only Marina, but many of her dacha friends of the same age have been abroad, visited places and countries. Still, they all love the dacha. Why? JUst beacuse. For them, the place is full of poetry and special meaning. Here is another Marina's piece:

  Grass silently danced
  with the melody of the whistling wind,
  graceful as a swan.
You see? For that generation dacha is also special, bit in a completely different way. Their grandparents treasured the opportunity to have a private patch of land where they could grow things and have an independent food supply. These kids treasure a special community - let's see what they'll love in the dacha when they grow up.

    Okay... This second trip to the dacha was also a long one. But now it's time again to return. There are still no phones at the dachas, and therefore no chances to use the Net, and I need to check my e-mail and upload a new page. Life is busy even in the summer.

See you next time - here or on my other pages. Now it's time to jump in the saddle and ride 40 kilometers back before the highway is jammed with the cars of all those dacha families coming back home.

Andrey - asebrant@online.ru

P.S. Three years later, in summer'2000, I posted here again a few pictures of the same dacha... If you still care, look at the dacha-2000!

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